Categories
Uncategorized

The “Roguelike” War Is Over

Image result for samuel johnson

“When we see men grow old and die at a certain time one after another, from century to century, we laugh at the elixir that promises to prolong life to a thousand years; and with equal justice may the lexicographer be derided, who being able to produce no example of a nation that has preserved their words and phrases from mutability, shall imagine that his dictionary can embalm his language, and secure it from corruption and decay, that it is in his power to change sublunary nature, and clear the world at once from folly, vanity, and affectation.”

A Dictionary of the English Language by Samuel Johnson

War, War Never Changes

Hiroo Onoda joined the Imperial Japanese Army at age 18, about a year after the outbreak of World War II. Before leaving his family, he stole his father’s bamboo incense pipe because he thought it might later remind him of home. His mother handed him a cherished family dagger and told him to commit suicide in case he was captured.

Onoda was sent to Lubang Island in the Philippines in December 1944. Allied forces took the island only a couple months later, but Onoda was trained in guerilla warfare and was able to hide in the mountains while also launching attacks of his own.

Onoda found a leaflet in October 1945 claiming that Japan had surrendered in August. But of course he knew that was propaganda. Japan surrender? Inconceivable. Another set of leaflets came later that year that claimed to be from a Japanese general. More propaganda. Letters purporting to be from family members arrived in 1952. Fake letters of course.

In 1974 Norio Suzuki, a young Japanese adventurer, tracked down and befriended Onoda, but he still refused to believe the war was over. It was only after Onoda’s old commanding officer flew out to him and directly ordered him to stand down that he realized the war had actually ended 29 years ago.

Hiroo Onoda surrendering his sword to Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos

Can we learn a lesson from Onoda’s struggle? Probably not but here goes…

An Wyrre of Woords

This blog post is an open letter (against my better judgment) to the roguelike community and specifically to the r/roguelikes subreddit. And on this subreddit, a war rages constantly. A war of words. Here’s how it typically goes:

Step 1: A fan of roguelite games (e.g. Binding of Isaac, Spelunky, Darkest Dungeon, Slay the Spire) wants to discuss these games with the community.

Step 2: Since “roguelike” is the word they use and have always used to describe the above types of games, they search that term and stumble upon r/roguelikes. On this subreddit however “roguelike” strictly means a turn-based, grid-based dungeon crawler (e.g. NetHack, Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, Caves of Qud) and nothing else.

Step 3: This poor soul, not having the first fucking clue about the decade long debate over the word roguelike, innocently shares their love for “roguelikes” and asks for recommendations.

Step 4: A battalion of grognards rushes to defend the honor of the word “roguelike”. “THOSE ARE NOT ROGUELIKES!” they exclaim in unison. “ACTION ROGUELIKE IS AN OXYMORON” they say smugly. A round of congratulatory high fives are had.

Step 5: A flamewar erupts. Every confused comment from the OP makes things worse and they are downvoted into oblivion (true story: I was once downvoted for simply asking for a link in one of these discussions). They are screamed at, called names, told to leave, and they usually do.

Rinse. Repeat.

The above scenario has been happening for YEARS and the reason it keeps happening is because the gaming world at large has no idea that there is a difference between a roguelike and a roguelite. These flamewars that try to settle the issue definitively simply do not reach a wider audience because, of course, roguelite games are orders of magnitude more popular than traditional roguelikes (I would guess at least 50 times more popular based on active player counts and sales data of respective games). There’s an endless supply of gamers that either don’t know or don’t care about the difference.

What really grinds my gears is that the traditonal roguelike community thinks mainstream gamers are privy to these debates that occur within a niche within a niche and that, since the 40 year history of roguelikes must be common knowledge to everyone, anyone who doesn’t understand it is deserving of a biting insult and a swift kick out the door.

For me, the straw that broke the camel’s back

Let me walk you through the myriad* problems with this kind of gatekeeping.

*Sorry, I misspoke since myriad meant exactly 10,000 in the 16th century. Woops!

