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You played an RPG last year. Chances are you played a whole load of them. Even if you're Mr Casual Games, and you only bought FIFA 12 and Modern Warfare 3 last year - you played two RPGs.
Almost every game is an RPG now, regardless of what traditional genre you think it sits in, because - more than ever - games want us to play a role, to be 'us but different'. Remember those guys at school who sat around a table, called themselves Thunderbeard the Wizard and DeadEye the Elf, and rolled 20-sided dice? Yeah, that's you now.
The RPGisation (that's totally a word) of games is a relatively modern phenomenon, and we felt it most keenly last year. To understand what an RPG is, let's look at Skyrim - the pinnacle of so-called 'traditional RPGs'. Here is a game that lets you meticulously craft a personality from a selection of races (you can be a cat; a cat with a beard), and create your own adventure within aunique, diverse and massive world. Crucially, though, Bethesda give you the tools and structure to work within, and that's what separates the Role Playing Game from the sim.
In Skyrim you're a mage, a warrior, an assassin, a thief. Your specific character set-up is your own - you're a female Nord thief with a talent for crafting, herbalism, and two-handed weapons; you live in Whiterun with your housecarl and a Daedric axe you've dubbed The Killinator - and you play the game accordingly.
What you're doing is pretending, playing a role that to some extent encapsulates your personality. Even if you play Skyrim as an extreme character 'just to see what happens if you're a complete bastard', you have chosen to do that from personal motivation - you want to see what happens when you play that way.
However, the same features and themes you'll find in the RPGest (again, totally a word) of RPGs now run through every major game on current-gen consoles. FIFA 12 - you pick your favourite team and pretend to be them. You control their movements, share in their victories, and act out all 11 roles on the pitch. More obviously, the Be A Pro mode lets you create a player in your image and live out his life.
You choose their position, control their development, manage their career. You're a footballer, a superstar - but you're also Thunderbeard the Wizard, rolling 20 sided dice every time you want to transfer to a bigger club or up your wages. You're DeadEye the Elf when you invest hard-earned experience points in speed or passing, because that's what'll make you a better player.
Why work so hard to engage players? As development and marketing budgets soar, modern games want you to stick around longer; have a glass of wine, become BFFs.
"RPGs make you feel good and reward you in ways that life simply can't"
These guys want to make their money back, and you're going to get it for them. They know that the more invested you are, personally, the more likely you are to keep playing or come back for the sequel. Maybe you'll buy some DLC, or evangelise your experiences on Twitter, inviting friends tojoin in and roll the 20-sided dice alongside you.
Maybe the story isn't that gripping, but your inner-collector desperately wants to level up and acquire the Ultimate Mega Sword of Killing. Or reach the next Prestige in Modern Warfare 3. Or unlock a new Ferrari in GT5. It's what developers refer to as a feedback loop and it ensures that the game you bought stays off second-hand shelves and keeps you turning on your console and potentially dipping into your wallet.
The more you play, the more stuff youget, the more you invest in your persona, the more you play... Being virtually patted on the back once in a while massively reinforces your on-screen role, making you feel more in tune with the culture/world/brand regardless of whether you think it's a seven-out-of-ten or a ten-out-of-ten kind of a game. It makes you feel good and rewards you in ways that life simply can't - and that's why every console game, eventually, will be an RPG. They simply can't afford to be anything else...