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The Roleplayer's Redoubt

Is there a really place for roleplaying in MMOs? What do roleplayers bring to the table? How can developers foster stronger roleplaying communities? How do traditional concepts fit into the realities of contemporary online roleplaying?

Author: OddjobXL

What Roleplaying Isn't

Posted by OddjobXL Tuesday February 24 2009 at 12:08PM
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Roleplaying isn't talking in a funny accent. 

Roleplaying isn't a way to pick up virtual chicks.

Roleplaying isn't acting or writing or any kind of high art form.

Roleplaying isn't sitting around in a tavern and chatting.


Then what is roleplaying?  Roleplaying is getting into the head of a fictional character, from an often fictional setting, with a fictional biography and goals and a personality based on both his own past and the world he lives in and then expressing that persona to other players in the context of a game.

Granted, to one extent or another, all the common misconceptions about roleplaying I've listed above tend to come out in MMOs in particular.   In some games characters can talk with strange dialects or personal affectations though the myth of the Shakespearean speaking roleplayer is just a myth (outside of Ultima Online - unthank you, Lord British, for that crap).  Some of the best roleplayers are females and this can attract undesirable behavior, or roleplaying with ulterior motives, from cheesier male players.   There are a few very creative individuals who can act, and write, and express themselves with breathtaking talent in MMO RPdom but, by and large, roleplaying is a hobbyist's craft and, despite the vanity of some (usually not the most talented anyhow), the results are rarely entertaining for anyone but those involved - hence, not art.

Lastly, given how little content in most games creates interesting things for roleplayers to talk about they often gravitate to taverns and cantinas and social RP chat-lines for extended small talk rather than dramatic dialogues involving anything of consequence.

In the days to come, I hope to explore how real roleplaying works and examples of it in MMOs and from older tabletop and MUSH experiences.   I'll also visit the notion of the value of a roleplaying community to an MMO.  As we've seen from both SWG and Age of Conan the "unofficial" Roleplaying Servers, Starsider and Wiccana in fact, have risen to the top in terms of population.  Coincidence?

If there's anything else you'd like me to discuss feel free to comment here. 

Sarr writes:

Good article, but I can't agree with you. Roleplaying is all that and more.

All this may be a part of roleplaying your character. Roleplaying is exactly what the name implies - playing the role. Playing the role of your character, pretending you are your character, etc. Like a good actor, exactly like that.
Actors too add some details to otherwise sleepy lines on paper, which explain his role. In MMORPGs --> the may be statistics and looks, which every character has.

So, with the base of what game gives you - be it DDO, WoW, LotrO, WAR, UA or something else - you have some basic tools and environments (or scenes in theater). What may make you a roleplayer though, is only your imagination and invention. People who are like sheep aren't good roleplayers, as they're not inventive and seem to have little personality. Those who are more inventive and try to have only their own opinions, are better suited towards roleplaying, though. But these people are in world's population minority.

I roleplay in DDO with my friends. I think this game is probably the best one for those who like to roleplay. Private instances mean that no "lolz" and "omgs" idiot will spoil your fun. You can take who you want, and no one else can come if you won't allow him/her - so no chance for a troll to destroy your roleplaying :).

Good, full of thoughts piece of text, well written. Thanks, you made me interested :). Thumbs up!

Tue Feb 24 2009 3:08PM Report
Annwyn writes:

Roleplaying isn't talking in a funny accent.
Roleplaying isn't a way to pick up virtual chicks.
Roleplaying isn't acting or writing or any kind of high art form.
Roleplaying isn't sitting around in a tavern and chatting.

True. RP isn't that.....but what I just quoted is in fact character traits players can give themselves in order to create a hero with deep background, story and image. The funny accent is unique and most players will use different accent based on the character race. (i.e Dwarfs will use expressions like: "aye lad' " etc.)

