When Daggerfall was first released in 1996, I didn't know it because I was 12 and therefore incapable of growing a convincing beard. In the decades since, it has become a legend; fighting in its direct sequel, Morrowind for the premium position as the quintessential Elder Scrolls game that nothing else can achieve in the minds of its proponents. It’s a strange compatibility – they’re both instantly recognizable as Elder Scrolls games, but Morrowind is a bit antithetical to Daggerfall in its approach, just so. Their differences reflect a major change, which is still ongoing, in what is a role-playing video game: an adaptation of the tabletop experience, or a simulation of life in a fantasy world?
If time travel were true, it would not be like on television, where contemporary heroes arrive at a strange time with an inbuilt advantage over the locals because of their better politics and knowledge. No; in fact, it’s scary, confusing, and frightening – like when you’re in a new city and you’re trying to ride a bus, and you realize you have no idea what local bus ethics are. It is that, but billions of times worse and applied to every imaginable aspect of life. Playing shite old RPGs is the closest thing we have to real time travel: stepping into a world that, despite its vaguely familiarity, is built into a vast and impenetrable variety. a different set of expectations.
In the mid -1990s, the idea that computer software – of any kind – could be designed with ease in mind for mass market adoption was still relatively new. RPGs? Forget it. Those are games for nerds, and specifically the types of tabletop role-playing nerds with complex leveling systems, stat checks, combat multipliers, and all the other poindexter math handled by CPUs for ours now. The audience expects complexity. It demanded, though.