Blaugust Day 4 – Portrait of a Gamer

Deadalus Project & Quantic Foundry

Years and years and years ago, at the birth of the new millennium, a smart studenty type decided that researching gamers might be an interesting thing to do and began doing just that, surveying thousands of gamers. I don’t remember how I became one of them but I did, and I filled out a bunch of surveys over the years. You can still check some of that data and his conclusions out on the Daedalus Project.

The Daedalus Project has been over for some time, but Nick Yee now has a new, just as interesting venture going: the Quantic Foundry (no, I have no idea what it means, but it certainly sounds cool, smart, and even a bit gamerish). Long story short, there are still surveys to be done and if you check the place out you might want to start with the Gamer Motivation Profile. Hell, even Ars Technica got in on the survey action.

I’ve done mine and while the results were no surprise to me, they might be interesting partly for my usual readers (who probably won’t be much surprised either) but mostly for the screaming hordes of Blaugustinians dropping by. I read a number of blogs written by people with utterly different gaming styles from mine, but I certainly tend to empathise more (and comment more) with gamers who prefer some of the same types of things I do.

Gamer Motivation Profile

So here’s my profile page. And here’s the chart from the profile page for those who can’t be arsed to click:

Gamer Motivation chartAnd a quick caveat quote from the profile info:

Percentiles are how you rank relative to other people. In this report, your percentiles are how you compared with other gamers who have participated in this profile tool. A percentile of 80% means you scored higher than 80% of gamers. Conversely, a percentile of 10% means 90% of gamers had a higher score than you. This means that a 50% is perfectly average.

Most people will have high scores on a few motivations, low scores on another few motivations, and the majority of their remaining scores will fall near the average (in the 35%-65% range). Thus, it’s your non-average scores that most define your profile as a gamer.

Keep in mind that this isn’t a competition or an exam. High scores are not “better”. Gamers with extreme motivations (on both the low and high end) represent a smaller proportion of gamers and may have a harder time being satisfied by available games (which try to capture more average gamers within their genres).

It’s really difficult for most people to see percentiles and not compare themselves to others, for good or ill. In some ways it’s not a bad thing — I always knew I was different and a little weird when it came to the ‘norm’ of gamers (by which I mean MMO gamers for the most part; we may also play Candy Crush Saga, but most Candy Crushers have never even heard of an MMO and for my money they’re not ‘true’ gamers — but that’s another discussion for another time).

Action, Mastery, Achievement

I score exceedingly low in areas where most gamers I know tend to score much higher — and I’ve known for a long time that I’m absolutely not motivated by action, mastery or achievement. My action score is actually broken down into Destruction (35%) and Excitement (0%), which is totally me. I don’t like adrenaline — it makes me feel physically ill — so while I can watch people play fast-paced, action-oriented games (by which I mean Tomb Raider & co; I don’t think I could bear to even watch anyone play Silent Hill or whatever the current scare-the-pants-off-you game is), playing one is extremely un-fun for me. I do, however, like blowing things up now and then. Who doesn’t? Similarly, while I do enjoy some strategy (23%, and why I’ve been playing Civilization throughout its many incarnations — but I prefer the building side to the war & conquest side), I only give a 1% shit about challenge. As for achievement… I get a measly 7% for completion (my anemic achievement score in WoW proves this) and a total 0% for power.

All of which actually represents me rather well as an individual and not just as a gamer. I don’t care much about achieving things just because they’re there — Sir Edmund Hillary and I clearly wouldn’t have much to talk about at a dinner party. I believe power is a pointless and ultimately destructive pursuit (even in games, where there are no real consequences, the pursuit of power leaves me yawning). And while I like to blow up pixels or build bonfires almost as much as the next guy or gal, I actively avoid situations where adrenaline is a factor. I do really badly with adrenaline and I have an extremely low threshold for excessive sound and visual input — you know, like you find in most dungeons. My dislikes certainly inform my gaming a great deal. So how about my likes?

