Sat. Jun 15th, 2024

Are you ready to embark on a journey to uncover the origins of one of the most beloved and enduring genres in gaming history? Join us as we explore the enigma of the first ever RPG game, a title that has sparked debate and intrigue among gamers for decades.

From the early days of computer gaming to the sprawling, immersive worlds of today, RPGs have come a long way. But which game first laid the foundation for this incredible evolution? The answer is not as clear cut as you might think, with several contenders vying for the title of “first RPG game”.

In this article, we’ll delve into the history of gaming, sifting through the facts and myths to uncover the truth behind this gaming enigma. Prepare to be transported to a world of pixelated heroes, epic quests and groundbreaking gameplay mechanics as we embark on a journey to unravel the mystery of the first RPG game.

Quick Answer:
The first RPG game is a topic of debate among gamers and game historians, but one of the earliest and most influential RPG games was Dungeons & Dragons, created in 1974 by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. This tabletop game allowed players to create characters, embark on quests, and explore dungeons, and its success led to the creation of numerous other RPG games in the following years. However, there were also earlier games that had some RPG elements, such as the board game Dungeon! which was released in 1975 and allowed players to explore a dungeon and fight monsters. Ultimately, the definition of an RPG game can be somewhat subjective, but Dungeons & Dragons is widely recognized as a pioneer in the genre.

The Origins of RPG Games

The Evolution of Role-Playing Games

The evolution of role-playing games (RPGs) can be traced back to the early years of tabletop gaming, with the birth of modern RPGs being credited to Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). D&D, created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson in 1974, was the first tabletop RPG to gain widespread popularity and is considered the foundation of the RPG genre.

The Early Years: Dungeons & Dragons

Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) was created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson in 1974, and it was the first tabletop RPG to gain widespread popularity. The game was originally designed as a hybrid of miniature wargames and fantasy role-playing, and it quickly became a phenomenon in the gaming world. D&D was different from other games at the time, as it emphasized creativity and storytelling, allowing players to create their own characters and embark on epic adventures.

The Birth of Modern RPGs

D&D was a revolutionary game that laid the groundwork for the modern RPG genre. It introduced concepts such as character creation, leveling up, and statistic management, which have become staples of the genre. The game’s open-ended nature and focus on storytelling also paved the way for future RPGs to follow in its footsteps.

The Rise of Video Game RPGs

With the rise of video games in the 1980s, RPGs made their way to consoles and computers. Early video game RPGs, such as the original NES title “Dragon Quest” (1986), drew heavily from their tabletop counterparts, but with the added benefits of graphics and sound.

The Early Classics

During the 1980s and 1990s, video game RPGs began to gain popularity, with games like “Final Fantasy” (1987), “Chrono Trigger” (1995), and “The Elder Scrolls” series (1994) becoming classics of the genre. These games expanded on the mechanics of their tabletop predecessors, incorporating elements such as character customization, turn-based combat, and expansive open-worlds.

The Golden Age of RPGs

The 1990s and early 2000s are often considered the golden age of video game RPGs, with titles such as “Super Mario RPG” (1996), “Xenogears” (1998), and “Planescape: Torment” (1999) setting the standard for the genre. These games refined the mechanics of their predecessors, offering deeper storytelling, more complex character development, and immersive worlds for players to explore.

The evolution of RPGs from their tabletop roots to their current incarnations as sprawling, immersive video games has been a gradual process, with each iteration building on the strengths of the one before it. Today, RPGs continue to be one of the most popular and beloved genres in gaming, with new titles and franchises still capturing the imaginations of players around the world.

The Definition of an RPG Game

Character Development and Customization

  • Role-playing games (RPGs) are a unique genre of video games that allow players to assume the role of a character and embark on a journey, often with a storyline that unfolds as the game progresses.
  • One of the defining features of RPGs is character development and customization.
    • This includes the ability to create and customize a character’s appearance, abilities, and equipment.
    • Players can also gain experience points (XP) and level up their characters, unlocking new abilities and strengths as they progress.
    • Many RPGs also feature skill trees, which allow players to specialize their characters in specific areas, such as combat or magic.
    • Storytelling is also a crucial element of RPGs, with many games featuring complex narratives and character development arcs.

