So, I’ve come up with a pretty nifty idea for how to make leveling up your character in RPGs more entertaining.

Ah, of course you know what I’m talking about? Leveling up has become commonplace in just about every genre over the past five years. Even the biggest first person shooter franchise right now, Modern Warfare, features an extensive leveling up system in their multiplayer. What had once been a mechanic limited to–and even indicative of–Role Playing Games (RPGs) has now become widespread over all of gaming. I think the way we do it now is archaic and dull and can be improved.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love being rewarded with big numbers at the end of every major encounter as much as the next nerd. Experience Points–numerical values representing just how much “experience” your character received for any given action, usually winning a fight–have been and may very well continue to be the main impetus for you, the player, to actually participate in a game’s combat scenarios. Harder, rarer fights would reward more points, and the more points you got, the more likely it was that you would “level up”, the primary goal of the exercise.

Leveling up is the only reason people play MMORPGs

Here’s what I’m thinking–leveling up doesn’t have to be just the ever-growing sum of a string of numbers. The contextual reason for leveling up is that the “experience” of your many battles makes you stronger for it. Why not just break up various tasks in the game as “experiences”, and ditch the number system altogether?

You are probably familiar with “grinding”. That is, doing a monotonous activity in a game–running around fighting enemies, playing a couple dozen map using only an obscure weapon set–in order to level up. Grinding is a time-honored tradition, almost as well-known as leveling up itself, and it makes no sense. There’s no impetus for the characters to do it–all it is is glorified practice with live targets, and you are almost always fighting the same targets. Grinding is very rarely ever much fun, though some find it relaxing. It’s an element of gaming that we should have much, much less of. I don’t want to eliminate it entirely, but I do want us to consider alternatives.

Man, this makes me think of Crimson Skies. That was a sweet game.

Imagine this: Setting out into the game at level 1, basic equipment. You fight enemies, but they don’t drop balls of light or produce numbers informing you that they are helping you. However, by the end of the combat tutorial you have killed, say, 25 of them or a 1/3 of the total population, and that’s earned you a thorough understanding of their fighting style and basic behavior. Now you are able to fight against them and creatures similar to them better, your character automatically adjusting to adapt to their attacks, giving the player an easier time while playing. Now, both story and gameplay benefits have been reaped, and experience has been gained. What more, it’s an actual experience, one you felt and one that is unique, at least to that playthrough.

While individual experience events–which can include completing missions or sidequests, finding rare items, learning skills and craftswork, or just exploring an unexplored cavern–grant immediate bonuses, getting enough of them does, indeed, “level up”, which gives your character more health and allows him/her to explore more dangerous areas.

This could be translated into other genres too. Hell, Call of Duty already has a sort of variation on this, where it rewards perks and skills to players who perform certain specific tasks numerous times. The Achievement and Trophy system does this too, in a way. Gamers respond well to their own individual accomplishments within the game being celebrated. Who wouldn’t? It seems logical. It seems a step towards making games more immersive without trying gimmicky controllers or motion capture technology.