Social, Immersion, Creativity

Without going into massive amounts of detail (you can check out the write-up on my profile linked above, and better yet — go do your own!), they’re very true to who I am as well. Socially-speaking I am into community and cooperation (86% — shared effort, building things like guilds, cities, houses, communities in general) but not much into competition (8% — the why may be worth exploring someday, but I suspect the number is skewed by the fact that most competition involves excitement and adrenaline and I shy away from both). My Immersion-component scores are the most balanced out of the 6 — 64% for Fantasy (becoming and playing someone else) and 65% for Story (good storylines, complex characters, etc.), which is no surprise to me given my tabletop role-playing background. In fact, I’m quite sure that if I had an actual tabletop gaming group to do stuff with, as I used to, I would do a lot more of that and a lot less MMO gaming, and my blog would contain a great deal more content about pen’n’paper than it currently does. Which reminds me, I really need to look into those computer-based gaming program thingies… (Feel free to comment if you use one and like it!)

And lastly, the Creativity component. I scored 71% on discovery (exploring the game – both ‘physically’ and in terms of systems, options and mechanics) and 91% on design (making your mark on the game, be it through character customisation or through buildings, ships, etc.). This not only doesn’t surprise me, it actually helped to validate how I feel about myself. I’m a mostly-frustrated creator, a wannabe writer who failed at overcoming writer’s block almost 20 years ago and turned to ‘easier’ alternatives in order to scratch that creative itch. Like this blog; like 4000-word character sheets; like designing an endless series of game settings for games that never get played… and so on. I’m sad that I allowed myself to give up on my dreams of being a writer, but glad that I found other outlets.

Role-Playing Tangent

The one thing that might surprise new readers after the above is that while I definitely identify myself as a role-player, I am not a role-player in MMOs. I’ve covered this elsewhere (here and here), some years ago now, but the not RPing in MMOs part of me hasn’t changed. It boils down to the fact that too much is imagined for me in MMOs, and there are too few tools to do some of the behind-the-scenes hand-waving that needs to happen for meaningful (in my opinion) role-playing to be able to happen. Also, you can’t reach through the monitor and knuckle-sandwich the RP-nazi who insists on defining for you how your character reacts to what they’re doing, which is a major downside as far as I’m concerned.

Personality Profile

After (or before if you’re a contrarian) the Gamer Motivation Profile, you can take the Personality Profile survey (here’s mine), which also produced very accurate results in my case.

Personality Profile chartThe one totally skewed result was “Extraversion”, and I sent the Foundry folks some feedback about it — but it’s interesting nonetheless. Basically I filled out the survey assuming it wanted to know about how I am in games, when I guess what it wanted to know what how I am in general (i.e. also out of games). In games I am in fact super-social, helpful, chatty, and occasionally even manic (except when I’m a hermit and then I play a character nobody knows so I can just bimble about silently with my own self). In real life I am also social, helpful, chatty, and occasionally even manic — but only with a small number of very close friends or in much, much, much smaller doses (like an evening or two every few months).

I probably should take that survey again knowing that it’s asking me about RL-me, not gamer-me, and see what comes out.

Conclusion? Cute Baby Animal!

If you’ve stuck with me this far, congratulations, you win a cute baby animal picture! (And as I write this, I pause for half an hour while I coo over cute baby animals I’ve Googled and get tied into knots trying to figure out which one is the cutest that I haven’t already posted.) Do check out the Quantic Foundry — it’ll give you food for thought, and if you’re a Blaugustinian it might even give you food for posts.

baby animal awww




TSW – The Dreaded Alt Quandary

I know, I know, we don’tneed alts in The Secret World. And yet, here I am.

I’m not sure what’s going on, but I’m having a hard time getting into the game the way I want to. Not because I don’t love the game, far from it, but there’s a certain distance there that I want to bridge in order to really ‘immerse’ myself  (apply whatever definition of the word suits you).

For one thing, I felt as though I was going too fast with Ysharros, zipping through some stuff because I’d seen it in beta, ignoring all the lovely conversation options with NPCs because I’d seen them in beta, not letting my sense of wonder out of the box because I’d seen it in beta.

Ysharros – Grim

A large part of the problem seems to be my comparing myself to a close RL friend who is also playing, and who is a fast leveller. She’s already in the Savage Coast – hell, I suspect she’s in the Blue Mountains by now, and for some reason I keep feeling like I’m being left behind. Thing is, it’s not like she’s telling me to hurry up – I have my pace, she has hers, and there’s no question that one should hurry or wait for the other. But I still felt like I was or needed to be playing catch-up.