Leveling Up and Character Progression

  • Leveling up is a core aspect of character progression in RPGs.
  • As players complete quests, defeat enemies, and progress through the game, they earn XP, which is used to increase their character’s level.
  • Each level up provides players with a point allocation that they can use to improve their character’s attributes, such as strength, intelligence, or dexterity.
  • Players can also unlock new abilities and skills as they progress through the game, allowing them to customize their character’s playstyle.

Skill Trees and Specializations

  • Many RPGs feature skill trees, which allow players to specialize their characters in specific areas.
  • Skill trees are typically divided into different branches, each representing a different ability or skill.
  • Players can earn points by leveling up their characters, which they can then spend to unlock new abilities and skills in the skill tree.
  • This allows players to tailor their character’s abilities to their preferred playstyle, whether it be focused on combat, magic, or support.

The Importance of Storytelling

  • Storytelling is a crucial element of RPGs, with many games featuring complex narratives and character development arcs.
  • The story often drives the player’s actions and decisions, and can be presented through dialogue, cutscenes, and other storytelling mechanics.
  • Some RPGs also feature branching storylines, where the player’s choices and actions can impact the outcome of the story.
  • A well-crafted story can make an RPG more immersive and engaging for players, and can also help to create a sense of emotional attachment to the character and the world they inhabit.

The Contenders for the Title of First RPG Game

Key takeaway: The evolution of role-playing games (RPGs) can be traced back to the early years of tabletop gaming, with Dungeons & Dragons being credited as the first tabletop RPG to gain widespread popularity and laying the groundwork for the modern RPG genre. The definition of an RPG game includes character development and customization, leveling up and character progression, skill trees and specializations, and the importance of storytelling. The contenders for the title of first RPG game include the Ultima series and the Wizardry series, among others. Despite the debate over the first RPG game, the lasting impact of early RPGs can be seen in their influence on modern RPGs, including game mechanics, storytelling, and world-building. The future of RPGs will likely continue to evolve through advancements in technology, innovation from indie developers, and the impact of online gaming and multiplayer experiences.

The Dark Age of RPGs

The origins of the role-playing game (RPG) genre can be traced back to the late 1970s and early 1980s, a time known as the “Dark Age” of RPGs. This period was characterized by a surge of interest in fantasy and science fiction, fueled by the popularity of tabletop RPGs such as Dungeons & Dragons. The Dark Age saw the emergence of several groundbreaking games that would go on to shape the RPG genre as we know it today. Two of the most prominent contenders for the title of first RPG game are the Ultima series and the Wizardry series.


Ultima, developed by Origin Systems, was first released in 1981 for the Apple II computer. The game was a revolutionary example of the RPG genre, featuring an open world, non-linear gameplay, and a complex storyline. Ultima combined elements of both fantasy and science fiction, allowing players to explore a vast, interconnected world filled with magic, monsters, and technology.

The influence of Ultima on the RPG genre cannot be overstated. The game’s innovative design, which emphasized player choice and exploration, inspired many subsequent RPGs to follow a similar formula. The Ultima series went on to release eight mainline games, with the last entry, Ultima IX: Ascension, released in 1999.

The legacy of Ultima is also evident in its impact on the broader gaming industry. The series is often credited with popularizing the isometric view used in many RPGs, and its emphasis on storytelling and character development helped to elevate the genre beyond simple dungeon crawls. Ultima’s influence can be seen in numerous modern RPGs, including the critically acclaimed The Elder Scrolls series.


Wizardry, developed by Sir-Tech Software, was first released in 1981 for the Apple II computer. The game was a pioneering RPG that featured first-person, grid-based gameplay and a deep, intricate storyline. Wizardry was set in the world of “Akrath,” a dark and dangerous realm filled with magic, monsters, and treasure.