Zzz (A Zombie Horse and Two Zruties Walk Into a Bar)

The obvious problem with discussions about roguelike vs roguelite is that they’re UTTERLY BORING. There’s nothing new to say but we’ve been treading the same ground for literally years. It’s beyond beating a dead horse. It’s beating a zombie horse. Can we just… stop?

Much like the 50th person in a reply-all fiasco replying all to beg everyone to stop replying all, I have to shoulder some responsibility here. But once I get this post off my chest, I promise I’m done talking about the topic.

Talking down to people that have a limited understanding of these (truly obscure) issues is pedantic and it reeks of snobbery. It’s not a good look for any community.

You’re Right

At this point, you probably hate my guts. So let’s see where we can agree. I will grant you quite a few things.

You had the term “roguelike” first

Yes.

And “roguelike” meant that a game was turn-based/grid-based games for 15 years

You might argue longer, but the genre had no name between 1980 and 1992. Between 1993 and 2008, basically everyone could agree what it meant.

And it was clueless gamers, lazy streamers, and unscrupulous developers that contributed to the dilution of the word

Right.

And that dilution made it harder to find the games you like

That truly sucks. It does.

But Here’s The Thing

None of that matters.

What matters is that “roguelike” does not mean the same thing in 2020 as it did in 1993. Full stop.

Image result for you keep using that word

You will of course argue about the origin of the word and link me to a certain interpretation of what the word meant in 2008. You will say: the word has not changed. It cannot change. Words changing? Inconceivable! Why should we have to change? We were here first!

But that’s not how language works. That’s not any of this works.

The following is English. Can you read it?

Hwæt. We Gardena in geardagum,
þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.
Oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena þreatum

I doubt you can. That’s the first 4 lines of Beowulf written in Old English.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is david-malki-in-which-there-is-taunting.gif

It should be plainly evident that language evolves. Even our most common words have changed meanings. Awful, silly, nice, fantastic, terrible. These words all have had drastically different meanings over time. Arguing that we should all stick to the archaic usages of words is like fighting a war that’s ended decades ago…

The war for “roguelike” was over the moment gamers started carelessly misapplying it to other genres. If you search back, you’ll find this was happening as early as 2009. Spelunky changed everything. Things have only gotten worse every year since then.

All Words Are Made Up. Some Are Just More Made Up Than Others

The terms we invented to classify the newer games never caught on.

Roguelikelike is ugly and almost no one uses it anymore.

Roguelite is less obviously terrible, but still bad. As far as I can tell it was invented by the Rogue Legacy developers. It’s a marketing term. Traditional roguelike players love the word because it’s a subtle jab at all those “lite” games. It’s like making fun of lite beer or diet soda. The real problem is it’s only one character off from roguelike, which means you have to be extra careful to enunciate rogueLITE, often leading to a 30 second tangent on podcasts and videos, or you type out rogue-lite. That’s just gross.

If roguelites are 50 times more popular, why isn’t the word itself 50 times more popular?

Other terms like Procedural Death Labyrinth as clever as they are never got close to taking off. The path of least resistance was to use the least bad option; thus the definition of roguelike was expanded.

Why are we ignoring all the evidence to the contrary, like Hiroo Onoda did? At least Onoda had a good reason to keep fighting. He was raised and trained his entire life to never surrender no matter the circumstances. After all, he was fighting for a living god.

What are we fighting for? Some posts on a Usenet newsgroup circa 1993?

The proper way forward is to admit reality and distinguish traditional roguelikes in a different way, just like that in fact. Traditional roguelike. There’s now an official Steam tag for this genre and practically speaking it seems easier than ever to find turn-based/grid-based games by using it.

Read The Rules

Now, I have long thought the roguelikes subreddit should allow roguelite discussion. If for no other reason than we are using an archaic meaning of a word and then naming our community based on that word. I realize this is a minority opinion among the most vocal posters, despite the subreddit description itself allowing such discussion..

