Wings Over Atreia: Shakespeare in Aion

OK, OK, maybe Shakespeare is a bit melodramatic, but the idea of taking on a role and playing it out on a stage is not a foreign idea -- even in Aion. It just so happens that this stage is not under your feet but in virtual space instead. Besides, I happen to love Shakespeare, so props to me for mentioning him in a gaming column!

Now, I am the first to admit that NCsoft doesn't make it easy for a gamer to roleplay in Aion; there are scant few tools to support this style of play. But that doesn't mean it doesn't happen. Despite this dearth, there is in fact a whole community comprised of legions both large and small as well as individuals. These players use personal connections and a player-created chat channel in-game as well as external tools such as the Aion Roleplayers website to bind themselves together and support the community as a whole.

So what exactly is roleplay, and how viable is it in the world of Atreia? Exit stage left (past the cut) to define RP, debunk some RP myths, and explore RP in general Aion.

What is roleplay?

During my flights about Atreia, I have on occasion been asked what exactly roleplay was, so indulge me a moment as I expound a bit. Roleplay is basically what every gamer does when s/he steps into a game; s/he is stepping into another world/reality and carrying out a role, be that of a maniac with the gun (no offense intended to shooter games *wink*), a blood-thirsty ogre with an axe to grind -- literally -- or a quiet crafter bent on dominating the world economy. In every case, the player (let's just say you, because we know you play if you are sitting here reading a website based exclusively on gaming) becomes an avatar with a specific type of role in the society. Ergo, you roleplay.

The difference actually comes in the level and intensity of the roleplay; everyone falls somewhere in the spectrum, from just being in-game to completely immersing himself. The most basic step of roleplaying is simply to adopt a personality then make decisions and conduct yourself as that personality would. Some RPers adopt nuanced speech patterns or accents. Backstories, character histories, and complex plots are all completely optional. For the self-labeled roleplayer, RP is basically broken into three main categories: light, medium, and heavy. While all roleplayers eschew 133t speak, those who participate in light tend to leave discussion about the real world out of the basic spatial chat channel, whereas heavy RPers tend to remain in-character in all chat channels.

Roleplayers also enjoy inhabiting the world they are in. By this, I mean that they enjoy alternative activities beyond, say, grinding. This is most often in the form of player-generated content. For instance, recently on the Israphel server, there have been events created and hosted by players, including a kobold uprising, a bazaar, a masquerade ball, a concert, and a gambling night. Some events are free-form, while others are more scripted. The live events team actually promoted and held a GM-hosted RP event for all servers not long ago. Trust me when I say RPers would love to see more support in-game for events, whether it be GM-created content or more tools at the disposal of players.

Debunking

What roleplay is not: It is not illicit relationships -- and yes, I am wording that much more nicely than you usually see. I always find it ironic that ERP (erotic roleplay) is the first thing many think of when they hear the term RP, yet nothing could be further from the truth; more non-roleplayers participate in such relationships online than any roleplayers do.

RP is also not a license to act out one's rage fantasies on others. Unfortunately, there are those players who use the game medium as a way to abuse, belittle, and hurt others. You know the kind -- they feel better about themselves only after tearing others down. True, some will try to hide behind the guise of RP to do this and slough off responsibility, but don't be fooled -- any mature gamer accepts that it is still another person behind the other screen. True roleplayers also know that drama does not equal RP.

Another myth I would like to debunk is that RP and PvP are mutually exclusive. Actually, PvP and RP go hand-in-hand quite nicely: If the idea is to feel truly immersed in a world, what's more immersing than to have to back up your self-proclamations of grandeur or watch your back in hostile areas? There are, in fact, specifically designated RP/PvP legions that embrace both philosophies. So next time someone whines that RPers are carebears, just chuckle to yourself and watch those RPers slaughter the enemy. Talk about humbling!

The state of RP in Atreia

What makes roleplay so hard in Aion? Well, there really are not that many tools available. Players really have to stretch their creativity to the limits to feel immersed in a world with so many restrictions. However, even without a plethora of tools -- and the squashing of the roleplay-oriented servers when servers merged -- RP is still alive in Atreia. As noted earlier, events are held by legions, individuals, or even by GMs. RP is also conducted on a more personal level, just between members of a group during general game play. RP can also be conducted by stories via forums. Even without a dedicated server, RP is no more dead than LFG trolls.

Aion has one successful tool for roleplayers -- customization. Customization is a key factor because many RPers want their experience and look to be unique. Aion does fairly well in this category by allowing skins, offering dyes, and having a good customization at character creation (though some of the extremes could certainly be nixed).

Toss 'em a bone

Frankly, I don't really see why roleplayers aren't tossed a few more bones in-game. RPers tend to be very loyal to a title specifically because they immerse themselves in the world and become very attached to it; they invest a great deal in it. RPers will stay in a world and build it up despite some flaws here-and-there in mechanics. Not only do they remain loyal subscribers, but they often support multiple accounts in order to quench their thirst for story lines. And most of the things RPers are happiest about is fluff, so why not cater a bit to this crowd?

What would make RPers happy? Well, a very easy addition would be to allow custom emotes. Let players create personalized emotes with the /emote command, such as /emote grins evilly as enemy blood drips from her armor (MJ grins evilly as enemy blood drips from her armor). This adds a great deal to the immersion and doesn't detract from anything. As an added bonus, you can get rid of the ** and -- people use to surround emotes in spatial chat, leaving the white text for actual spoken words.

Along those same lines, and I know I have said it a few times, but it bears repeating -- loudly -- until someone at NCsoft hears: Get rid of the auto emotes! Please, what will it take to convince you that players really hate this feature, and not just RPers?! You can actually be prevented from engaging a skill just by typing an instruction or comment. And nothing is more immersion-breaking than watching a cascade of victories over the mailbox or body-writhing taunts in the middle of a serious conversation. Even more annoying, the emotes are triggered whether you talk in group or spatial. There is no escape. End them. NOW!

OK, this next one is a given... housing! Yes, give the roleplayers somewhere to call their own. Somewhere to let their creativity shine. A place to run businesses from, hold clandestine meetings in, or any number of other events. The possibilities are many: Perhaps one Daeva has a tavern, another a museum, and yet another a dojo. Having new places to check out is definitely a bonus, bringing people online even when they don't want to grind. Give players a bit of ownership in-game and they are more vested in the game.

Here is one tool that may seem controversial, but I'll include it anyway: cross-faction communication and interaction. Some of the most exciting and fun storylines can come from the interaction between enemy forces. Want to slip over to enemy lands and meet up with a secret friend? Want to spy on an event and use the information to (figuratively) blackmail some enemy official. Want to make a killing in the economy by setting up a black market for skins? You bet I do! However, there is simply no way to coordinate and pull this off short of getting everyone into an out-of-game text or chat program. And that takes us out of the game, which kind of defeats the purpose of immersion. So many fun scenarios and plots, all impossible due to game mechanics. A shame.

My list could actually go on, but if I started including all the details of my dream RP tools for the game, you might still be reading when next week's article is published! Instead, I chose a few that certainly wouldn't be too hard to implement or that (in the case of housing) NCsoft has already teased us with. So tell me, what other tools would you like to see implemented in Aion to enhance the roleplaying experience? Share your thoughts/rants in the comments below!

Soaring through the Aionosphere, MJ Guthrie touches down weekly to bring you Wings Over Atreia. Featuring tips, guides, and general snippets of life in Aion, the column is better than Tutty-on-a-stick, ackackackackackack! Have a suggestion to share? No need to bribe a Shugo -- just send mail to mj@massively.com.
This article was originally published on Massively.