The influence of Wizardry on the RPG genre is evident in its focus on complex character development and turn-based combat. The game’s challenging difficulty and deep mechanics encouraged players to experiment with different character classes and strategies, making it a favorite among RPG enthusiasts.

The legacy of Wizardry is also notable for its impact on the development of subsequent RPGs. The game’s focus on character creation and customization laid the groundwork for many later RPGs, including the popular Final Fantasy series. The Wizardry series continued to evolve and innovate throughout the 1980s and 1990s, with several sequels and spin-offs released over the years.

In conclusion, the Dark Age of RPGs was a time of great innovation and experimentation, as developers sought to push the boundaries of what was possible in gaming. The Ultima and Wizardry series were two of the most influential RPGs of this era, laying the groundwork for many of the RPGs that followed in their wake. Despite the passage of time, the legacy of these classic games can still be felt in the modern RPG genre, inspiring new generations of gamers and developers alike.

The Golden Age of RPGs

Baldur’s Gate

  • The Influence of Baldur’s Gate on the RPG Genre
    • The introduction of the isometric perspective in RPGs, allowing for a more immersive and interactive experience for players.
    • The use of a party-based system, allowing players to control multiple characters and make strategic decisions.
    • The inclusion of a dynamic world, with non-player characters (NPCs) that have their own agendas and stories.
    • The emphasis on character development and customization, with a detailed skill and leveling system.
  • The Legacy of Baldur’s Gate
    • Established the isometric perspective as a staple of the RPG genre.
    • Influenced many subsequent RPGs, such as Neverwinter Nights and Icewind Dale.
    • Considered a classic of the genre and still has a dedicated fanbase today.


  • The Influence of Fallout on the RPG Genre
    • The introduction of the SPECIAL character creation system, allowing for more nuanced and detailed character creation.
    • The use of a post-apocalyptic setting, exploring themes of survival, morality, and the human condition.
    • The inclusion of a robust crafting system, allowing players to create and modify weapons and armor.
    • The use of a non-linear, open-world design, with multiple solutions to quests and puzzles.
  • The Legacy of Fallout
    • Established the post-apocalyptic setting as a subgenre of RPGs.
    • Influenced many subsequent RPGs, such as Fallout 2 and Fallout 3.

The Elusive First RPG Game

The Candidates for the Title

Black Onyx

Black Onyx is a game that has been suggested as a potential candidate for the first RPG game. Developed by British company, Acornsoft, in 1982, Black Onyx was originally designed for the Acorn Electron computer.

The Influence of Black Onyx on the RPG Genre

Black Onyx was one of the earliest games to incorporate elements of the RPG genre, such as character development and exploration. It allowed players to control a character, known as the “Wizard,” and navigate through a series of mazes and dungeons. Players could collect treasure, battle monsters, and level up their character, all of which became staples of the RPG genre.

The Legacy of Black Onyx

Although Black Onyx was not the first RPG game, it played a significant role in the development of the genre. Its innovative gameplay mechanics and immersive world helped to lay the groundwork for future RPG games, making it an important milestone in the evolution of the genre.


Another game that has been suggested as a potential candidate for the first RPG game is Dungeon, developed by British company, Magnetic Scrolls, in 1985. Dungeon was designed for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 computers.

The Influence of Dungeon on the RPG Genre

Dungeon was one of the first games to incorporate a text-based interface, which allowed players to type commands and interact with the game world. It also featured a complex storyline and multiple endings, which added to the replayability of the game. Additionally, Dungeon allowed players to control multiple characters, each with their own unique abilities and stats, further expanding the possibilities of the RPG genre.

The Legacy of Dungeon

Although Dungeon was not the first RPG game, it was one of the most influential early RPG games. Its innovative text-based interface and intricate storyline helped to shape the RPG genre, and its impact can still be felt in modern RPG games today.

