Over on his blog, Coyote has stepped into the “drama discussion”, using movies as a basis. I can’t agree with that, because there’s a big difference between the movie hero and the game hero.
Let’s take Indiana Jones. He comes in from the start as “The Complete Hero”. He doesn’t spend half the movie cracking heads off rats to improve his whip skill or helping little old ladies find lost pets for brownie points. He is already accomplished.
However, RPGs always start us off as the level-one wimp, and the entire game is set around our characters (or party) building up to heroic stature so we can defeat Foozle at the end.
Since Indy doesn’t have to build himself up, he instead must display his toughess by absorbing physical punishment that would kill a real person or put him in ICU for months. But with a night of rest and some minor medical attention, Indy is good to go.
We also take hits, but happily we have magic healing to keep us on our feet. And we’re not even as tough as Indy, since our characters need more and more hitpoints just to stay alive.
The alternative to “The Complete Hero” is “Underdog Makes Good”. The cellar sports team (pick any sport you like) that finally pulls together and wins The Big Game. Or The Wimpy Kid Who Learns How To Defend Himself.
We also start off as underdogs in almost any RPG. However, we must endure endless combats and trivial errand-running to reach our goal. That is certainly work enough; why make it any more difficult?
We should also remember that movies are usually over in two hours or less, where games take much longer than that to complete. Extending this time by throwing more obtacles in our path would frustrate more than excite.
What we need - as I’ve said before - is less fighting and errand-running, and more interaction with people. A failure of some kind there could open a new story line, rather than just calling for a “reload and try again” situation.
That’s what designers have to look at, and that’s what they have to incorporate if they intend to have “failure” in their games. Otherwise, it’s best to leave things as they are and not add a new layer of frustration to their products.