So this morning I made a character on the RP server – err, dimension, which is something I was wanting to do anyway. (Marvellous as it is, the one thing my long, long-time guild is not is an RP guild. It’s not even particularly supportive of RP, though it doesn’t disparage or prevent it. But we have some players who are made very uncomfortable by the concept – so yeah, not an RP guild.)

Mysericorde – Arcadia (RP)

All hail Mysericorde (curses to whoever got the original!), another Dragon. I hesitated at the faction screen for quite a while between Templar and Dragon, but Myz already knew what she was and, while she could probably have joined either (she’s a morally limber type), that whole flexibility made her seem more one than the other. Someday though I’m going to make a Templar-rad who wants to change things from the inside – I’ve always loved me a good rebel with an impossible cause.

Given that I know what a misericorde actually is, I was very tempted to go blades even though there’s no such thing as daggers. Then I decided I was being too literal and also decided to push my comfort envelope a little with starting weapons. I’ve not been terribly attracted to pistols in TSW so far, but that’s what I’m trying for now. Probably paired with Blood Magic (which I think follows the Assassin deck template, iirc, but don’t quote me).

The thing is, Myz is going to be taking her time. Myz has a personality that isn’t entirely my own and that isn’t simply an extension of myself, as my Ysharros characters tend to be. I’m not sure how much I’ll RP with folks, but I certainly won’t get in the way of it and I’m open to it despite my previously-stated discomfort with MMO-based RP. Give me a table and paper (and maybe some dice) and I’m much more comfortable – but we’ll see.

Point being, if Myz isn’t comfortable with her chosen weapons, she’ll take the time to train herself in others. She has lots of questions, which will take time to answer, and she has plans and long-term goals, which may change as she finds out more. But whether I want to or not, she’s going to stop and talk to anyone who has anything at all to say, and you can be damn sure she’ll be taking notes and trying to put everything together.

The only downside when it comes to playing with my RL friend (which we don’t do too often anyway, our pace is too different) is that I won’t be able to PvP with her since that’s dimension-specific. And that’s it. So what’s the harm in me moulding the game and my playstyle to my liking rather than… whatever it was I was doing the last few days? None.

No real point to this other than that if you’re not entirely comfortable in TSW yourself, for whatever reason – you have enough options available to try to make it fit you better. It’s worth a shot. This isn’t WoW. If I have one piece of advice to give to most, it’s don’t race to the finish. In this one the journey really IS the answer.

Edit – Oh yeah, and I added a few screenies to the TSW screens page.

Linkage: FF XIII article on Gamasutra

(Not an MMO post. YHBW.)

I haven’t played Final Fantasy in years (almost a decade in fact), and I don’t count myself as a particular fan of the genre — unlike, say, my brother, who will rabidly froth about it for hours — but this analysis of Final Fantasy XIII and what it’s doing to the role-playing aspect of games is fascinating. Excellent, balanced analysis.

But when you start subtracting RPG elements from a game that people think of as an RPG, what does that get you? That’s the question that Final Fantasy XIII raises, and is likely to be why it’s one of the most polarizing games of 2010 when it’s released in the Western market. (Christian Nutt, Gamasutra)

Go read more. Now.


The thoughts one has just before drifting off to sleep at night are occasionally genius and very often crap. Nonetheless, I woke up this morning with it still in my head, which is often a sign that, while the idea may still be full of crapitude, there’s something there that may be worth pondering.

A few years ago, Neverwinter Nights (not the current version) might almost have presented a little competition to standard MMOs, with amateur-created and -run “persistent worlds.” These worlds mostly weren’t huge, since many of them were being developed as they went along by enthusiastic amateurs who had real-life jobs and bills to pay. Many of them weren’t really very polished. In fact, many of them were rather crap. But a few stood out — good background, decent lore, good writing, good zones… some weird and arcane mix of qualities that you only notice as a good playing experience if it’s there but definitely notice when it’s lacking.

Now, many of these persistent worlds ended up being designed as mini MMOs, with quest hubs, quest givers, mob camps and spawning areas, and all the usual — and rather overdone — trappings that we now associate with our online games.