As for ways to increase the RP experience, players should not be able to use characters like numbers, "-", use excessive caps (ThElEeTkInGoMgWtFbBq), ignorant names like "xXx-Sasuke-xXx" or whatever may come into their mind.  There should be a strict ban against those sort of stuff to increase the RP feeling. Only thing is that the players are not forced to RP, they are just simply forced to find a more "unique" name than those random "Oo- iwuvnaruto-oO" or "htasdldktgldtkdrltkd"(gold spammer).

I roleplay in DDO with my friends. I think this game is probably the best one for those who like to roleplay. Private instances mean that no "lolz" and "omgs" idiot will spoil your fun. You can take who you want, and no one else can come if you won't allow him/her - so no chance for a troll to destroy your roleplaying :).

If you think that way, wouldn't it be better to simply play D&D at your house? RPers in a MMO is supposed to be something interesting and easy of access. Yes of course, random people will barge in and say "lolz omg wtf u nubz doin roflmao u sckz 1m s0 1337" but these are harder to find in P2Ps. Even though there is indeed a few in DDO like there is in other P2P MMOs, some servers were made especially for RP fans (best exemple is WoW).

Back to the main subject: To create a real RP feeling, I say it must be done in a SandBox game. Linear games can't give sucha deep RP feeling as they're too many restrictions but in SandBox you can be who you want, when you want. Being able to do everything you want, be it crafting, mercenary or assassin, it is much easier to create a unique story and use the games features and "create a reaction from the community". Then again, that's just the way I see things.

That's all I had to say :P

Tue Feb 24 2009 6:24PM Report
OddjobXL writes:

I should have more properly said, "What Roleplaying Shouldn't Be (Exclusively)" but that would have made for a much less catchy title.  The reality is there are many misperceptions about roleplaying on MMOs and they're all based on shreds of truth.  Roleplaying tends to fall down, lazily, and curl up like a kitten on a sunlit blanket when it hits the commercial MMO.  

In many ways this has to do with the nature of MMOs themselves.  Most are dependant on static and inflexible installations which players can't really effect.  The reaction to this is for roleplayers to create their own seperate continuities and house rules and, of course, the inevitable cliques of likeminded that work well together.  It's almost an act of rebellion against the staid, plodding, mechanical grind of the universe - oblivious to the little fleas running about within it - to roleplay, to try and make sense of a gameworld through the projection of a persona that belongs to it.

The game doesn't care what you do.  Only you and your friends do.  Very few games give players the tools to create their own adventures and truly flesh out some kind of context for themselves.  Star Wars Galaxies' storyteller tools are crude but some players have used them to create traditional, tabletop style, adventures and for events as well.  In fact, SWG has many tools and tricks that suit roleplayers well.  Where it falls down is immersion and evocation of the IP - but that's content for another blog post down the road. 

MMOs with more flexible natures, like Eve Online, tend to be bloodsports that can take many out of their comfort zones.  Given the traditional MMO roleplayer tends to PvE, so they can control the quality of their experience and try to preserve immersion, the jump to a dog-eat-dog PvP situation can be a rough one.  However, taking a more zen approach to the events in a game can help a roleplayer adapt to situations and convert them all into fodder for his character's story.   Another strength of Eve is that the gameplay largely matches the fiction so players behave much like NPCs should - they roleplay even if they're not roleplaying.  The pirate, the miner, the trader, the spy and the empire builder all are doing things characters in Eve's universe actually do on a daily basis.

Anyhow, long story short - roleplayers are more than the charactures they're made out to be.  They're event planners, warlords, diplomats, entertainers, morale boosters and content creators.  But many who have learned their craft in MMOs might not know all there is to know about what roleplaying is, where it comes from, and how to use it to best effect.   Nonroleplayers as well likely have misconceptions, particularly those I listed at the top of the blog, and I'd like to try and clear a few things up.

Tue Feb 24 2009 6:30PM Report
Annwyn writes:

Games you mentionned above are SandBox. As I said, SandBox offers more possibilities to the players (DarkFall for exemple will probably have a nice database of RPers even though it may fail, I don't care).

