When I mentioned restarting EQ2, FatGamer suggested Lucan De'Lere (did I spell that right?) as a good choice of servers. I went home that night prepared to create a character or two on that server, but stopped when I saw that it was an RP server. See, I have never rolled on an RP server in any MMO... it just seems wrong to me. Not "smack your knuckles with a ruler" wrong, just "a little strange" wrong.
And I am a tabletop gamer. I like pencil and paper roleplaying. Heck, I even wrote a game at one point (anyone out there remember Runebearer?). I like the concept of roleplaying. Still, something about the MMO environment shuts that part of my brain down. I don't want to worry about talking in character, or how the character fits into the world. I am playing a "toon" or an "avatar" not a character.
Part of it is simply the time/effort factor. When I am running a tabletop game, we usually get together once a week, or once every two weeks. There is lots of time in between games to flesh out more of the offscreen stuff. Also, the effort is worth it because it makes the actual gaming sessions seem cooler when you are closely tied to the campaign setting and have a history in mind. Tabletop rpgs are cool because they take active participation and effort on the part of the players/GM to make them good.
I play MMOs because they offer instant gratification for very little effort -- exactly the opposite reason I play PnP games. I can sit down in EQ2, create a new character and be level 10 in the space of a few short hours (same for CoH, though costume creation does take some time). I don't want to think too hard about how I fit into the context of the dry flavor text of a mission briefing. I want to zap stuff with my cool powers.
Even more damning is the fact that I can roleplay all I want in an MMO and all I will get is static NPC quest billboards and static shops where they are always buying everything I have and selling the same lame crap day after day. I can roleplay being an enemy to all orcs, but they'll still pile on the guy with the best taunt skill. I can roleplay being the greatest of heroes solving the ills of the populace, but they'll still send me to fetch pies... and then have the audacity to lose them again in time for the next guy. Roleplaying in the static world of MMOs just isn't worth the effort.
But what if it was worth the effort? What if your character could fit into the context of the game world and make a difference in that game world? What if the guild you joined truly made a difference in how you interacted with the game world and players? What if instead of getting quests from static NPCs, the kings and queens of the world were actual players? What if the bandits you defeated today didn't come back tomorrow in the same spot? What if the GMs of the game actually interacted with the game's guilds and between them constructed events to move the storyline forward every day instead of almost never?
I remember what originally drew me to MUDs and later MMOs -- the ability to live a life of adventure in a fantastic world. I didn't get hooked on these games because of "class balance", or "endgame content", or "itemization". I got hooked because when I first played, I got to be the hero, the traveling wizard, the despised thief. I got hooked because these games represented the potential to immerse myself in another world.
A silly, pathetic, geeky little rant, to be sure. Most of it comes down to "the novelty has worn off and you are older and a more sophisticated (read jaded) gamer." I accept that and I still love MMOs, but that original potential has never been realized and for that reason, I will go back to reading my character guides and planning my build and I will probably never roll on an RP server.