It’s May 2022, and I’m still waiting for a developer to answer my cries for help. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Skyrim or Disco Elysium, Divinity or Witcher – in one thing, they all disappoint me mercilessly when it would be so easy to make me happy. I’m starting to lose hope.
An ingame diary I can write myself: It drives me crazy that almost all role-playing games fail to incorporate this simple but handy feature. I don’t get it: Such an excellent key to real RPG – and no one uses it?
But before I get to that, let me first briefly explain how exactly I envision the journal. Such a diary would solve numerous problems that plague games again and again. And RPGs need such solutions damn severely!
Almost every role-playing game or action-adventure has a quest log, i.e., a notebook in the game in which our missions end up. There is often information about the world and its inhabitants. I can only read through it in most cases but write nothing about it myself. And that’s what annoys me!
No, If development studios would hatch more outlandish ideas for their journal, it would have many more benefits than you might think. And don’t think that’s just because I’m desperately leafing through digital diaries for answers every time after a long break from playing! And of course, you never find them there, but in the worst case, overwhelmed, close the game again.
Which advantages exactly? I will talk to you about that in much more detail here than most game journals describe their quests.
The curse of overloaded maps
At the latest, Elden Ring has finally cleared up the assumption that a map has to reveal all secrets so that players can find their way around. You stumble upon a new surprise that others may completely overlook around every corner.
Great, that’s how excellent world design works! It’s high time that the era of maps where you can’t see any terrain for all the quest markers comes to an end. Stupe is running after a compass that leads you to the next mission on rails – that destroys the best open worlds because we no longer perceive the great environment but stare at the mini-map.
Of course, there are good reasons why many developers rely on such features. They work. To ensure the player doesn’t miss where to go next, point a big arrow at it and be pretty sure it won’t accidentally run past. But that’s not elegant. I have a better idea.
Put the card in my journal, and then let me write wildly on it – bonus points if I can even place symbols myself, such as in Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One.
For example, if I see a glowing cave entrance in the distance, but I’m in the middle of an exciting mission, I’d like to open my diary and scribble on the appropriate place on the map: Here cave tour, take the lamp with you.
It would be even more exciting with actual quests that reward my attention. Did the smith tell the hunter something about the buried treasure under the gallows tree? If I write this down in my journal myself, it immediately becomes more than just a generic side mission that I immediately forget among a hundred others. Instead, my attention is rewarded, and I can go treasure hunting myself. The small MMO Book of Travels wants to go in this direction, but its success is on the razor’s edge.
I am aware that this could quickly become a lot of work. I’m not in favor of getting rid of the automatically generated diary, but I want to expand it. For example, it is only essential for optional quests that I pay close attention to. The game can continue to provide me with important information, but I want to embellish the details myself. Role-playing king Baldur’s Gate 2 has already made own such entries possible, for example:
This feature also makes something more accessible and more important to me personally than an exciting map: genuine role-playing games.
Finally, complete immersion instead of role-playing light.
An in-game journal that I keep from my character’s point of view immediately increases my immersion by two hundred percent. I write down what I think is going on in my character’s head, giving them personality, making decisions differently than I would – because I’m impersonating a different person.
The pixel figure comes alive in my mind. What words would Commander Shepard choose to write about the loss of a crew member? What would my Elven Inquisitor in Dragon Age have to say about the strange habits of Round Ears?
Role-playing games are all about: I want to completely immerse myself in a strange world and see it through someone else’s eyes!
I’ve been doing this occasionally, for example, in Skyrim. Then stop with a notebook and pen. But this isn’t a perfect solution either:
It takes me out of the game
My cats like to steal pens
If I take a more extended break, I have to dig up my notes again (my cats also like to steal notebooks)
The entries never look as fancy as I would like
In Skyrim, there is now also a mod for this with almost 100,000 downloads, but for me, there are conflicts with various other modifications after the installation. However, their existence clearly shows that I am not alone with my dream diary!
It would be more convenient and prettier to fill my journal in-game myself. Just look at the gorgeous Life is Strange diary (yeah, not an RPG, but still!). My fingers are itching to design my pages, to enter a few texts full of embarrassing teenage poetry. Maybe even stick in some pre-made virtual stickers.
Developers would also open up enormous community potential with such jokes because journaling has been a massive trend in social media for years.
Journaling is a colossal phenomenon.
Combining gaming and journaling is obvious. To stay with the Life is Strange example: There are thousands of posts showing how people have recreated the magical diary in real life. But only the artistically talented who have a lot of time can do that. I bet there were many more players eagerly vying for the best in-game journal!
My ears tremble when I imagine what such a polished journal template would trigger in the motley fan fiction community. Of course, it doesn’t just have to be about aesthetics, and many prefer to share their stories rather than pictures. All advertising for the game that developers would not have to worry about themselves would spread all by itself in the community.
More immersion, more brilliant mission design, endless creative potential: there are many reasons why role-playing games should make a usable in-game journal a standard. And I hope that at some point, it will no longer be the rare exception it is today.