Umm…

Censoring roguelite discussion prevents a lot of people from finding amazing games and it also leads to a stagnation of the genre. These games, love em or hate em, share a lot in common with traditional roguelikes. The developers have to figure out ways to make permadeath interesting, to make procedural generation less boring, to innovate on all manner of mechanics. And many have succeeded!

[D]efinitions are about excluding things. They ultimately draw a line in the sand and say “if you stray beyond, you are forgotten”. This is terrible from a design point of view, as it limits creative potential. It’s awful from a community point of view because it pushes people out. The Berlin Interpretation tried to be wishy-washy with its “you don’t need every rule” but people don’t read it like that. Descriptors like “turn-based” get used as clubs to beat other games out, even games that do innovative things with the time system like FTL.

Darren Grey on Screw The Berlin Interpretation

We should be studying the relic system of Slay the Spire. Or the magic system of Noita. One of the most common requests in the community is for a roguelike with an interesting spell system. Well here you go.

“Noita is the greatest single player game of all time”

Jason Rohrer

“Noita [is my] favorite game since Dark Souls, I have about 110 hours in this one. It fuses two of my favorite genres (physics games and roguelikes) taking the best elements of both.”

Bennett Foddy

Did Noita get discussed on r/roguelikes? Nope. This is easily one of the most remarkable games of the last decade and the two times I saw it come up, the discussion immediately ended with the classic comment “not a roguelike.”

I’m Fighting A Losing Battle Myself

I have probably convinced absolutely no one, but I’m begging you to consider this last point. Even if you think the community should stick to discussing traditional roguelikes, we still need to be more welcoming to clueless outsiders.

Those outsiders might not know the first thing about say Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, but it might turn out to be their favorite game if they were properly introduced to it. I was gently introduced to DCSS by a friend in college; I wouldn’t be here otherwise. Not all roguelite players will cross over, but many will. They all like permadeath, procedural generation, sometimes even turn based games. Remember, this is a group that’s 50 times larger than ours! We need them more than they need us. The same people that we laugh at and kick out and call trolls today might be our best bet of saving the community tomorrow. And if you don’t care about community, why the hell are you posting in one?

If nothing else, remember the number one rule on r/roguelikes:

“It’s ok to not like things, but don’t be a dick about it.

Wait Until You See My Rogue-style

In Slashie’s fascinating retelling On the Historical Origin of the “Roguelike” Term, he mentions that there were a few alternatives to roguelike proposed in 1993:

Image

We might do well to remember that the word roguelike is an accident of history, as are all words. In that spirit, I present to you: r/rogueish, a welcoming place to discuss roguelikes or roguelites or roguelikelikes or whatever the hell you call them.

I hope to delete this subreddit in the near future. When there’s no need for it.

22 replies on “The “Roguelike” War Is Over”

A fair argument. My main thing is when people slam some poor asshole who honestly has no idea what a traditional roguelike even is, due to Steam mis-tagging and the like.

Like you said, one of these guys could grow up and make a true roguelike the world has never seen one day. Let’s not totally shit all over them when they innocently ask questions.

Jeremiah,

I am a long – time gamer who is relatively new to the concept of roguelikes, but I’ve enjoyed the genre so much that I am learning programming just so I can make one of my own. I am also a 20-year veteran middle school English teacher.

Bravo on this post! It perfectly captures my thoughts on the whole argument here on terminology. Words are only useful in so much as they help us to communicate about other things that actually matter. Namely here, the games themselves. Once the argument becomes more about semantics than about the actual things themselves, the argument is now about arguing instead of moving forward.

I’ve not had time yet to dive deeply into the discussion communities, but I’ll be sure to check yours out.

I love good thinking wherever I see it. Keep at it!

Thanks, jere, it’s always a pleasure to read your posts 🙂 I do share in your general sentiment, but I also fall in that slightly perverted group that still finds some interest in the distinction/enjoy skimming flame wars.

