I'm a pretty avid role-player.
Now, while a few of you read that statement and continued onto this sentence without so much as blinking your bleary, porn-strained eyes - a larger percentage of you probably just inwardly groaned and thought the words that I've seen typed in game chat too many times to count:
But before you stop reading this article and resume your life of ab crunches and roofie-ing girls in the back of your tricked-out, cherry red Iroc Z28, let me state something for the record that you probably wouldn't expect an admitted role-player to say…
I agree with you. Wholeheartedly.
Not because role-playing has become almost obsolete, or a little used mechanic, but because those two badly neglected letters in the acronym MMORPG serve as a constant reminder of what these online video games were supposed to be; our pen and paper games brought to life.
Yet role-playing is almost taboo, even on the servers dedicated for that type of game play. We’re told to “take it to channels” or openly mocked for doing because:
It Is Seen As "Silly" and “Childish”
In virtual worlds full of goblins and gnomes and unicorn riding space rangers who routinely save entire galaxy from enslavement at the tentacles of the evil Intergalactic Overlord Xenu, there is still a stigma associated with “playing pretend”.
You can create a character and immerse yourself in a world of fantasy and imagination, but as soon as you start using *your* imagination to enhance that world, it is seen as a sad and pathetic attempt to become something you’re not. You’re laughed at, often ridiculed, and given the social equivalent of a “swirly” in general chat.
For which I totally blame the jocks.
Video games are now mainstream, and MMORPG subscriptions have quadrupled every year since their inception, giving us over 47 billion people world-wide who play some form of online multiplayer game. And out of that very real and completely accurate number of registered video game subscribers?
We get a large influx of the people that used to stuff us into lockers or give us high fives to the face.
Video games are supposed to be fun, fast, and hack and slash. “It’s just a stupid game” and it is supposed to be played the same way by everyone. Those of us who hold up the party by actually reading the quest dialogue, or use whole words and complete sentences while communicating in a text based medium are seen as the purple-nurple deserving nerds that reminded the teacher that he forgot to assign weekend homework.
Games aren’t supposed to ever be taken seriously, and those of us who invest our imagination into them deserve the nipple twisting we get. Of course, this is only because:
No One Knows What Role-Playing Actually Means
A lot of people are unfamiliar with the concept of role-playing because they were too busy spending their developing years actually kissing girls and getting invited to parties that didn't involve Jolt Cola and 20-sided dice.
As you can imagine, without this knowledge these people have no foundation of experience in which to base their understanding of "use your imagination" on. Instead, they search back through their well- muscled and probably non-asthmatic memories and forge the three most common misconceptions that still haunt all role-playing games to this very day.
"Thees" and "Thous" – The belief that all role-playing either requires, or is normally done with over-the-top Shakespearean flair.
This of course seems incredibly lame as it is an alien form of communication completely unfamiliar to the cool kids who skipped Mrs. Cooper's 9th grade English class so that they could get some under the shirt action from Myra Maxwell behind the bleachers.
Not that I blame you, she was smoking hot.
The problem with this misconception is that too many “new” role-players actually do it, it gets noticed, and the rest of us are dumped into the category with the new guy who stops role-playing three days later because he ran out of words to add “ith” to.
"The Do'Urden Effect” - The idea that in order to role-play you must take on the role of a popular fantasy character that for some inexplicable reason you believe to be both clever and obscure. This of course is named in honor of the Drow character “Drizzt” whose name has been misspelled in order to thwart naming filters so often that every guild is now legally required to have six characters with some variation of the spelling active at all times.
The truth is role-players hate these people more than you do. We see them as the “special” cousin that we’re forced to play with because our mother feels bad that they had to wear a helmet and wet the bed until they were 14. Always keep in mind the until now unwritten RP law of: If you can’t create, don’t scribble on someone else’s drawing.
"Oh baby, I want to do you in the neck hole… Orcs have neck holes, right? Yeah. The neck hole." Everybody giggles about it, and everyone secretly knows what “role-playing” really means. It is just code for “let’s have really freaky weird cyber sex with a chick who is probably a dude”.
…okay. This one is 100% true, but still you shouldn’t just assume it is. I mean, that’s why we’re online right? Human interaction? It isn’t like gaming has become:
The Single Player MMORPG
When is the last time you’ve honestly had to group up in an MMORPG? Other than the random take down of a higher level mob with a few real life friends, no one feels the need to actually group up any more. And pick up groups? They’re like sucking the whiskey out of a hobo’s beard – sure, you might get the thing that you needed, but you’re probably not going to enjoy the experience.
In order to role-play, you need other players, but the fact of the matter is – no one can be bothered. There is no longer a group dynamic. Your fellow players have ceased to be an intricate part of your gaming experience. They’re not an element, they’re an obstacle; an annoyance that keeps you from your next fast-paced Michael Bay explosion of action and ass.
Online games have gone from storyline and quest driven RPGs that we once sat around our basements envisioning between bouts of D&D, to the hack and slash Counter Strike death matches that we used to lament. We’re now playing our multiplayer games as solo games and using the rare interaction we have with other people as NPC dialogue. And because of that…
…we need to stop hinting at the promise of role-play all together.
Because for those of us who remember the Funyons and Mountain Dew fueled conversations about where the future of gaming will bring us, it stings worse than those friggin’ titty twisters.