I agree. And its by no means a problem restricted to tabletop RPGs either, its an intrinsic feature of games where character advancement is regular and a primary motivator.
Its certainly a big problem in MMOs, for example. Characters that were challenges become not even annoyances very quickly if advancement is a major game driver, skewing story telling hugely, and devalueing stories that should have been epic.
Of course character advancement should be possible. Thats part of how Harrek got to be Harrek. But it probably shouldn't be the major drive of the game that it is in almost all modern RPGs.
Its funny how its SO caught on as the driver for gamer reward. Sometimes we forget that many successful RPGs downplay or ignore. Original Traveller, for example, didn't even HAVE a character advancement system. An interesting contrast is Ars Magica, which has at least 3 separate character advancement systems, but the main one heavily skews game play towards long extended campaigns that cover years of game time.
Its easy to get so used to it as part of gaming that we don't even see the effects any more, and forget its just one particular genre convention that is easily ignored if we want.
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