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Column: Outside the Box by Nathan Knaack

Posted Feb 06, 2006 by Dana Massey

Column: Outside the Box by Nathan Knaack

Every Monday, Nathan Knaack - formerly of Rapid Reality - will contribute a column to the site. Over the first three weeks, Nathan will look at the past, present and future of MMORPGs. Today, we begin with the past.

It’s not difficult to trace the birth of the MMORPG back to its ancestors, but instead of diluting this essay with an array of links, I’ll go over it one more time. The great granddaddy of all RPGs is, of course, Dungeons and Dragons. Originally conceived as a tabletop medieval war game, not unlike what Warhammer is today, they (Gary Gygax and his partner, Dave Arneson) found that the game was much more enjoyable when they controlled individual characters instead of entire squads, battalions, and armies. It was more interesting to follow the battles and adventures of a single person, like the main character of a novel. Additionally, they discovered that battlefields weren’t the only place that a hero could shine; taking a cue from Greek, Roman, Norse, Native American, African and Asian epics, the classical hero actually did most of his legendary work in dungeons, mountaintops, or throne rooms. Heroes didn’t just conquer opposing armies and lead troops; they slew dragons, rescued damsels in distress, and challenged villains to duels. This is the birth of what we have come to know as the RPG character, which is the most essential, core piece of the role-playing game. To play a role, you must have a character. I’m not talking about having a strength score, a laundry list of weapons, and the words “armor class” jotted down somewhere on eraser-worn loose-leaf paper; that’s just math and logistics. A character is a personality, a set of mannerisms, and a moral code. It’s the rollercoaster of history, the voice you use to portray him or her, and all of the motivations that steer his or her decisions. It’s everything about the role you’re playing that’s not written down on paper.

You can read his article here.

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