Discussion Topic: Roleplaying in MMORPGs

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Discussion Topic: Roleplaying in MMORPGs

Postby Proto on Fri Jan 12, 2007 2:41 am

The following article discusses roleplaying in an MMORPG and the perceptions thereof. I found it a quite interesting read. What's your thoughts? Original Article

To most players roleplaying is, frankly, a little bit weird.

In all honesty, the current state of roleplaying and its supporters are both odd and useless. The first and most obvious sign of this is that there is no benefit to roleplaying whatsoever, except for the warm fuzzy feelings it produces. While a player pounding out text chat in a close approximation of a Scottish/Dwarvish baroque can be amusing in small doses, too much of it produces an awkwardness that can kill the enjoyment of the game for most others. The worst part about roleplaying currently is that some roleplayers are so self righteous in their belief that they actually do represent some sort of superior playstyle. To the masses of casual players, however, there is no benefit to roleplaying other than looking and sounding silly. That alone is enough to turn off most of the uninitiated. What tactile benefit does roleplaying provide in a game other than some feeling of smugness?

One of the dirty little secrets about roleplaying servers is that the support cost is triple that of a normal server. The roleplayers are so busy reporting each other for names that ‘break immersion’ that gamemasters spend their entire day checking up on other players’ names. Running into Owen Joo is no more immersion breaking than the fact that in order to speak in game the roleplayer has to type on a keyboard outside the game into a separate little chat window. And yet that doesn’t stop most of these elites from tattling on each other in a stalwart display of just how superior their playstyle is.

The reality is that all games encourage some roleplaying. In Dawn of War, I play the commander of squads of space marines out to do battle for or against the Imperium. Madden NFL has me filling the shoes of a professional league football coach. To a degree, even WoW has got me to think in some roleplaying ways. I find myself sneaking across battlegrounds looking for wounded foes and mana-drained mages to ambush rather than rushing in like some lumbering tank. But when questing, I’m more prone to slice my way through every mob in the way of my goal for the experience points they yield rather than acting true to my class and slinking past.

MMOs don’t encourage roleplaying nearly as much as traditional single player games. Nothing got me more in the spirit of slaying helpless foes, betraying my friends and drowning puppies than Knights of the Old Republic, and most of that was encouraged because the game rewarded those types of game choices with evil blue lighting and some old fashioned force choking. Games like System Shock and Dues Ex encouraged thinking about problems in different ways with each character build. A sneaky type character had little chance of taking on Shodan’s agents in a straight up fist fight. Throughout my experiences in those games I stopped being myself and started actually thinking of the game in terms of how my characters perceived it. Reward for thinking outside my personality encouraged thinking of solutions in those terms and playing my role. Even beginning game designers know that reward is the path to get players to do things.

The current crop of MMOs however is more like Baldur’s Gate where the classes really only serve to differentiate how a player goes about killing all foes. When the primary purpose of a character is to kill everything in sight, there’s not much difference between stabbing it in the back, frying it with fireballs or running a sword through it. The classes in most games only exist as a coat of paint for the purpose of killing digital enemies.

I believe that is the reason that there is little to no spontaneous roleplaying in MMOs these days. There’s just no reason for players to do it. Not because the average player wouldn’t understand, but because the current crop of games offer no incentive to do so. If the true roleplayers want to see roleplaying take a more prominent role in games, then it has to offer something more than a different way to kill things. Even if it’s as simple as being able to respond to quests in different ways, those choices add up and get the player into a mindset that might be far removed from their true personality. That’s roleplaying.

