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Keeping The RP In MMORPG

Keeping the RP in MMORPG

Imagine, if you will, you’re playing a medieval online role-playing game like Dungeons & Dragons Online or Warhammer with all of your friends. This game, though, has no sound. No, not even voice chat. The only sound you’re hearing is whatever ambient noise is in the room with you. Maybe you’re playing some music that helps set the tone for the game you’re playing, like the Lord of the Rings trilogy soundtrack. Furthermore, this game has no graphics. In fact, the only thing on the screen is the text conversation between you and your teammates. It’s like one big dialogue window, ‘cause… that’s what it is. In any case, you’d be doing the same quests, have the same abilities, and achieve the same goals as you would in a game which has flashy graphics and 7.1 surround sound. With less to distract your senses you’d have to rely more heavily upon your own imagination to provide the imagery as the game progresses. In that case, you’d probably find yourself simply falling into the trap of role-playing. You might not even realize you’re doing it, but in typing your actions and responses, you might almost feel the need to play to the role of your character rather than simply clicking the right hotkey at the right time. If we take hold of that assumption we would also have to ask two things: 1) Why do we find those who do play their role within the game world as those to be ostracized, and 2) will playing to our role be more important in Star Wars: The Old Republic?

I found myself drawn to these questions ever since I started playing MMO’s, but especially lately I’ve heard and seen a lot of conversations in the course of my day and on our forums about various role-playing methods and practices. We even discussed it briefly as an aside during our first session of “MMO Loser” (Episode 39: A Pile of Dead Gungans). We mentioned how it’d be off-putting to be playing with someone who plays their opposite sex in-game and then we said how if it’s an RP server, then playing to that role would be appropriate. Of course, we all understand that not everyone wants to type or speak to their friends like someone from Middle-Earth. That would be kind of strange, but RP servers are around for a reason. There is certainly nothing different in terms of what’s to be found within the game-world between these different servers, but the RP aspect shouldn’t be ignored. If you’re not playing with friends at a given moment, but you run up to someone distinguishable as, say, a High Elven Ranger, wouldn’t you approach them as “High Elven Ranger” rather than “Stranger Sitting at a Computer?” Not that you’d say, “Good morn, to thee!” but you would gather that they came from a different place than you (let’s say you’re human) and by whatever they’re wearing that they’ve seen some action, or just the opposite, that they haven’t been anywhere. You know that this person, as you see them in-game, has a different story to tell than you.

Keeping the RP in MMORPG

I, for one, have always picked my species/class combinations based on their stories. I shy away from those that are rather one-dimensional and lack any kind of substantive narrative. Paladins, Shamans, and Druids have always been my choice. Now, by my saying that, I’m sure there are plenty of Warriors, Priests, Hunters, Mages, and Rogues who would argue against that, but why? Why would anyone argue that the stories of the latter classes to be any worthier than the prior classes? That is because each of us is attached to whatever story it is that we’ve crafted for ourselves. Even if you haven’t written your character a complete biography on a piece of paper you stained with coffee to make it look like old parchment, you take pride in your character’s accomplishments. Again, that’s your character’s accomplishments, not yours. I say not yours, because you personally don’t gain anything in your life because you’ve earned the title “Kingslayer.” Alternatively, when your toon walks through the streets of your capital city, you know that when another player sees your level 85 Warlock with the Kingslayer title above her head, they know you (the Warlock) killed the Lich King, and unless they know you personally, they’re not associating you (the player) with the one who felled the leader of the Scourge.

If we can accept that we do craft stories for ourselves within these characters and within these various game worlds, then why do we shun those who enjoy it all the more? And that’s really all it amounts to: a higher level of enjoyment. Not that anyone should or shouldn’t enjoy it on whatever level they so choose, but when you’ve taken the time to perhaps invest more into what makes your character unique than what the next achievement on your list is, more people might understand why others play the role of their character. I keep using the phrase “play their character” because we may have associated the term “role-play” with something a bit more, um, adult. That is what is it, but it is certainly not the point of discussion here. Getting back to my point, what is it that makes my character any different than yours? If we choose the same species, class, and character model, what makes mine special? Nothing? Is it the gear I equip or the talents and powers I choose? Or is it something less tangible? Is it something I give to my character?

Keeping the RP in MMORPG

Perhaps it’s all in the name, which was a topic of interest for me on our forums recently. The question was actually whether or not people would likely choose more appropriate Star Wars universe names for themselves or if they’d use the more common screen name approach, which often involves l33t nicknames like Crash 0verride or Acid Burn (yes, I love the movie Hackers). Overall, the response seemed to be that universe-appropriate names would be more likely. Is it that fans have a deeper connection to the SW universe than to other MMO game-worlds, or is it the built-in story element that requires you to spend more time thinking about how your character should respond depending on the outcome you desire? Maybe it’s both of these, but then I also wonder if all of these factors will result in a much deeper character immersive experience for players. We keep hearing about how The Old Republic will be the most immersive MMORPG we will have played yet, but immersive how? I certainly can’t quote the dev team, but I think they do intend for players to feel more for their characters than they may have in past games. I’ve read articles in gaming magazines about how everyone has their own personal version of Commander Shepard from BioWare’s Mass Effect games and how they can’t wait to see how THEIR Shepard handles whatever’s to come in Mass Effect 3. Another factor for this deeper feeling may appear in the form of the personal quest(s) that your character will embark on, the choices that you’ll have to make, and the consequences of those choices, be they good or bad. Maybe I’m alone in this, but I’m definitely the type who saves their game right before a momentous event takes place in a role-playing game, and if things don’t go the way I want, I load from the previous save. Not having that option will make these moments of choice all the more personal and lasting.