Those didn’t appeal to me. Why the hell would I “wander gaily off yonder, there to hunt me some snark!” when I could just log on to an MMO and go kill shit without having to use artificially stilted language to do it?

What the better persistent worlds did was put the RP back into MMORPG. Again, those were few. There were many, many NWN persistent worlds that told you in great detail and at great length exactly how you should roleplay, and woe be unto you if you should break their many and varied rules. And then there were a few who laid down clear, usually pretty short (for roleplayers) ground rules and just let players get on with the business at hand.

On those rare few worlds where good world-building and good RP-advice came together, you could log in just to RP with someone for a bit, and you didn’t even have to pretend you were about to gambol off to bag yourself a brace of goblin.* People had stories and backstories, which often had to be vetted (at least cursorily) before you’d be allowed to play there. Since NWN was directly based on a roleplaying game, most of these worlds assumed you were there to do just that, though an increasing number ended up just being kill-ten-rats-fests.


So here’s what I wonder. I have no idea if the hardware and software allows it, though I suspect where there’s enough of a will there’s usually a way, and I don’t think this is rocket science. — What if we had SMALL Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games? Or hell, redefine the initial M as Medium — doesn’t matter what it stands for as long as it’s not “Massively.”

Small is beautiful (tangential link).

I’m talking games where you’d have maybe 200-400 concurrent users on a server, tops. (I guess that number would have to be refined, I’m just picking it out of thin air.) That’s enough people so that you probably wouldn’t know everyone who was on, but few enough that a regular player might well come to know most of them, if only by sight. Small enough to provide community but large enough to provide some variety (bad guys, good guys, and everyone in between). Small enough to be manageable but large enough to allow for backstabbery and treacherism between players.

Small enough, in short, to allow for some real roleplaying. Because I’m wondering if one of the obstacles to role-playing effectively and consistently in MMOs isn’t their very size. Most RPers I know just create a “subset” of that world for themselves — they either ignore vast swathes of the population or they ignore vast swathes of the game. In large, quest-driven, static MMOs, you have to fit your RP into the nooks and crannies. In a smaller, more controlled world, the RP would pretty much be the world.

And that’s the key term: control. Too much of it and you’re bowing to the whims of yet another control-freak GM… but too little of it and you’re just playing Yet Another Fantasy MMORPG. That’s another reason to limit the population size, so you don’t have to have an army of GM’s on hand — but so that those you do have can take an active part in shaping the world.

Such worlds could even do away with the questing hamster-wheel, at least to some extent. In such worlds, you might not be able to go out and kill rat after rat after rat just to level so you can kill bigger rats to level some more so you can kill giant rats. You’d have to have a reason for going other than simply to progress in levels. Hell, you could do away with levels, but I suspect that would be too much strangeness and too little goal-orientation to suit most players. In these worlds, if you killed 500 deer you might well cause famine in the nearby villages; because in these worlds, player actions could be accorded more weight in the world at large. Less players = potentially more, and more permanent, impact.

The world-building tools would have to be robust, flexible, and easy to use, or maintaining & evolving the worlds would be far too much work compared to the size of each world’s player base. And world-building could be an amateur thing for the most part, or at least a smallish-scale thing. But that’s the beauty of it. If anyone could run an MMO, imagine the quality we’d see. We’d see some abysmal poop, I’m sure, but I’m betting there are loads of extremely talented people out there — it was evident in the NWN persistent worlds and in the masses and masses of quality NWN self-contained modules produced by fans.

This leaves a bunch of questions like, how would this be paid for, at both ends? What guarantees of permanence? Of quality? blah blah blah — valid questions, but not ones I can be bothered to deal with. Don’t crash my castles in the clouds with your accountant’s lead!

The kind of world I describe above is, to me, the ultimate fusion of the tabletop experience with the online gaming experience. Small enough to be meaningful, big enough to be beyond my direct control most of the time.

It’s just an idea. Not, I suspect, a very feasible one, but fun to ponder.