I completly agree with you on many points. Being a role-player myself I do notice all those sorts of things but I deal with it depending on what the game allows me to do. Never really was able to RP in a linear story....really boring while in a sandbox you can do what you want. If I wanted to make a bloodthirsty guild of mercenaries and RP this way, I can and that's great.

As for the non-RPers that RP, it depends on the game again. EVE is a nice exemple of a game where player are part of the world even if they don't RP and that's really great. Sadly I'm not too much into Sci-Fi but that's out of the subject. I remember the huge "scandal" that happened in EVE, the guy who took care of EVE Intergalactic Bank (something like that) and ran away with all the players gold....I mean.....that's definitively not something you could do in a Linear Story. In a way, this guys is a good exemple of non-RPers that RP.

But yeah.....very few games will use RolePlaying content as the RP community is way too small and even though Sandbox does allow this (and rely at RPers to keep server alive to some extent) it's still not enough to be considered as an equivalent to a table RP.

Tue Feb 24 2009 9:13PM Report
Sakky writes:

What is RP? It is roleplaying, obviously, but what does that in itself mean?

It is a form of storytelling, in an established world, or one of a new creation. The world may have it's own established heroes, but you, and others, can be heroes in the world if the choose... Or they can be Joe Nobody: Average Person.

A wide variety of players RP, and create characters from the best heroes, to the nastiest antiheroes, to the supervillains. We have farmers, and doctors, soldiers simply doing thier duty, movie stars, bards, simple tavern cooks... and so much more.

Without these, all you'd have is cookie cutter heroes, two dimensional cardboard cutouts.  And the world, whatever one it may be, fantasy, scifi, modern, whatever, would be boring.

Each person acts, or Roleplays a part, and, like stage, each time is easier. Eventually, a good RP'er no longer even needs to think what her  (or his) character will say or do. Actions just happen, without prior concious thought. Surprising even the person behind the character. This of course is not magic or anything, one simply develops the mindset of the character, almost as is one had multiple personalities: The RL one and the RP one. And they stop talking to each other.

Of course, this often leads to the best RP experiences, and the biggest immersion. When you act, not stop a minute and figure out "what would my character do?" At this point, it is true RP, and one can feel truely immersed; really BE the character.

It does not matter the game, or the graphics, from text based MUD's, to MMO's with stunning top of the line graphics. The only real immersion relies on Roleplaying.

Tue Feb 24 2009 11:18PM Report
OddjobXL writes:

MadnessRealm:  I ultimately have to agree.  Sandboxes are the way to go for roleplaying.  Without the ability to affect the world players are more or less left standing in a corner talking to themselves.  As Sakky points out, roleplayers can make the most of even static games by using their imaginations but we'd do just as well in a chatroom.  A static model doesn't lend a roleplayer much support and doesn't reinforce immersion by rewarding setting appropriate behavior.

However, there are different kinds of sandboxes.  SWG's sandbox is very limited as the players really can't effect the world aside from dropping a building down here or there.   While storyteller tools are nice they're very much 'local phenomena' that only effect the troupe participating and have no bearing on anything else.  Don't get me wrong, this is a great tool to have, but it lacks the immersiveness of an Eve Online where the whole conceit of the gameplay fits the setting and players shape the destiny, the history, of the game itself.

They're very different paths.  SWG takes roleplayer's PvE and insular inclinations and rewards them with tools to make the most of it but for the most part it depends on limited PvP and highly static 'dungeon' content as fodder.  Eve Online turns the whole universe into a sandbox where everyone effects everyone else and because the design itself is immersive and evocative of the setting all players are roleplayers whether they realize it or not.  From the sneaky reaverlike jackasses of GoonSwarm to the greedy elitist bastards in BoB (aka KenZoku) to the newbie mining corp in High Sec and the pirates planning to shake them down everyone's playing a part and creating a massive narrative together.

Wed Feb 25 2009 4:49AM Report writes:
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