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In My Understanding

An old school gamer discusses the challenges facing the MMORPG community and it's leaders.

Author: jesad

Role-playing vs Playing a Role

Posted by jesad Thursday August 2 2007 at 11:08AM
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This week we ask our friends Newton and Hardcore a very specific question.

What is Role-playing?

Hardcore - Role-playing is the lost art of immersing ones self into their character and world by acting out the actions of their class and persona while keeping all OOC (out of character) chat to a minimum.  I call it a lost art because very few people still do it and even less know how to do it well.

Newton - Role-playing is dead.  It's that old school thing where a bunch of 40 year olds run around and speak in old English saying things like "Hither" and "Forth" and generally slow down what is already a slow process (leveling) to a grind.


At best, role-playing as it was done in my house, back in the pen and paper days, was a strained exercise.  Picture if you will, several ladies and gents who, during their normal lives hold jobs like hotel clerk, convenience store manager, night-watchman, and exterminator all sitting around a large ping-pong table pretending to be wizards, warriors, elves, and dwarfs.  One would almost have to imagine a bong being broken out amidst all this mundanes just to make these people talk to each other at all.

Now picture the same setting with one lone figure sitting at the head of the table attempting to tell a story that involves all of those people and telling it well enough create a form of mass hypnosis powerful enough to bring this group together under the illusion of all being in the same but completely different world than the one they knew and could see using only a library of books and rules and a few pewter figures strewn across several delicately drawn maps.

Some days the night-watchman would really enjoy himself as he (the warrior) would lay waste to encampments of gnolls on his way to meet the rest of the party.  Most days however, it was the disruptive plumber who had the best game making fun of the night-watchman and everyone else at the table by doing things that in his mind "made the game a little more realistic" as to how he thought his character (the thief) would operate.

Enter Ever quest 1.  The first title that would hold the majority of the people from this table under one Massively Multi player On-line environment.  Books and rules have been replaced by printers and quests downloaded from the Internet.  Pewter figures have been replaced by beautifully drawn 3D characters and maps, although still a large part of the game, have been removed from the game entirely and are now (as they should be) items of great value that must be sought from outside sources and deciphered for their accuracy and lore along the way.  Moving this 3D character has become much more of a chore now than it used to be using that pewter figure, and must be done using the same tool that the players uses to communicate with other players.  Even talking has become more complicated as one must now know the correct syntax to use to get their messages to the correct people and the correct format in which to form their words.  "Hey! Take it easy on the caps!" makes playing the role of the maniacal or boisterous nearly impossible to play.  And amidst all the laziness in typing words like "P-owned" and "~La" that don't even exist in the modern English language make any attempts at Olde English communication seem dated and out of place.

How then did one role-play in Ever quest 1?  Answer, they didn't.  EQ1 saw the degeneration of role-playing, as those pen and paper folks new it, go from corny but fun depictions and over the top characterizations of warriors, knights, thieves, and wizards acted out between a group of real life friends who met once or twice a week to one on one screaming matches between complete strangers over the encroachment of formerly "camped" real estate required to upgrade the player character toward their next "phat" item.  For those that did attempt to play in-character there was ridicule, disbelief, sub-division, and even jeering to pay for their efforts.

In the midst of an environment such as this, it is no wonder that so many people gave up on role-playing or never even tried.  Role-playing, as it was, came from a foundation of reading, imagination, and  familiarity with the subject matter and here it was that a lot of the people playing EQ1 didn't even speak the same language more or less read the same books.  Role-playing then became the exception and not the rule.

Enter crafting.  The means by which one player character can create goods that are usable by another player character.  At first glance, many of us saw crafting as just another means to upgrade our characters against the beast that was it's environment.  True, crafting does do this, but in later games such as Ever quest 2, Eve On-line, and several others, crafting takes it's place as an official role alongside the traditional roles of adventuring and exploring.  In games like these crafters play into the progression of things to the point that they become valuable assets to any guild or party hoping to attain greatness.

In Star Wars Galaxies crafting really gained momentum as the player built cities and spacecraft became upgradeable and thus more substantial and crafters became almost too powerful in the role they would play to the community.  Sony, of course, "fixed" this by revamping the game in a monumental patch that would nearly bring ruin to a bustling and thriving civilization.  But that is another story and one that does not need to be re-hashed here.  Suffice to say, crafters made their stand in that game and showed their power to be substantial to say the least.

Now we have Vanguard.  The first game that promises to cross the paths of adventurers, explorers, crafters, and a brand new class called "The Diplomat".  Suddenly, and with great welcome, role-playing is alive again.  Characters like the hated "Tarkn" of the Shidreth server can now become infamous because of their inflated prices and high tiered goods while at the same time retain some semblance of worth being one of the few characters on the server capable of producing items of such quality.  Explorers can now make names for themselves by seeking out the more obscure items of power and organizing groups of adventurers of only the hardiest stock to retrieve them and diplomats can change the quality of entire cities to work and live in.

Guild meetings have become more like board meetings where players have to discuss plans of attack against housing, questing, and the good old "how are we going to kill this mob" while the future promises even more interaction between these 4 major roles in attaining guild housing, flying mounts, and other fantastic items that will appear in the game in the future.

There is still not a lot of Olde-English being tossed around, but role-playing is making a comeback in the form of playing a role in your guild in these new games.  Classes and their particular talents become more important to success in the adventuring sphere while professions take on the role of provider and enabler for entire groups of people.  At the end of the day, the feeling is very immersive and satisfying in this new-age form of role-playing and although I still miss the days of pretending to be King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, I believe that taking on the role of one of these fantastic new kinds of characters brings the role-playing much closer to home and gives much more life to the players (and their characters) who opt down this path. It is not the role-playing a lot of us grew up with but there is still a little room for a maniacal genius flair or glorious leadership attitude within the confinements of this system if you want.  When you are the only guy on your server that can make a tier 5 weapon out of ultra-rare material, you can act pretty much how you want to.  At least, that is my understanding of it all.

neschria writes:

I really don't think the Olde English is even necessary (or desirable) for roleplaying. Or, to be more blunt, it's really annoying to me, mostly because people can't quite match up their verbs with their pronouns, and I hate being Thou'd by people who think it was the formal form just because it is in the Bible.

re: EQ1, I was always one for quite a lot of light roleplay (or RP-Lite, if you prefer), but I know what you mean. I was on a server that had at least 4 fairly large,active RP guilds at one time. Once they opened the RP server, it seemed to become commonplace for people to interrupt RP that didn't even involve them to tell the participants to go to the RP server, or even more annoyingly, to tell them that EQ was NOT a role-playing game. I felt like the game became a poorer place when user-made channels came in and the RP went mostly private. I could see people in the RP guilds, and sometimes see them emote to one another, but I was cut off from it... Not sure if I am expressing it well, but it took some of the soul out of the game for me.

Thu Aug 02 2007 2:33PM Report
Meanmuttley writes:

I have always wanted to play D&D game but never knew anyone around here who played shame.......also no one around plays warhammer so another hobby thats almost usless. oh well I can always hope

Sun Oct 07 2007 10:19PM Report writes:
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