The Debate Continues

The identity of the first RPG game has been a subject of much debate among gamers and scholars alike. The reason for this is that the term “RPG” is often used to describe games with different mechanics and features, making it difficult to pinpoint a single game that started it all. Additionally, the history of video games is complex and multifaceted, with many games contributing to the development of the genre in their own unique ways.

The Role of Platform and Audience

One factor that contributes to the debate is the role of platform and audience. Early RPGs were often developed for specific platforms, such as home computers or consoles, and targeted specific audiences. This means that what might be considered the first RPG game on one platform might not be the same on another. For example, the game often credited as the first RPG, Dungeons & Dragons, was originally a tabletop game before being adapted into a computer game. However, its popularity and influence varied depending on the platform it was played on.

The Subjective Nature of the Term “First”

Another factor that complicates the search for the first RPG game is the subjective nature of the term “first.” Some argue that the first RPG game was simply the first game to feature elements that we now associate with the genre, such as character development, storytelling, and choice-based gameplay. Others argue that the first RPG game was the first game to be marketed and sold as an RPG, regardless of whether it included all the elements we now associate with the genre.

The Evolution of RPGs as a Whole

Finally, the debate over the first RPG game is also tied to the evolution of the genre as a whole. RPGs have changed dramatically over the years, with new mechanics, features, and platforms emerging all the time. This means that what might have been considered the first RPG game 30 years ago might not hold up to modern standards. As a result, the debate over the first RPG game is likely to continue for some time to come.

The First RPG Game: A Matter of Perspective

Determining the first RPG game is akin to navigating a labyrinth, with numerous contenders vying for the coveted title. This is largely due to the lack of a universally accepted definition of what constitutes an RPG, coupled with the evolving nature of the genre. In this quest for the elusive first RPG game, it is crucial to adopt a comprehensive perspective that encompasses various factors, including gameplay mechanics, storytelling, and cultural context.

Gameplay Mechanics
One of the primary factors to consider when examining the first RPG game is the presence of gameplay mechanics that define the genre. This includes character progression, turn-based combat, and character interactions. The early text-based RPGs, such as Colossal Cave Adventure (1976) and Dungeons & Dragons (1974), laid the groundwork for these mechanics, albeit in a primitive form.

Another crucial aspect is the extent to which the game incorporates narrative elements, such as a rich storyline and well-developed characters. Early RPGs often relied on text-based adventures or simple stories, with characters like the iconic Avatar (1979) representing the player’s character. The gradual evolution of storytelling can be observed in games like Ultima (1981), which featured a more intricate narrative and character development.

Cultural Context
It is essential to consider the cultural context in which the game was developed and released. Factors such as technological advancements, market trends, and consumer preferences played a role in shaping the early RPG genre. The emergence of home computers in the 1980s, coupled with the popularity of fantasy literature and tabletop RPGs, provided a fertile ground for the growth of video game RPGs.

Emergence of RPGs in Japan
The first RPG game that gained widespread recognition was Dungeons & Dragons (1974), a tabletop RPG that inspired several early video game RPGs. However, it was the emergence of RPGs in Japan, particularly the Dragon Quest series (1986), that cemented the genre’s popularity and laid the foundation for its global success.

In conclusion, determining the first RPG game is a complex undertaking that requires a multifaceted perspective. By examining gameplay mechanics, storytelling, cultural context, and the emergence of RPGs in Japan, one can gain a more comprehensive understanding of the genre’s origins and evolution.

The Lasting Impact of Early RPGs

Early RPGs left an indelible mark on the gaming industry and continue to influence game design to this day. Their impact can be seen in several aspects, including:

  • Game Mechanics: The first RPGs introduced new mechanics, such as character levels, experience points, and equipment upgrades, which became staples of the genre. These mechanics helped create a sense of progression and reward for players, making them more invested in the game.
  • Storytelling: Early RPGs also paved the way for more immersive and engaging storytelling in video games. The inclusion of complex characters, morality systems, and branching storylines allowed players to experience a sense of agency and consequence in their choices, creating a more dynamic and engaging narrative experience.
  • World-Building: The first RPGs were often set in fantastical worlds with rich lore and history, which inspired developers to create more detailed and immersive game worlds. This has led to the creation of some of the most iconic settings in gaming history, such as the world of The Elder Scrolls or Final Fantasy.
  • Community: Early RPGs fostered a sense of community among players, who would often come together to explore, trade, and fight together. This sense of camaraderie and shared experience helped create a strong bond between players and the games they played, leading to a more vibrant and engaged gaming community.

