Role-playing games with adult (as opposed to Young Adult) themes

Bruce, have you tried 80 Days, the gamebook on iOS? It might be a good example of what you’re looking for.

Edit: I think gamebooks are the best hope for this kind of role playing for a number of reasons, one being the ability to focus on text rather than having to animate all possible role playing choices and their subsequent scenarios.

Yep. Nice writing, but not what I’m looking for.

Really would like to know. Since games like The Witcher or Fallout or any Bioware game is going to cost a bunch of money, I have to assume someone has put a lot of thought into figuring out how best to earn that back. Maybe the logic is, the kind of people who really dig avatar boinking will not buy a game without it, but the folks who don’t care for it won’t mind its inclusion too much, or at least kind of tune it out. That’s basically what I do.

I think it might be helpful if you broke down what you mean by role playing game.

Why is avatar boinking bad? Sex is part of life. It makes sense that it is part of game like Witcher. And that’s not the only adult thing it has, it also deals with substance and domestic abuse, raising a kid, religious fundamentalism…one quest is about a guy trying to cheer up his wife suffering from alzheimer’s…

@Brooski, this might not be what you’re looking for, but I made a thread a while back for a game called The Council:

The Council, an episodic RPG without combat

I’ll tell you that one thing I am always looking out for is a game that pursued conflict options that don’t involve combat or killing. It’s kind of my thing. Now, as mentioned in that thread, the game is episodic and only one episode is released so far, but there hasn’t been any weird sex or killing yet! Some fisticuffs though.

This is a lot of it, and was mentioned in the same post you quoted:

The emphasis in most games on combat is also relevant here. When your primary verb to interact with the world is some variant on “attack,” and so many of your dev resources are spent ensuring everything associated with that verb is fun and unique (or neither of the above, as is so often the case, but still), it’s very difficult to justify spending time and money on anything except a horribly cliché sci-fi/fantasy world.

A man after my own heart! I think I have a business proposition for you. Anyway, your latest order has arrived. We’ve made the upper parts extra large as per your specifications.

This. It’s like a drinking game. You do one shot if a war is declared at the beginning of the story and two shots if the game world is in a permanent state of stalemate war. “For in the grim dark future there is only Oceania, Eastasia and Eurasia.”

It also works on a smaller scale. It’s kinda hard to take The Last of Us’ story of sacrifice and survival seriously when you rack up a body count of like 150 humans. Resident Evil 4 didn’t have a “Serious Story™” and zombies only, so it felt less egregious.

I mean the usual stuff we accept to be an RPG, like Fallout, and have stats, and do stuff, but I guess also like Deus Ex sort of I guess.

Using the toilet is a part of life as well. And could be an interesting game mechanic if you have a survival game where the water supply is polluted! But the point is that just because something is addressed in a game doesn’t mean it is done so in a sophisticated way that serves a larger narrative or philosophical point. There are some important sex scenes in William Styron’s fiction, for example, but the most powerful ones are essential to the novels. Collecting playing cards of sexual conquests isn’t adult: it’s incredibly juvenile, in fact. And none of those other examples are necessarily “adult” in the sense that I was using it. Maybe that’s my problem - I should have said more adult and sophisticated. But then that sounds elitist, which this isn’t meant to be at all. I’m not trying to start a culture war. I just want to know what is preventing talented designers from telling real stories in games.

I suspect it’s partly the interactivity, partly the audience, partly the cultural influences of the creators. I mean, how many people really read Orhan Pamuk, anyway?

@Mark_L, while 80 Days is very good game writing, it isn’t good writing in a different sense because it is all setting. It doesn’t say anything.

Well, on a higher note, just reading about the skill tree of upcoming RPG Disco Elysium is exciting:

Oooh, cool artwork!

I keep typing things and then reading what I typed and seeing that it’s gibberish. I like this topic.

I wonder if maybe there are some games that might be able to deliver what you are hoping for but maybe they are lost in the sea of indie games that are being released? I can’t help but wonder if developers have a good reason not to keep a tight leash on sophistication and to keep an even tighter leash on wanting to make a philosophical point.

Too much sophistication and you are going to get a huge amount of Steam returns and bad reviews because people weren’t willing to put the time in or pay attention enough to the game to be able to get a good grasp on the game.