Obviously, I’ve made it clear that I love tabletop RPG’s like Dungeons & Dragons and Star Wars RPG Saga Edition. Last year, I had the privilege to play with a group of friends who enjoyed creating characters and worlds as much as me. During our initial session of Mutants & Masterminds (a superhero RPG), our DM gave us each an origin story. This became the spark behind the idea for our Deceived contest: getting our listeners to think about not only the class they want to play, but the type of character, the type of person, they’ll be playing as. I wanted those who participated to look at their Day One character through the lense of the narrative they’d constructed for them, and, I hope, at least, that they feel more willing to put more of themselves into their first character and let it show in how they play in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

6 replies on “Keeping The RP In MMORPG”

I am the same way and enjoyed your article. I am a long time tabletop role player myself and encountered a similar occurrence of role players being misunderstood. I went regularly to gaming conventions in the 80s and found that the tabletop/miniature gamers who where not also roleplayers sometimes would heckle the roleplayers as they too did not get the rp aspect of gaming. It was rare and light hearted but when I started playing MMO’s and met people in game who would be vocal about not understanding the rp mentality I would be reminded of the Table strategists gamers. I always took it as just the mentality of “I mock what I don’t understand”. I think there will always be the division between the mechanical gamers who just want to get the gear and titles and those who want to add a new level to the game by roleplaying. Hopefully over time games like SWTOR will encourage more roleplaying. I sure hope so and look forward to TOR. Thanks for the great read.

Good article! Honestly, the majority of WOW players never read their quests or play to their characters in WOW, everyone just picks up their quest and runs with it. Personally the fantasy universe of WOW just doesn’t do it for me and the stories from quests or characters add nothing to the game. From what I have heard and what I hope to see, the story attached to your character in TOR is going to be far more compelling and tangibility than that of the WOW story lines. This also my be my bias because I am a HUGE Star Wars fan, but the Star Wars universe is so much more interesting, has history, and the understanding of how certain characters in the game will act and be because of all the Star Wars movies, books, and tv shows that we have grown up with. I think this will make the RP and TOR affect how we play but also subconsciously affect how we playing our character(s) depending on our personalities and what our favorite parts of the Star Wars Universe are. I look forward to once I have capped on my Bounty Hunter to having that close personal connection to who this character is I have been playing and feeling a much deeper and meaningful connection to something that I will have put a lot of time into. That, I believe, is going to be one of the key points of TOR and what will make it more enjoyable than MMORPGs from the past. I look forward to playing this game SO much and am more than ready to create my personal character and dive into the universe of Star Wars The Old Republic!

I also have a tabletop rpg background, so I strongly relate to this article. I’ve never been a prolific roleplayer in MMOs, though. But for every character I create I have a story, and I pick race/class/gender/look according to that story.
I’ve heard plenty of discussions on roleplaying in MMOs on different podcasts, and usually by people who do not RP. Hence, there’s plenty of misconceptions and overgeneralizations. The idea that peeves me the most is that everyone who does RP does so all the time, and even in voice chat, and in general is just being weird. Admittedly, I’ve never been in a hardcore RP guild, and I’m sure there’s people who do their RP like that. But what was mostly the case (and how I handled my RP) was that people will use the in-game /say (or whatever it’s called) chat to talk in character, while voice chat, guild chat, etc. was used for normal out-of-character conversations. And I think for many players that’s reflective of how they play tabletop RPGs. You speak in character for certain things, and then you jest with your fellow players out of character or try to haggle with GM over a roll, etc. RP not about living an alternate life in the game; it’s about playing a character, being social, and having fun.

Hello, Evan and Zach,

I’ve been listening to your Podcast for — well, it’s almost been a year, right?

I saw this article come up on my RSS feed, and I have to say that I love it. I run a roleplay website for Star Wars: The Old Republic, and I have seen a lot of roleplay mentions as of late. AskAJedi just introduced a new column about it. Roleplay seems to be a bit more many stream than it used to be, especially when taken into the context of PnP roleplay. SWTOR seems to be capturing that crowd, too

Thank you for writing this. I dropped an article about it on our site, if you’d like to read it.


Looking at SWTOR’s quest design and focus on story, it looks like Bioware may spoon feed roleplaying to the masses regardless of if they want it or not. This is a good thing!

I know I’ve already began thinking of the various characters I’m going to play and their respective personalities and motivations. I think it is amazing to finally have a MMO where I’ll come upon a quest and stop and think “Ok, what should I do?”, instead of just skipping the text and saying to myself, “Yeah yeah, another NPC. Either fight me or give me a quest. Let’s get on with it.”.

I’m really impressed and excited about SWTOR! I think it will be the first MMO I’ve played where leveling is just as satisfying as the end game. In the others MMOs I’ve played, leveling was just a necessary evil I had to grind through so that I could race to max level to actually start playing and having fun.

I wouldn’t be surprised if SWTOR ends up with a very robust RP community, or at least a community that is far more tolerant of RP, based on how Bioware has designed it from the ground up.