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RPG Golden Age Syndrome

Trent Seely

As adults, many of us face hardship in our daily lives. Jobs are lost, friends and family pass away, and occasionally one of our hands will get stuck in a Pringles can. Most, if not all, of us carry these unfortunate happenings with us day-to-day — almost as though they are simply a symptom of getting older. We associate the pains of living with growing up and the wonder of life with our fleeting innocence. It's not healthy, nor is it realistic, but many people choose to operate that way. Today's world gets us down and we just accept it. That's why so many of us look to the past with starry eyes. It's also why so many RPGamers lose perspective.

Many adults and even some teenagers have associated elements of modernity with being worse or somehow inferior to material from their youth. Why is retro so damn cool? What's with this new obsession with all things vintage? How is it that people are now willing to pay $699 for a Panasonic 3DO today when they wouldn't in 1994? When did we get to a point where people would initiate bidding wars that went as high as $2000 for a copy of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link? It's befuddling, but social scientists would argue that it also makes perfect sense. This practice of applying nostalgia goggles to our daily lives is known colloquially as "Golden Age Syndrome."

The Golden Age of Hollywood was an elegant period of black and white cinema and finely dressed actors. Gents were chivalrous and dames were sassy. To contrast, the Golden Age of Radio featured long-running stories which allowed whole families to huddle around a household radio receiver on a nightly basis and spend time together. The Golden Age of Television was very much the same as Radio's, but featured more hilariously awful episodes of The Twilight Zone and late night shows hosted by Johnny Carson. These "ages" followed a natural progression; as soon as one ended, another began. People's tastes are generally based on whatever "age" they were surrounded by as they grew up, and they'll continue to be influenced by this basis.

Recently, a colleague of mine from this website sent me an article on why today's RPGs don't hold a candle to those of yesteryear. It was the argument of the author that all modern RPGs, not just some or most, suffer because they lack the depth and complexity of their RPG predecessors. The only RPGs that he cited towards this argument also happened to be the ones he grew up with and cherished. I was asked what I thought of the author's mindset, and responded that it was based on a fallacy and buckles under bias.

In the March 1958 issue of Venture Science Fiction, science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon wrote the beginnings of what is now known to most as "Sturgeon's Law": 90% of everything is crud. As new material is released, the vast majority will always be of mediocre or poor quality. This makes it easier to forget some of the best material released, leaving an increasingly inaccurate impression of the overall quality of the genre over time. This concept also works in reverse, where individuals will look back in time and only remember the very best or very worst of what had been released (the other 10%). Suffice to say, there are always good, mediocre, and bad RPGs being produced (regardless of time period), and it doesn't make sense to claim that times past were better because you happen to remember only the good games you used to play with.

What the author of that anti-modern RPG article described was his Golden Age of RPGs. To him, RPGaming was at its best around the time of Final Fantasy VIII. It is his opinion that all RPGs today "spoon feed" gamers and predicate themselves on visual effects and action. He's entitled to his own opinion, as we all are, but his opinion also happens to be trapped underneath a fallacy. You can't say in absolute terms that all RPGs today are exactly the same. They aren't. We know this. There may be an emerging trend of making RPGs more commercial and action oriented, but not all RPGs will follow the most purportedly commercial ideas.

The way he feels is understandable, though. My three favourite RPGs are Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy VI, and Chrono Trigger. As such, my favourite period of RPG releases was between 1993 and 1994 — when I was just a child, only beginning to get into the world of video games. This was my Golden Age of RPGs, however, that isn't where good RPGs started and stopped being released. We've seen dozens, if not hundreds, of great RPGs since then and will likely see many more in our lifetimes. It's easy to cling to the past while being bombarded by numerous crappy releases, but to say that the genre as a whole sucks now that they aren't constantly reproducing your favourite game is a bit of a cop-out. Don't let nostalgia goggles cloud your vision.

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