And trying to make a philosophical point just leaves you wide open to abuse from everyone who doesn’t share you view point and in this day and age it doesn’t take many people to make a big stink.

I wish I could add more to the discussion.

I get it, but then why do books and movies not have to worry about this at all? No one sees The Fountain and gets upset and organizes an angry review campaign that the human desire to overcome problems such as disease is not nearly the negative trait and obstacle to “transcendence” that Aronofsky makes it out to be. They watch it and discuss it and have different opinions and it’s fine. Why do games get shoved down the one track where people can’t even see straight when they see something they don’t like? I don’t think it’s just the audience. I think it has to do also with the interactivity.

I feel like I’m saying a bunch of stuff that a whole bunch of people have already said and I can’t make it seem clear. So I sympathize with your difficulties and appreciate you joining in.

In fairness, the developers realized that and dropped it from Witcher 2 and 3. Then again, there’s this:

Of course, that exchange wouldn’t be out of place in Game of Thrones.

I think that books and movies can do that because there is a history of movies and books tackling big issues and having a level of sophistication.

Maybe it’s just a case of needing some developers to really take the plunge and show what a game can deliver in terms of sophistication and making a point? I do think I am simplifying things quite a bit, but I wonder if it’s just going to take some time for someone to do that, or for someone who has done that to have their game get noticed and become a success.

I also wonder if the prestige of awards also helps to push books and movies to tackle big things and to ask a lot of their audiences because these are the kinds of books and movies that can win awards which bestow a heck of a lot of prestige on the studio and people involved. Is there anything like that in the gaming area? I’m not trying to be cynical, I do wonder if that helps drive movies and books to get made that otherwise wouldn’t.

A lot of the story problem in games is that the #1 mechanic for actual gameplay (and #2, #3, …) is combat. When most of your game has to be combat, and generally fairly frequent to keep attention, it puts a lot of roadblocks to more complex writing. Just look at Bioshock Infinite - the early interactions with Elizabeth are a mess because the writing wants her to be shocked and scared at the violence and general insanity that starts happening but she has to suddenly recover and not be those things multiple times so that she can be available to throw health packs in the next section right around the corner with more bad guys because that’s the only gameplay they have.

You can blame the publishers/developers for it and to some extent that’s fair, but the customer is also to blame. Non-combat non-sandbox games don’t sell. Adventure games are mostly dead, for example.

If, like a movie, a game cost $15 and everyone knew you were expected to complete it in 2 hours… well, no one would buy it.

But if there were 2-hour games that cost what people expect 2-hour games to cost… which is, I guess, $0… I think people would be more okay speaking about such games in the same way they speak about movies. There are probably even examples of this kind of thing floating around. Certain interactive fiction games, for instance.

There are plenty of 99-cent games that people write insane screeds about as though the game had violated some basic tenets of human decency. There are lots of hardcover books that cost $35 and take a dozen hours to finish. I don’t think you can write it off to time or price.

So the mainstream game audience is stuck on combat. Why?

Two reasons, I think. First, that’s just how it’s always been. Go on back to Space War and Asteroids and Space Invaders, that’s where we started and for the most part that’s where all the money is. But that leads to the second reason, which I think is because it’s easy. How do you create conflict that doesn’t involve fighting? It’s hard! So much easier to give your player character an M-16 and point him at a bunch of zombie Nazi robots.

The problem isn’t maturity - its genre.

Check out Firewatch, the game. It’s about a middle aged guy dealing with his wife’s incurable illness… by hiding in the mountains.

Or check out What Remains of Edith Finch, although it’s very much adult in the way a Tim Burton film would be.

But, many consider these games to be “walking simulators”, ie, very little game to your interactive experience.

I think that by convention RPGs that rely on the fundamentals of Gygax and Tolkien are always going to return to the themes of those original creators.

There are more abstract games like The Witness that are tackling more mature themes and dont rely on combat, but they aren’t RPGs.

There are a bunch of old school Sierra Online style adventure games today by Wadjet Eye that deal with what you might call “conventional” adult themes of the kind you might have seen in theatres 20 years ago.

Papers Please of course is kind of an RPG/Warsaw Pact bureaucratic despotism simulator.

[edit] I didn’t see you excluded Firewatch. Honestly… hmm. I’m not sure there are adult RPGs by your standard. It just seems like it’s the genre.