One thing perhaps worth noting, is that even purist definitions have (of course) evolved. For intsance, “no meta-progression” was never a thing back in the day, but I guess it became an issue when games like The Binding of Isaac started to include unlocks. Personally, I always liked when traditional RLs had “intertextual” connections between runs. ToME’s unlockable classes, Shiren’s postal system, these never detracted the pleasure for me. Even bones files and ghosts of players past may seem to “break this rule”, although people abiding by it might argue player ghosts don’t give the players a consecutive edge over multiple runs. In that way, I guess “no meta-progression” makes sense as an extension of the tenets of permadeath+procgen.

From a developer’s standpoint, I think it’s a good idea to always be willing to stretch the borders and break the rules, even though bullet point definitions can help us stake out a strategy, identify what we like about the genre (and what we’re willing to throw out), etc.

No. It is not over. The roguelite VS roguelike debate only really entered the mainstream forum in 2017-ish with TotalBiscuits youtube video on why he refused to call non-roguelike games roguelikes when they’re not. He got several things wrong, like the idea that rogue legacy coined the term roguelite. We have google search trend metrics to back up the fact that the term roguelite entered existence either in or prior to 2009, rogue legacy entered existence around 2012-2013-ish.

The issues with saying “the war’s over” are
A) that the majority of people are uninformed about what a roguelike is so the misuse of terms tends to be rather accidental.
B) those that stubbornly refuse to use correct verbiage seem larger in number simply by virtue of riding the coat-tails of the uninformed masses
C) one cannot claim that a victor has been announced so soon when the debate matter has only so recently been brought into the public eye.
D) less and less people are actually misusing the term roguelike.

I never disputed A, nor do I think it contradicts the article. That’s probably how changes in language occur in most cases. Not conscious decision but people simply beginning to use a word in a different way. Most people are not linguists.

Do you have evidence for D?

I’m not getting your point about Total Biscuit. He made a video about roguelikes that got 200k views. Binding of Isaac, for instance, has sold something like 5M copies. I’m not sure how much impact that really had. Besides people were misusing the term “roguelike” long before. He made a video criticizing that and yet most people are still misusing it per the original meaning. These kinds of arguments didn’t start 2-3 years ago and I’m not sure they came into the “public eye” at that point either so I’m not buying C.

for evidence of D look at how many games used to have the roguelike tag misapplied versus those that have the tag falling off. Look at the fact that more people are using the term roguelite, or just not calling games roguelikes when they’re not.
For C all I’m arguing is that the debate has been publicly widespread for about 3-ish years, not much longer. That is a small and insignificant timeframe to work with when the term has been around for multiple decades

You have evidence for D inside your article. The google graph showing that “roguelite” is rising in popularity, while “roguelike” is falling. And successful games like Dead Cells and Noita describing themselves with the term “roguelite”. Looks to me like things are trending into the direction that favours the traditional roguelike players.

The main point of this seems to be mostly about people being disrespectful to each other, and to me that sounds like it’s more a problem with Reddit than anything else. In my opinion, Reddit has sucked in general on any topic that isn’t cute cat pictures since its inception. The downvote-upvote feature is inherently going to get abused and used in disrespectful ways and drowns out any opinion that is seen as sort of controversial or disagreeable.

If someone replies to some new guy’s question with “This term means something different to groups of people, like us, than you think.”, then that is perfectly fine.
But if they say something more like “That’s not what it means, moron.”, obviously not.

Words do change over time, but not everywhere at once. They can continue to mean different things in different locations and communities. Look at the differences between Latin American countries. Telling a community of traditional roguelike players that they should be more welcoming to things that they don’t consider part of the genre, is similarly weird as going to the UK and holding a speech, saying people should stop saying “lift” or whatever other British word.

You’re not even part of the rl community, stop appropriating the term. Apples are not bananas, even if language is fluid. Distinction has it’s purpose.

Yes! We should stop educating people about what things are or mean and instead just change tack to whatever diamond dozen idea is decided on by the majority. I could care less what people call them. These new rogue-like games games wet my appetite like the art in the sixteen chapel! Bare in mind that for all intensive purposes they are the exact same things!

