Levels are one of the greatest inventions of man, as far as I'm concerned. Whether you're talking levels of the Masonic Order, different colored belts in a martial art, or your average old school (or D20) RPG, levels give you something absolutely wonderful:
Progressive, measurable achievement.
I am guessing that THAT, more than anything else, has kept gamers coming back to the gaming table after years of play...especially D&D play.
Sure, sure...completing a cool adventure or having a very entertaining sequence of events occur thank to a series of fortunate dice rolls may provide for hours of talking points and reminisces somewhere down the line, but it's that need to achieve that keeps us coming back. I think, anyway.
[now I realize that the base reason for doing any kind of communal activity is being with other people, so that's a given...I'm talking about the reason people continue to do the same thing, play the same game over time, rather than just hanging out & shooting the breeze]
I mean, I know there are some shmoes that, for whatever reason, are interested in getting their black belt in tae kwon do so that they can be Ultimate Cage Fighters or whatever. But most of us would be satisfied with a basic self-defense lesson or two, right? And could get more all-around exercise going to the gym or something, yeah? The only reason to keep showing up at the dojo is that little achievement in the form of brightly colored belts I think...I mean, do people really go out and pick a fight just because they've been upgraded from blue to brown?
Well, anyway, this is just an "off-the-top-of-my-head" type post. I've been blowing of some steam the last couple-couple playing a little Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic (found a working XBox stashed in the closet, and what with all the Star Wars lately...). It's been a long-ass time since I played that little vid, but I have played it before, at least twice (once as a bad guy, once as a good guy). I already know how the thing ends (save the Galaxy or conquer it), so it's not like there's some big mysterious adventure to discover.
But earning levels IS fun...seeing a character's gradual rise in power, even as one customizes the game is cool, at least in a "look at what I've achieved" kind of way.
Perhaps more on this later...heading back to bed.