Of all of the games out there, Star Wars Galaxies came closest to realizing this. While playing that game, I ran into a smuggler that hung out in cantinas emoting a sly look and making deals for his goods in hushed whispers. It was silly, but it added immensely to the atmosphere. There was also an entire community that made up their own dramas to act out (and with the amount of content included at release it was almost essential for them to make up their own). In the original skill based system, players could take on the roles of entertainers, cooks, crafters and diplomats. The only characters that could actually do anything however were the combat classes. Access to Jaba’s fortress could not be gained by dancing or preparing meals for him. It was a huge opportunity missed by a content team that chose to focus on combat as the only meaningful experience in a game. It was also a missed opportunity to get players to think about surmounting problems in alternate ways, which is far more in the spirit of true roleplaying than the very best Dwarvish accent ever typed. If diplomacy works out as the hype portrays there may even be some hope that Vanguard ushers in a class of gamers more interested in hobnobbing and making backroom deals than looking to cash in monster parts.

If roleplayers really want their playstyle to advance beyond a weird little niche, they are going to need to get developers to think about conflict resolution beyond mere hack and slash. Once acting like a sneak, or diplomat, or confidence man becomes a viable gameplay style, then participants will see other players truly acting out their roles and even *gasp* roleplaying a little. I’m not a killer in real life, but because nearly all games reward that playstyle I practice it exclusively in almost all games. Honestly if given the chance I’d be just as willing to be Gordon Gecko, Mon Mothma or Al Swearinger rather than Jack the Ripper.
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Postby Sentenza on Fri Jan 12, 2007 7:46 am

author of the article above wrote:MMOs don’t encourage roleplaying nearly as much as traditional single player games.

I am not sure what this guy is talking about ... anyways, it is a comment of a hardly casual roleplayer about
her/his quite individual understanding of roleplaying in MMORPG's, which again is not this strange ...

I personally, I am honestly speaking, still didn't really figure what roleplayers do mean, when they talk about
roleplaying, means, I am not sure about the details. In general I have the thesis, that you might experience
less roleplay on a roleplay-server, as I figured, that, people, seriously engaged in roleplay, are limiting their
"free" time in a game in contact with players they are lesser familiar with, cause they are doing their job to-
gether with people they know yet. This is not true, if you are amongst the core-peeps, but more a newcomer
or outsider.
In addition to this the lack of support of roleplaying by devs in general makes it's efforts, as even roleplayers
want to develop their chars and follow the general way of levelling ... which is too often just grind, grind, grind
or questing, questing, questing ...
Sentenza . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Rate TSS at WAR!

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Postby Proto on Mon Jan 15, 2007 5:48 pm

He does start the essay out sounding like a bit of a prat, at least to anyone who considers themselves a roleplayer. However he also makes some good points, inasmuch as there needs to be more work done by developers on the mechanics and implementation of gameplay that supports roleplaying if anyone is ever going to be motivated to do it (other than the people who do it purely for the fun).

Myself, I could do it purely for the fun and have done so in the past, so I'm not complaining at the fact that most people choose not to do it. It doesn't necessarily ruin my immersion or anything. What does get me is that in most MMOs that profess to be RPGs, the game itself actively discourages me from roleplaying. There is no time to do it in an instance, not really and you can forget about it in PvP (which is fair enough). And the general principle that you have to kill things (for the xp and loot) gets in the way of a lot of character types. Most chars are in fact just different skins around damage dealing classes.

What kinda things could developers do to cater for those with a desire to "proper RP" a character? I am at a bit of a loss. Perhaps rogues should get xp when they successfully avoid a mob, (with a timer on that mob to prevent abuse) or diplomats actually have to go through a series of dialogue options to successfuly get xp. I dunno, just basic ideas but you see what i mean. It's the mechanics that are at fault in most exsisting games.

Or, in fact, is the concept of Roleplaying, as in PnP roleplaying, something that simply has no place in MMORPGs?

Whaddya think?
Proto
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and General Slacker®


Currently playing as:
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Duram - Destiny - Blightweald EU Defiant
Myrmidia - Tranquility - Blightweald EU Defiant
Cerridwen - Tranquility - Blightweald EU Defiant
Qi - Blightweald EU Defiant
Starcraft 2 - Proto#166
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