When you look at games like World of Warcraft versus games like Dungeons and Dragons, you can see that in some ways they are just the same, while in others they are vastly different. Thematically, they're both about romping through a fantasy world having adventures, and depending on the kind of activity you enjoy most in your games, the actual content of either one can be very similar. The difference lies in the user interface: WoW takes over your computers screen and presents you with intensive graphics, while D&D relies on paper, dice, and your imagination.
While WoW is obviously a child of the early 21st century, all the practical tools used in D&D have existed for thousands of years. One might well wonder: "why didn't Plato (or any other suitably wise old figure out of history) ever think of putting together a dungeon adventure?" A recent Escapist magazine article asks that very question, and then provides us with a bunch of theories about what roleplaying is and why people do it. All these are interesting in themselves, but they leave me wondering "but wait... why didn't Plato ever think of it?" The answer I think the article is trying to give is that roleplaying is actually a form of social innovation that couldn't have existed before, because the culture and ideas to give it form hadn't developed until the '60s.
So tonight when you get home and log into WoW, especially if you are logging in to roleplay your character, remember that you are participating in an activity that is on the growing edge of human civilization. Just as, all those hundreds of years ago, it was a great innovation for the Greek playwright Aeschylus to bring two actors onto the stage at once as opposed to letting one actor and a chorus carry the show -- in our own era, the way players get together today to collaboratively create worlds, characters and stories with one another is a new and exciting innovation that never existed before. Roleplaying itself is one of many brilliant and beautiful examples of how society and culture continue to evolve and progress well into the the future... and beyond.