These aspects of early RPGs continue to influence the genre to this day, making them some of the most beloved and enduring games in history.

The Future of RPGs: Innovation and Evolution

Evolving Technologies and their Impact on RPGs

  • The emergence of advanced gaming consoles and personal computers has allowed for greater visual and audio fidelity in RPGs, enhancing the overall immersive experience for players.
  • Technological advancements have enabled the creation of more complex and dynamic game worlds, with improved artificial intelligence and physics systems contributing to more realistic and engaging gameplay.
  • Cloud gaming and streaming services have expanded the accessibility of RPGs, allowing players to enjoy their favorite games on a wider range of devices and platforms.

The Influence of Indie Developers on the RPG Genre

  • Independent developers have played a significant role in shaping the evolution of RPGs, introducing unique gameplay mechanics, narrative styles, and artistic visuals that challenge traditional conventions.
  • The rise of indie RPGs has fostered a culture of experimentation and innovation, encouraging developers to push the boundaries of what is possible within the genre.
  • This creative surge has led to the emergence of subgenres, such as roguelike and deck-building RPGs, that have redefined the boundaries of the traditional RPG format.

The Impact of Online Gaming and Multiplayer Experiences

  • The growth of online gaming and digital distribution platforms has facilitated the development of multiplayer-focused RPGs, which have become increasingly popular among players.
  • Massive multiplayer online RPGs (MMORPGs) have evolved to incorporate more dynamic and engaging worlds, with improved social features and player interactions.
  • Co-operative and competitive multiplayer modes have also been integrated into single-player RPGs, offering new ways for players to experience and engage with their favorite games.

Embracing Diversity and Inclusivity in RPG Storytelling

  • As the gaming industry becomes more diverse, RPGs are beginning to reflect this shift by incorporating a wider range of narratives, characters, and perspectives.
  • Developers are embracing diverse cultures, histories, and experiences in their storytelling, providing players with more relatable and engaging characters and settings.
  • This increased focus on inclusivity and representation is not only fostering a more inclusive gaming culture but also pushing the boundaries of what is possible within the RPG genre.


1. What is an RPG game?

An RPG, or Role-Playing Game, is a type of video game that allows players to assume the role of a character in a fictional world. These games typically involve exploration, combat, and social interactions with other characters.

2. What is the history of RPG games?

The first RPG games were developed in the 1970s and 1980s, with early examples including games like Dungeons & Dragons and The Legend of Zelda. These games were simple by modern standards, but they laid the foundation for the genre and helped to establish many of the tropes and mechanics that are still used in RPGs today.

3. What was the first RPG game?

There is some debate about which game can be considered the first true RPG, but one of the earliest and most influential games in the genre was called “Dungeons & Dragons.” This game was first released in 1974 and was created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. It was a tabletop game that involved players creating characters and embarking on adventures in a fantasy world.

4. What was the first RPG video game?

The first RPG video game was called “The Legend of Zelda,” which was released in 1986 for the Nintendo Entertainment System. This game was created by Shigeru Miyamoto and was one of the first games to incorporate elements of both action and adventure into the RPG genre.

5. How has the RPG genre evolved over time?

The RPG genre has evolved significantly since its early days. Modern RPGs often feature complex storylines, detailed character customization, and elaborate worlds to explore. Many RPGs also incorporate elements of other genres, such as action, strategy, and simulation, to create unique and engaging gameplay experiences.

Playing an RPG for the first time

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