Agency, defined by a feeling of choice-whether actual or implied, is one of the key elements good games exhibit and where many players lose interest. While I may find one game better than you, the reason we put these things down is because somewhere along the way we lose that feeling. Yes, for some one game might work while another won't it often comes down to agency.

You have twitch shooters, where apparently you just age out of being able to feel like you're effective, fighting games where the button mashers often give up when the comb-masters break their stride, and strategy style games where some might not appreciate or understand the layers of systems involved in just playing. These games are all prime examples of how player agency and game format run into trouble as some people won't be able to feel a sense of agency because of how the game works.

I want to talk about roguelikes(or RL). RL games often feature randomized level design, weapon or item degradation, inventory management, death by starving, starting at level one when you enter a dungeon and, of course, permadeath. While not all RLs contain all of these systems the inclusion of even one or two of these in a game means that they have looked at some of these elements to create their own semi-RL environment.

So the fact that so many games are pulling pieces of these elements together should lead us to the basic question of why? Why do so many of these elements get brought in and why do they work? Really, what is the sense that a roguelike can create?

Dread. Anxiety. Elation. Starvation? Roguelikes can bring players to many different states because the systems involved don't let players shortcut out of a problem . In a fighting game you seem to always be able to perform an infinite, or in a Mega Man title you just learn the layout and enemies exactly. Roguelikes often ask players to make small choices along the way but to weigh them carefully. Do you clear inventory space by eating your food, do you burn a wish or prayer early? Something difficult to design into many games is the feeling of choice, but by RL games pulling out so many elements most games take for granted players are left dealing with every choice.


Because most RL games end up relying on a number of systems to influence player choice they were apt for a comeback. Lessen the strains of a traditional RL, and change some of the systems up and you have the modern RL. Almost any game can have these systems added, in some degree or another. Part of these designs coming from so long ago means they're tested, they work. A player might not necessarily like how they work, but they do. You start playing a roguelike and you will almost immediately start making choices, and these choices all matter.