Because I can't exactly spend a whole column talking about the horrors of the internet (NSFW) I'm going to be focusing on the place of role-playing and how it got interjected into these online games of ours.
First things first, Dungeons and Dragons. Our beloved D&D is undoubtedly the cornerstone of the modern role-playing game. You and your friends, gathering in a basement, telling a story using a set of controlled rules and dice rolls to determine outcomes. Here we find the true definition of what role-playing is - telling a story.
The stats were the backseat to the show. Any good dungeon master will tell you that he ignores half of the D&D rulebook because it just over complicates things. The final say on what happens is with the dungeon master and how he wants the story to be told.
As role-playing games grew in popularity, we saw the rise of the text-based multi-user dungeon. Here we had the user interacting with other users inside of a world that they controlled. Sure, you could fight monsters, but talking with your fellow players and acting out your stories was still important. If you were staring at fights and text combat all day, these games would get mighty boring mighty fast. Other games like DragonRealms embraced their role-playing roots and neglected to give anyone any solid stats and forced people to go out and *gasp* solve puzzles! For example, the only way to be a Moon Mage was to impress another Moon Mage enough for him to let you into the Observatory of the Moon. To let you in, he would have to nod to the guards, who would then let you pass. How is that not cool?
If it wasn't for the poor programming of NPCs, you could barely tell apart player characters and non-player characters. Everyone moved the story along. Everyone had a history.
But as our screens started to light up with pretty graphics for our eyes, we began to close our mind's eye. Loot became more important than imagination, numbers more important than exploring. People began to fight bosses knowing not what threat they posed to the world, but knowing the exact probability of their favorite piece of armor dropping off of his corpse.
There's always an exception to the rule, however... Lyra Studio's Underlight, mPlayer's first MMORPG, was role-play or be booted. Lyra took a no-nonsense approach to those who didn't want to conform to their world and their mythos because Lyra didn't program NPCs. All of their game was run by the players, and the main storylines of their game were created by the players.
Naysayers are probably jumping up and down right now, screaming, "I bet that game didn't last! That's too strict!" at their monitors. You're right, it didn't last. It shut down in 2005 after running for 8 years on a vector graphics engine due to a dwindling player base and understaffing issues. It was so unsuccessful that it lasted 8 years and has a fan community reviving it.
I'll bring up Ultima Online, and how that game with it's 2-D isometric approach to gaming is still running. Why? People like it, and people like role-playing in a game that lets them do anything in their world. They like the mythos, they like their friends, and they're utilizing that history to their advantage.
Still, that brings us to today, where anyone who opens their mouth and attempts to take the history of a virtual world seriously is scorned and laughed at. We're almost better off just taking the letters RP out of our acronyms and calling them MMOGs, because role-playing is something that just doesn't happen in these things anymore. Role-playing has changed from telling a story to just signifying a certain type of rules and number crunches.
So people believe that role-playing has no place in these games (which I find completely baffling) and RP servers are an affront to those who want to "play the game correctly". Well, if all you want to do is number crunch, then go ahead. But is it so horrible to let those who wish to embrace the story and history of a world, and tell the story of their brave and heroic characters be left alone?
Let me re-iterate: the term we're discussing here is role-playing, as in "Role-Playing Game", where you take on the role of a character and play out a story. Namely, your own story.
And, for the sake of the game, role-playing in a fantasy setting is not limited to, "Oh, dost thou wisheth to go slayeth the monster...eth?" If you do that, even role-players are going to look at you funny. Normal language is quite encouraged, and it's really simple to just put a slight twist on your language to put it in character. "Dread Queen Onyxia, I come for your head!" or "We've got Bane coming in on all sides. Watch your sixes, keep your heat meters down, and boys, I want to have blood stains that no one will be able to clean out of my uniform by the time we're done." Do those lines sound so nerdy?
Another common misconception is that role-playing wastes "valuable time" when you could be out levelling. Let's be honest here, how much do people complain about nothing to do when they hit the level cap? Sure, they can go out and do some instances and raids, but what if they just aren't finding the groups? Having an in-character conversation can kill some time and be lots of fun. Remember that word? Fun? You know, that thing you have when you play games?
You don't even have to waste time either! Throw in a couple in-character retorts during a quest or instance when you won't kill your party, and I bet you'll have a lot of fun. You'll raise the level of immersion the other players feel, and you'll make the epic parts of your game even more epic. You'll begin to feel like you're inside of a movie, and playing the starring... what's that... role? Oh no, that word keeps appearing!
In closing, there are too many misconceptions about role-playing. If you get out there and try it out for yourself, you may find that it's not so bad. It breathes life back into the old grind, makes your 10th run through that dungeon a little more bearable, and you just might make some really fun new friends in the process.
The best part of the game is your imagination.
Next week is the reader feedback appreciation week on Anti-Aliased! I'll be taking your questions on game play and gaming culture, and I'll pick the best ones to discuss here in my column. If you have anything for me to guide you through and help you with, or wish me to cover about the gaming community at large, drop me a line at colin.brennan AT weblogsinc DOT com.
Colin Brennan is the odd-duck who seems to really enjoy role-playing in these MMORPGs, is the weekly writer of Anti-Aliased, as well as a contributor to Epic Loot For All! He also has regular role-playing parties with his characters from Second Life, World of Warcraft, and Lord of the Rings Online, although they never seem to realize when it's a good time to leave.