* Okay, I admit it, I’m a roleplaying snob. Fake Shakespearean theeing, thouing, and miladying is NOT roleplaying. It puts me off horribly. I understand how to many people that’s the essence of RP, but really, it’s not. It’s pastiche. Besides, “thee” and “thou” were the familiar form of you and not, as many seem to think, the formal form. A little research goes a long way. Besides, people fit in their environments — yes, they spoke differently in the middle ages, but their speech flowed just as ours does today. Gussying it up too much just puts brakes on the imaginative process.

Get your RP on III — Begone, quests!

If you have any interest in role-playing, you should read Spinks’ series of articles on the subject. I don’t agree with all of her points and views, but if we all agreed there’d be no fun and a damn sight less blogging, so that’s okay. I’ve considered the subject myself once or twice, though not on the technical, nuts & bolts level Spinks covers.

I do agree that it seems we old pen & paper roleplayers have never quite given up on the ideal of roleplaying in MMOs. They are, after all, called MMORPGs — though for my money that might as well stand for “rounds per gallon.” As I’ve said before, I have a hard time roleplaying in MMOs and I have a hard time seeing what gets done in MMOs as roleplaying, at least on a wider level.

After reading Spinks’ posts I realised that the disconnects present (for me) in MMOs are generally too strong to overcome the incentives, and quest-driven playing is one of the biggest disconnects of all. Coming up with a great backstory — no problem. Playing in-character — no problem! Being in character and explaining that I, once again, have to go out and kill ten rats — that crashing sound you hear is my suspension of disbelief unsuspending. Small-scale player to player interactions aren’t much of an issue, but almost invariably the roleplaying has to stop, or bend into entirely improbable shapes, in order to fit itself into the non-RP conducive MMO mould.

Whether you’re playing a hero, an antihero, or a normal person somehow sucked into doing extraordinary things (rather like most of Philip K Dick’s protagonists), how do you reconcile the repetitive, on-rails nature of current quest-driven MMOs with the requirements of good — and consistent — storytelling?

Priscilla is a gentle soul, but she’s seen enough violence to know the rest of the world isn’t gentle at all. People she knows have been hurt, maybe even killed. Her childhood friend, Fred, left half a year ago to join the provincial militia and she hasn’t heard from him since; there have been a few engagements with encroaching bands of {insert generic MMOnster} and for all she knows he’s already dead. Eventually, Priscilla convinces herself that if she cares about the world and what is happening to it, and more specifically to Fred, she needs to get involved — so she leaves her sleepy little market town and makes her way out into the world.

First thing Priscilla has to do … kill ten rats.

I can see this working in certain situations. Priscilla comes to an inn where they have a giant rat problem, and Pris isn’t scared of rodents. She’s a helpful sort, so she lends an exterminating hand in exchange for a bit of coin or a bed for the night. The next morning, she sets out again to find Fred. Three miles down the road {or just outside the door, in quest-hub models}, someone asks her to go kill five wolves. So, off she goes.

But why?

Priscilla’s backstory is that she wants to find Fred and she wants to get involved in the wider events of the world. Killing rats and culling wolves isn’t a wider event. It’s a low-level quest designed to provide you with low-level gear… so that you can move on to the next quest hub and do it all again.

Why on earth would Pris spend 3 years killing a not very imaginative assortment of monsters on her way to finding Fred? Why wouldn’t she just say “Sod this for a game of darts, I’m off to the capital. Someone there has to know where Fred’s military unit is stationed!”

The next problem, of course, is that Fred probably doesn’t exist. Or, if it’s pre-planned and Fred is another player, Pris and Fred can reunite and then… they can kill ten rats.

That’s not roleplaying. That’s questing as it is now defined in most MMOs. Find NPC, click through dialogue, do what it tells you to do. Even when those quests are well-written and entertaining, they are sill just variations on a single theme. Kill, loot, level. Rinse repeat till level cap.

The MMO I started with, Asheron’s Call, had almost no real “quests” as they are defined today. NPCs didn’t have any kind of icon over their heads. There was no such thing as a quest journal. If they had a quest, it was usually more a case of telling you about an interesting location and what you might find there; if you had a quest, you needed to keep track of it on paper somewhere, or in your head. There were no “quest hubs” — there were living, breathing villages that characters lived in, and people had strong feelings about which towns they preferred. Mine was Lytelthorpe: it didn’t have a whole lot to recommend it, the vendors didn’t give the best prices, it wasn’t on the major travel routes… but it was where my very first character started and after that, no matter where else I went or what I did, it was home.

