Dana Massey: The Myth of Role-Playing Servers
Every game has them, no one truly uses them. This week, Dana explores the myth of role-playing servers in MMOs.
Soon after the first few MMOs trickled out the door, developers came up with something else, much darker, much fouler. They called it the Role Playing Server.
You’ve all heard of them. Almost every MMO has one. They’re these special servers, with special conduct rules where people are supposed to play nice, leave the real world out of it and get really into their characters. It’s a good idea and God bless the role-players out there who love them.
But, I am here today to tell you something. These servers are a myth. They’re not real. They’re like unicorns and Playboy bunnies. They’re an impossibility.
Now, before you say, this guy’s crazy, I realize they in fact do physically exist. Yes, game companies build them and yes, players do log in to them.
That doesn’t mean they’re real. There is no oasis out there where people stick to characters, act as if they’re in a magical world, and never, ever talk about their email.
Role-playing servers have become a beacon for two kinds of player: those who claim to be RPers, and those who love to annoy people who claim to be role players. And of the two, the second group is the more intellectually honest.
Most of the so-called role-players don’t really want to role-play; that is their fiction. They want to be victims. They’ve adopted a philosophy and a completely unenforceable ruleset as their own in the hope that others will come along, “ruin their experience,” and they can whine about it. These are the people who shush you in a campus library at 10:30 on a Friday night.
That is not to say that some people do not legitimately want to role-play in peace. They exist, and God bless their souls for sticking to their guns. They are, however, such a vast minority that they probably couldn’t support more than one guild, let alone an entire server.
Ever join a hardcore RPing guild? Within five minutes, even the most pious cleric will be on TeamSpeak cybering the Troll if left to their own devices. Generally, their “role playing” is a facade for public. They may talk in whilsts and thous when people can hear them, but they still demand properly composed groups, still do pulls, and still talk about the latest class nerfs. In short, they still play the game.
The sick truth is that this kind of role-player does it because they will have something to get high and mighty about. They enjoy the sea of guys named LeeRoy Jenkins who run around their servers sending the latest Jon Lajoie videos in general chat. They have a cause – the purity of their server! – and that, above all else, is the role the play.
A pretty strange rant for a guy who works for a site called MMORPG.com, no?
I hate to break it to anyone who may not yet have realized, but these games are not called RPGs because of the use of words like whilst and thou. We call them role playing games, because that is what the genre is based on: the pen and paper rules of the table top RPG genre.
It’s time to face the fact that no video game, no RPG, let alone MMORPG, has ever truly fostered role-playing. It’s just the way the medium works. This has nothing at all in common with those pen-and-paper games where people could really get into their characters. No one is dressed up and instead of six friends you’re comfortable with, there are thousands and one of them is going to be anonymous enough to call you a name.
The disconnect from the keyboard to the screen is enough of a barrier that as neat as these games have become, they remain games. When someone plays Fallout, it creates a world that has more in common with reading a book than being in a play. When someone logs into World of Warcraft, they don’t even have the fiction to sink into. It’s about playing the game, and socializing, but few actually feel like they “become” their character.
In fact, I’d argue the only MMO out there with any degree of real roleplaying in it is EVE, and that’s because the game’s mechanics allow people to really sink into their role, and those roles generally make sense in the context of the person behind the keyboard. In short, being an ass doesn’t require a lot of theatrical ability.
So if the community doesn’t use them properly, and RP servers just create conflict (and not the good kind) between players, why do game companies always insist on having them?
They’re unenforceable, mechanically virtually identical to regular servers and, trust me, a giant pain in the ass for the poor people who have to try and moderate them.
Which is what Sanya Weathers will tell you about in tomorrow’s column.