[…] The “Roguelike” War Is Over (Jeremiah / Golden Krone Hotel – ARTICLE)“What really grinds my gears is that the traditional roguelike community thinks mainstream gamers are privy to these debates that occur within a niche within a niche and that, since the 40 year history of roguelikes must be common knowledge to everyone, anyone who doesn’t understand it is deserving of a biting insult and a swift kick out the door.” […]

[…] The “Roguelike” War Is Over (Jeremiah / Golden Krone Hotel – ARTICLE) “What really grinds my gears is that the traditional roguelike community thinks mainstream gamers are privy to these debates that occur within a niche within a niche and that, since the 40 year history of roguelikes must be common knowledge to everyone, anyone who doesn’t understand it is deserving of a biting insult and a swift kick out the door.” […]

Roguelikes are very boring anyways. A billion controls, shit tier graphics & gameplay. Fanboyism like no other such as that glorified rpg board game shit stain of a game:Nethack!

Its as if the fanboys never really played a proper board game. As a blasphemous roguelite player. Its was truly a bad game. The fact that people glorized it as being revolutionary is pretty sad.

After years of not getting a proper update & gatekeeping. Its basically a dead horse carried on the backs of cultists. Not even the developers know what they are doing. It even suffers from the irony of every death is avoidable until you take one step and die. A very shitty game.

Fanboyism is all i see in the roguelike communities promoting stagnation more than anything. No competent game developers, would ever take a glorified rpg board game like nethack seriously. Its communities is small as fuck & no one in their right mind would want to waste time with alone or not trying to discover anything.

Every “traditional roguelike” has been a mess of vagueness. A fake difficulty curve created by the lack of sharing information.

Unlike the blasphemous roguelites that just do everything roguelikes do but better. Better controls, better u.i and easier to convey information.

it truly is baffling of why some roguelikes even give enemy descriptions. Some roguelikes are more shallow than then even arcade games.

But that is to be expected from a failure of a genre stuck in the stone age filled with angry old people that don’t like change or criticism mainly the players & developers.

Roguelikes are just boring. A great mystery of roguelikes. Is why does every single control & interface must be tied to the keyboard , not one option for a mouse. The inventory heck no & bullshit controls like nethack.

All roguelikes are boring. That is the truth. Boring lore, boring dungeon design, boring developers, rabid fans, boring gameplay , boring mechanics & truly terrible , awful , inhumane controls & u.i.

Pretty bold trashing the entire genre on the blog of a roguelike developer. Ton of them have bad controls and outdated designs, but it’s gotten better too. Plenty of roguelikes have mouse and/or controller options, mine included. I think I’ve done a decent job on UI and accessibility if nothing else.

I dislike Nethack more than most people, but plenty of people love it…

I disagree with the notion that one should redefine things instead of coming up with new terminology. I feel as though it results in the erasure of the previous concept by making it a broader term which doesn’t really fit the niche nature of the roguelike situation.
“I hope to delete this subreddit in the near future. When there’s no need for it.”
Is quite a striking statement to make. Surely the concepts embodied by “roguelike” as used by the subreddit still exist and will continue to exist? I’ll invoke Orwell here.

Redefinition isn’t something I’m arguing, more something that has already happened. Now, you can hold to the original term and accept there will be multiple meanings if you’d like. One in the niche community and one outside of it that’s 100 times more popular. That’s fine. But my point here was mainly that you can’t expect the average person to understand the (now) archaic usage without first explaining to them that’s what you’re doing. It’ll be quite tedious to do this from until the end of time for every single clueless outsider that stumbles in.

What’s happening now is that r/roguelikes is assuming they don’t need to explain to anybody anything because they had the word first. Some will make a similar argument like “you don’t go to the UK and expect them to use American English” which would be a fine analogy except when people walk into r/roguelikes they have no idea they’re in a niche.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.