Firstly, if you haven't read Lars Doucet's exquisitely argued article for the Producedural Death Labyrinth then stop reading this... well keep reading long enough to finish this sentence and then go read it. It's incredibly well reasoned, it's even handed and non-confrontational, and, moreover, it supports the expansion of the gaming taxonomy rather than the abolition of a particular phrase. You should know this by now having come back from reading it, right?
I like it. And the abbreviation "Deathlab." (credit to Adam Perry @hoursgoby)
The case for the PDL is really well rounded. If you look at the Berlin interpretation of the term "Roguelike," it suffers from being so descriptive that it becomes exclusive, and in doing so leaves out games that have been instrumental in bringing the term "Roguelike" back into vogue...like. Darren Grey wrote a brilliant rebuttal of the Berlin Interpretation which basically says the same thing, only way better than I can. Go read it, too.
I think Lars is on to something by looking at the trouble that a broad rubric creates when trying to assign a genre. By distilling it down to the actual thing games have in common, you unlock a more representative and inclusive set of descriptors. And when you distill the aspects of the Berlin interpretation down and apply it against these modern gems, you sort of are left with games whose commonalities are: Procedurally generated levels, permanent death of the playable character, and relatively constrained environments with a heavy emphasis on exploration over scripted or sequenced play. And now all your Roguelites and Roguelikelikes fit easily into the definition. Which is cool.
So yeah, PDL is a far more inclusive grouping, as well as being a catchy, pithy acronym, if maybe a little clunky on the tongue in its fully phrased version. Well, clunky in my slurred, poor articulated speech.
Games like FTL and Dungeons of Dredmor harkened back to something from the primordial, collective gaming memory. Something that was so devious and insipid that it unearthed a comparison for a game that, let’s be honest, all most no-one in modern memory has played. I think the first time I ever heard the term was listening to a gaming podcast talking about this insane game called Demon Souls where you could play for hours and hours and hours, and then in one wrong move lose all of your progress. NO CHECKPOINTS! NO REGENERATING HEALTH! Total and utter lunacy for a modern game, and then someone said it reminded them of a Roguelike.
I, didn’t know what a Roguelike was, or what Rogue was to be like, so I immediately interneted it, and immersed myself in it, and Hack, and NetHack, and games that I’m pretty sure I had played on those 1001 FREE GAMES! CDs from the early 90s, but had never paid much attention to. You know, because they weren’t Commander Keen.
But they were awesome, and hard, and compelling, and hard, and oddly addictive, and SO hard.
You know, kind of like Demon Souls.
And there’s the key thing, this word “Roguelike,” which was pretty much gibberish in my headphones, turned into a trigger for discovery. And rather than it just being a container of descriptors, like First Person Shooter, or Role Playing Game, it was a genre whose core aspect involved comparing one cool thing to another cool thing; a cool thing that was cool enough to become a rallying point for emotions and experiences we get from certain other games.
That’s why I love the term “Roguelike” so much. Not because it’s particularly useful in scientifically describing the aspects of a game, but because it serves to emotionally entangle the feelings we get from one game with the feelings we get from another. It’s the legacy of a great innovator preserved in a subversive genre definition. It’s video gaming’s version of Netflix’s “Because you liked...” genres. It’s video gaming’s version of “Dickensian.”
Yeah ok, so my reasoning is a little heavy on the emotion and little light on the library science. I get that classification is important. To that end, the Procedural Death Labyrinth is a way better interpretation of the term Roguelike. Though you could also argue that Procedural, Permadeath, and Labyrinthine are the actual taxonomic classifications, of which some games contain them, and some don’t, and whether certain games contain them all or not *may* not necessitate a neologism. That said, I love new words, and I love Lars’s article, and I fully plan on calling games Deathlabs in the future.
I was trying to describe the awesome game State of Decay (on Steam & XBLA! Buy it today!) to a friend recently, and I started with, “You know the game XCOM? Well imagine all the zombie games you’ve played, like Left 4 Dead or Dead Rising, and you added that thing where when a member of your squad dies, they are dead forever. That’s State of Decay.” It’s an XCOM-like. I could have said it was a “3rd person, action beat-em up, with base and team building, resource management, and character permadeath” but it just felt so much more engaging to compare the heartbreak I felt in State of Decay to the heartbreak I felt in XCOM when you lose a valued member of your crew FOR-EV-VER.
I think that’s all you need to be able to call something an “whatever”-like. A single strong emotional point of connection. That’s why FTL is a Roguelike, why Demon Souls is a Roguelike, why I’d argue Kerbal Space Program with no quick-saves is a Roguelike!
That fact that a game-to-game comparison is being used as a genre is awesome. It means that there have been works of art so influential in the canon of video games that their mention is synonymous with the ideas they represent. That’s also why I love Metroidvania. They are terms that point to our influential past. They are signs that our medium is maturing as an artform.
But most importantly, they are one word love letters to games we like, and when we say them, we help others like them, too.
Or you can Never Say Roguelike. Which, yeah, she's probably right...