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Encased – There’s More than One Way to Play an RPG

Last month media outlets across the world previewed Encased, the upcoming isometric dystopian sci-fi RPG from Dark Crystal Games. Beyond the praise for the gameplay, storyline and environment, one thing stood out – almost everyone had played the game “normally.” Out of over one hundred previews it seems everyone chose to take the standard path through The Dome. 

This might feel like a strange statement. But this is why Dark Crystal Games wanted to let everyone know about the unusual gameplay styles they’ve added to Encased.  

It’s true that most RPGs won’t actually let you finish the storyline using a pure stealth or pure pacificist build, but that’s not true of Encased. Dark Crystal Games created full narratives and story options for any and all starting stats you’d like to begin with, including being an idiot, or a total psycho.

The Dome can be explored with any combination of alternative personality habits and players will still get a refreshing unique storyline. Some starting options that players can choose are: 

  • Setting your intelligence as low as possible, giving you ridiculous combat options such as dancing like a fool.
  • Not talking to anyone, literally, and hiding permanently in the shadows.
  • Being a pacifist and using only non-lethal weapons.
  • Acting like a straight up psychopath and killing every. single. person.

 To give players a visual, the team created a new trailer showcasing a few alternative starting choices for Encased.

Video games make you a better person 

So why did everyone begin Encased playing as ‘themselves’ rather than role-playing an alternative choice? While some of this would be down to it being a first playthrough, there are more fundamental issues at play here. 

Dr. Rachel Kowert – a psychologist specialising in our interaction with video games – says that almost all of us project our own personality when playing a video game; at least when it comes to RPGs. “Our in-game avatars are often a means of experimenting with many possible ‘selves’, either as we are – our actual self – or an idealized version of ourselves. The characters we create in-game are very often closely related to who we are out of game,” said Dr. Rachel Kowert. 

There’s also a personal development aspect to this too. Research at Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab found players who were helpful to NPCs in a video game were then more helpful to others in real life too. It’s called the Proteus Effect and – yes – playing video games can make you a better person. Other studies have produced similar results. 

“There is an entire field of research looking at how digital role play in video games can impact how we think and behave out of game. For example, seeing a digital version of ourselves being successful in these spaces can become a catalyst for changing thoughts and beliefs we have about ourselves,” added Dr Kowert.

So is the reverse true, if we play as evil characters or just run amok with a gun in a first person shooter, does that mean we become worse in real life? Thankfully, despite what some of the tabloids would have you believe, the answer to this is a firm no. The proteus effect only pulls you up, it doesn’t pull you down. So why did the developers put these alternative gameplay styles in the game if people don’t instinctively play them? 

“We created Encased to not only be an entertaining game, but one that would provoke some thoughts in players too. From moral choices to problem solving, we wanted the player to use their imagination to play out their avatar in whichever way they wanted,” said Viacheslav Kozikhin, Creative Director at Dark Crystal Games.

“These are some of the reasons why we created all these extra possibilities. We’re aware not everyone will see them, but that’s part of the magic of RPG’s. It’s all about discovery and allowing players to explore a world in whatever way they want rather than having a storyline-on-rails.” 

Encased, will be a digital PC release on Steam, Epic and GOG, and is currently in Early Access where users can experience all the first act and part of the second. 

Dr. Rachel Kowert is a Research Director for Take This, a non-profit organization that provides mental health information and resources to the gaming community and industry. Dr. Kowert is also the Chief Scientific Officer of Kitsune Analytics and science content creator on YouTube, Psychgeist.

Image courtesy of Prime Matter

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