And you know what? It was a damn sight easier to roleplay in AC than it is in any of these AAA titles we have today. I just cannot get past having a great interperson RP session… and then moving on to the guy with the blob over his head and randomly slaying 10 spiders.

It’s not impossible to work that into one’s roleplaying, but I’ll admit I find it bloody difficult. Especially since the characters I make aren’t all just out to become GenericOtherHero 12309. Most of my characters aren’t out to become heroes at all, not intentionally and certainly not as a primary goal — they want to find something or someone, they’re fleeing something or someone, they’re out for revenge / filthy lucre / knowledge / power. What they’re not out for is killing ten rats for 8 random NPCs in QuestHub 001, and then doing it again in Hubs 002, 003, and so on to 025.

Roleplaying in the market square, or inn rooms, that’s not a problem (well, no more than I usually have RPing in MMOs). But if we’re talking obstacles, then the non-persistence of our actions is one block for me and the questing-on-rails model most games have adopted now is another.

“Oh, hello there Bob! What are you up to this morning?”

“Greetings, Priscilla. I’m off to slay those pesky rodents menacing the butcher’s shop!”

“Ah, right. I did that yesterday.”

… Yeah. Or rather, no.

Come to think of it, that’s probably why most conducive games for RP, for me, were the ones that didn’t include quest-driven advancement. Star Wars Galaxies was a great environment for it, for various reasons. Asheron’s Call, as I mentioned previously. Fallen Earth would probably be pretty good for it too, though it’s been a while since I played it and I probably won’t pick it up on release — though that has more to do with my desire not to fragment into several games right now than with any flaws it may or may not have. I have high hopes of CCP’s someday-maybe World of Darkness MMO, but the recent non-announcement at PAX is disheartening (unless I missed some recent info, which is entirely possible). I have even higher hopes of the Secret World.

Though height, with respect to hopes, is a relative thing. I can quite easily see how TSW could, within seconds of launch, devolve into simple trash-talk between the three factions.

“Dragons suck!”

“Illuminati suck more!”

“Lightbulbs and lizards ALL suck and only Templars are cool. I will so totally pwn your pathetic asses!”

Fortunately, RP doesn’t need the entire community to be role-playing. It helps not to have some snot-nosed whelp trying to grief your roleplaying, but other than that, if you have a good group going, it really doesn’t matter what the wider world is doing. For me, however, it turns out that it does matter what the mechanics are doing. If WoD-MMO and TSW are going to end up being modern-day setting, quest-hub driven games where NPCs have blobs over their heads and I’m on an automated fairground ride, then you won’t be seeing me roleplaying. I can’t maintain my composure in the face of the 18 millionth rat-killing request, let alone stay in character.

That clattering sound you hear is me getting my old PnP dice out. Much easier all round. Aside from, you know, having to find live bodies to play with.


Get your RP on II – not in MMOs

As a follow-up to the discussion sparked here and elsewhere by yesterday’s post, I wanted to add that several of the thoughts expressed helped me to clarify what I think of MMOs in terms of roleplaying vehicles.

I have to agree with those who contend that MMOs are not RPG vehicles in the sense of the term as used by older, tabletop (or P’n’P) gamers. And while one should never say never… I’m not sure MMOs will ever be able to provide the main elements required to emulate the old tabletop environment.

dragonslayerThe main thing MMOs are lacking in that regard is the ability for players/characters to have a meaningful impact on the world with others — the more I think about it, the more it can’t just be ME having an impact on the world and only ME being able to see its results (as per the whatever-ya-call-em semi-instanced single player experiences you can have in certain games now, eg LOTRO and others); not in an MMO, anyway. Slaying the dragon shouldn’t affect just the slayer; it shouldn’t affect just the slayer and her group either, for that matter. In PnP, characters change game reality for everyone there, PC or NPC, beggar or king, 2 miles away or a thousand. In MMOs, I seriously doubt that’s going to be possible or available for a long, long time.

