Don't get me wrong when I say that I like RPG's, but I'm not a fan of games that claim to be just that. Take a great game like Skyrim for example. It's fun, it's expansive, it's encapsulating, and most importantly it's time-consuming (dollar per hour values are attained perfectly in this case), but I can't quite agree that it's an RPG.
It's an action-adventure game -- and a fantastic one at that -- but definitely not a typical role-playing game or at least what I'd imagine one to be.
Now I'm sure people out there might argue, "Well you're playing a role in an enormous virtual world of possibilities for enjoyment, so how can it not be considered an RPG?"
Well let's widen the scope a little. The classic role-playing game is one modeled on stats, intense grinds for levels and equipment, and most importantly, a huge emphasis on immersion into a character. There are a ton of confusing and almost insignificant attributes like Constitution that, once learned and explained, can determine how a character will function. Combat and puzzles take both strategy and timing rather than brute force and bravado and certainly provide a fulfilling experience despite the risks involved.
Now, all those arguments could be made for games like Skyrim or even the earlier Mass Effect installments. They all provide deep, immersive experiences that teach the player the dark secrets of the game disc.
However, in recent years there has been a huge shift away from skill and planning to the unbeatable, "pick up and play" logic that dictates most "RPGs" if not most games as a whole. I'll be the first to admit that Skyrim is more easily accessible than a game like Dark Souls. For example, in Skyrim you can spend about an hour getting really great gear right out of the gate, turn the difficulty down to novice, and kill a Dragon Priest with little more than a couple of power strikes. In Dark Souls, it would take careful planning and insight to conquer an early game boss like the Red Dragon on the bridge.
The reason for this is simple. Most gamers nowadays don't have a whole lot of time to really sit back and enjoy a full game. If a game is too complex or time consuming, it gets shelved for something simpler to grasp. (Now this isn't indicative of all gamers of course, as I'm sure more than half of the people on this site would sit down for a game like Dark Souls, myself included.) And most games have followed suit to prevent that problem, RPG's included.
The proverbial "watering down" of games is widespread to encompass all types of gamers, even those in the role-playing crowd. Let's examine a prime example of this trend, The Final Fantasy series.
For instance, compare XII, a really great installment in the series, to XIII, a fun if not shallow experience that added little to the mythos. XII was complex but fun and XIII was linear to the extreme to keep people interested past the movie-length cutscenes.
These "dumbed down" versions of series aren't necessarily RPG's as they lack what made their older siblings legendary, yet these games are still praised as "revolutionary" for their own somewhat bland innovations (oxymoron I know).
I've been a little long winded with this blog but I think what I've wanted to say all along is, why can't there be a new genre created for games that follow the trend of their more expansive cousins but keep the excitement and attention levels up?
Essentially, they'd be RPE's or Role-Playing Experiences.