And if by some miracle the technology and means show up to allow persistent and persitently changing worlds, you’ll run into the problem that almost everyone wants to be a dragon-slayer, not a damned farmer… at least some of the time. One way around this would be to make the major storylines or arcs involve/require a LOT of people — but that brings its own slew of problems. (If you thought getting a 6-man PUG was hard, try rounding up 150!) And even then, on a server with a population of, say, 2000 active peak-time players, you’re still looking at half a dozen major arcs going on. If dragons are being slain left, right and centre — because everyone wants a dragon to slay — then that becomes meaningless pretty quickly too.

Before you start telling me that not everyone wants to be a hero — I know this. *I* don’t want to be a hero all the time; in fact I often half-joke that I’m mostly a crafter in MMOs and that killing stuff is just a hobby. However, we all have some drive towards the heroic and the epic, or fantasy (and space opera) wouldn’t be as popular as they are in games. We play to create rip-roaring tales, not existential musings — Edgar Rice Burroughs, not William Burroughs.

Which, to me, indicates why MMOs will never be old-fashioned RP environments, at least not as they are now and probably not for a long time. You can’t have a persistent, consequence-heavy world with 3,500 heroes. It just doesn’t work. You’d have to have far too many dungeons, bad guys, epic bad guys, plagues, divine insurrections, necromantic invarions and who knows what else to make any kind of rational sense. In a typical MMO, the same dragon gets slain over and over — which probably beats having 120 of them just so that everyone can get their own slice of special. Whether you kill the same thing multiple times or the same KIND of thing once, the net effect is the same: it’s not particularly unique.

That’s not to say, at all, that RP isn’t possible in MMOs, but the old-school, 6 people round a table with chips, sodas and overactive imaginations is not. It’s not that you can’t get people together, it’s that you can’t encapsulate that small-group-affecting-the-world feeling without having to duplicate it for every other small group on the server — after all, these are MASSIVELY multiplayer games we’re talking about. As far as old-school RP goes, I think small-multiplayer and single-player games are the way to go; games like NWN1 that include toolsets for creating more adventures for small-ish groups of people. (Yes, NWN1 had persistent-ish worlds, but they ended up tending toward MMOs and diluting that specific old-school RP experience.)

We just have to figure out what kinds of RP do work in MMOs, and play that. Many people already do, as evidenced by yesterday’s comments. There are ways to play a character even in a static world — it just won’t be the way us creaky old-timers are used to, or yearn for.

Get your RP on

timcurryYes, I’m a roleplayer. I could give the rambling “started in the 80s, did this and that in the 90s, do this and that now” but really, my gaming history is the same as that of almost every other gamer my age; the only thing that changes is what we played at a given time. I have no problem pretending I’m someone else and, if required, putting on a silly accent or a silly costume. I’ve even *gasp* done some semi-live RP (LRP or LARP, depending). Only semi- because the type we did wasn’t so heavy on the rubber swords and relied, instead, on intense politicking and GM-decided outcomes, if necessary, of things like spells. We used the Ars Magica game setting, where people are more likely to poison each other’s jam sammiches than they are to draw a sword. I not only played a bunch of those, I co-wrote a bunch with some extremely talented and much-missed friends in the UK. (I’d link you up but sadly it was a decade ago and we weren’t so smart about keeping stuff online for posterity back then…)

Point being, I have no fear of performing in front of other people, and I’m quite practiced at conceiving, writing, portaying, and retiring tabletop and live RP characters. But when it comes to roleplaying in an MMO… I’m a log. I’m so wooden, I’ll probably get contacted by the History channel for some lumberjack reality TV action.

I just can’t do it. I’ve tried, many times, and in many different settings. And while I can “fake” it to some extent — my characters can say the right things and I can type the right emotes and whatnot — to me, it just feels fake. Now if you never roleplay and you think the whole thing is stupid to begin with, you won’t get this, so don’t worry about it. But if you do, maybe you’ll understand the unease one gets about not being able to get “into character” at all.

It’s a problem I have with all online games, though more with some than others. At base, my discomfort comes from the fact that I feel too distanced from the whole thing — I’m typing and looking at a screen at content (images) that have been determined for me by someone else; that in itself is imagination-death for me. (Waiting for replies is even worse. Angry RP remark…. wait…. wait….. wait some more…. Cutting retort!) Interestingly, I know a lot of role-players for whom that very anonymity and distance is what allows them to attempt it in the first place — there are quite possibly far more online-RPers than tabletop-RPers nowadays. For many, it’s a safer environment than sitting around a table where you have to see that the gossamer-winged fairy princess is actually a man well past his fairy or his princess phase; for me on the other hand, that’s not a problem — I can see past the voice and the looks and imagine what I need, but the actual presence of other players in the room is what helps trigger the whole imagination-thing. Call it consensual not-quite-hallucination.

A fair few of my friends and acquaintances think I’m ass-backward when it comes to RP. Online, you have the right looks and you have no need to know who’s at the keyboard, AND the whole world is there, drawn right for you. I know. I understand how that helps many people. For me, it just makes it more difficult.

And the more generic a setting is, the harder I find it to even try to roleplay there. All the standard fantasy-style settings just kill me — yes, even WAR with its rich lore. I’ve played Warhammer-not-online (the RPG, not the armies game) and that was a whole lot of fun. But the thought of trying to do justice to a character online just leaves me cold. WoW is the same. Vanguard had some interesting possibilities. Oddly enough, the easiest I’ve found it to roleplay in MMOs was in SWG and CoX, and I’m not sure if it’s just a matter of not being some generic fantasy setting; after all, CoX is just some generic superhero setting.

Maybe part of what puts me off online RP is how uptight a lot of RPers seem to get — theeing and thouing and ye-olde-shoppe-over-yondering, which usually makes me want to snort rather than engage in deep RP. To me, real people who really lived in these fantasy worlds wouldn’t sound like they had a brick up their backside, unless the character called for it. Yes, we need to speak just a little differently in fantasy, because that reinforces the setting for us… but not so much that it starts to smell of ham.* Actually, WAR should get an honourable mention in this respect, since its NPCs are pretty universally down to earth and believable for their environment — they swear and they’re both tetchy and somehow salt of the earth, and it goes hand in hand with the PCs occasionally exclaiming “Bollocks!” when something goes wrong.

Even so, no matter how conducive the setting I suspect I would still find it extremely difficult. The fact that I’m typing and staring at a chat box (or worse, speech bubbles) does for me what having to see the other players does for other people. If you can’t suspend your disbelief and get your imagination going, you can’t roleplay. You can pretend to roleplay, but you won’t be getting from it what you should, which is that sense of people telling a common story and making it up as they go. Really GOOD roleplay requires people to give up control — over their characters, over what’s going to happen, over how other people react — so anything that distances you from the experience makes it harder to get to that non-controlled stage.

In one of my trademark changes of heart tangents, I’d like to make the case that this whole giving up control thing is what differentiates great roleplaying from merely competent roleplaying. The idea isn’t to be competent, the idea is for everyone to have a blast and/or be moved if it goes really well; it’s entirely possible for RP experiences to be as memorable and affecting as a great book, play, or other form of entertainment. And yet there’s a subset of roleplayers (both tabletop and online) who not only can’t begin to give up that much control but also want to control everyone else — if you’ve RP’d, chances are you’ve met their type. They’re the people who decide not only what their characters do and say, but often also what your characters do, sometimes even what they “ought to” say, what their name should be, how they should dress, or how other people should react to what your character does; they’re the people who get pissy when stories don’t come out according to whatever script they have in their own head. That’s not RPing, that’s directing. Get a camera and find a location, or put on a play in a game. Playing a role /= roleplaying, weird as that may sound to non-RPers.

I don’t have a final point, really. I just wanted to ponder RP as it applies to games, not necessarily even MMOs. Do you roleplay? Do you find yourself sneakily thinking in character during Fable2 or L4D even though you’re a tough, gruff, non-RP type who thinks RP is for sissies and girls? Do you drop into character really easily no matter what the medium? And if so, what tricks do you use for doing that in MMOs? I could use the info!

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*Ursula K LeGuin gave a great talk on this general subject back in 1972, which was later transcribed as “From Elfland to Poughkeepsie” — not an easy article to find these days, but it’s part of several other anthologies, including her own The Language of the Night, which I can heartily recommend to any aspiring or interested fantasy/SF/general writer. I doubt it’s still in print, but it should be findable second-hand. I guess back then they didn’t call it “immersion,” but that’s what it is.