Ask Mo: The trouble with roleplaying in MMORPGs

Long ago on Massively-that-was, a reader named Avaera sent in a long list of fabulous questions worth addressing. I’m tackling another in today’s edition of Ask Mo:

Would you welcome a large scale roleplaying-enforced MMORPG? One where you simply have to interact with other players in-character? One of the things that I miss most from the transition from playing MUDs to playing MMOs is the lack of memorable characters who chose to take on unique roles in our virtual societies. Most big-budget MMORPGs have great tools for player communication and cooperation, but the “role” part of RPG usually equates to the job or skills that you as the player will bring to a combat encounter. I’d love to see what a game is like in which you have to play as your character in all aspects. Just to be clear, I don’t mean using “thees” and “thous” or sitting in a pub and emoting but rather gradually crafting a virtual persona through your gameplay decisions and interactions with other characters (both enemy and ally alike). Is there a big-budget MMORPG out there already that has been designed from the ground up for mandatory in-character play, and I’ve just never heard of it?

I can think of only one, and that’s a damn shame. And it’s not even out yet.

To find the very best multiplayer roleplaying games, you’d probably have to wander back to MUDs and graphical MUDs and proto MMOs, and while you’re wandering, you’ll be mocked the whole way by fellow gamers because haha roleplaying is for dorks, duh. And that’s absurd, right? How did it come to this? How did a genre inspired by pen-and-paper RPGs come to not just omit the idea of roleplaying but actively spit on it?

Roleplay servers — official ones, mind you — were once quite common. I spent some time on an alt roleplay server in Dark Age of Camelot, but not with my guild. My guild, then already several years old, was a roleplaying guild for all intents and purposes, the sort that actually held roleplayed recruiting ceremonies and storytelling events and tied everything together with fan fic. But even so, my RP guild went to a non-RP server. Why? Too many members were intimidated by the idea of DAOC’s roleplay servers, which at least at the time demanded that players make a passing attempt at staying in-character, in-world. No thees or thous were required, but get reported once too often for talking about football and you’d be squelched or — I assume, anyway — booted entirely.

Can you imagine a AAA studio hosting a server like that in 2015? Can you imagine a modern studio paying GMs to monitor open chat for roleplay griefers in an age when they can/will barely stop stalkers and racists and exploiters? Not gonna happen. Not anymore.

Modern roleplay servers — when they exist at all — are never RP-enforced or RP-encouraged. At best, they’re code for “mature” gamers. Jocks and script kiddies usually know to stay away, and more serious players learn to congregate there; even if they have no specific interest in roleplaying, they’d rather be around roleplayers than be stuck with the average mouthy gamer trashing-talking in /general.

In our current environment, where MMORPGs have become diluted and their greater audience is even less interested in multiplayer roleplay than it was 10 or 15 years ago, it makes a depressing sort of sense that studios are ignoring not only player-driven roleplay but mechanics for built-in, character-driven roleplay as Avaera describes as well. The closest we’re likely to ever get is skill-by-use, aging mechanics, reputation systems, and SWTOR-esque alignments-via-quest-choices, and they’re likely to be systems tacked on to a game with more mass appeal, not placed at the core of an MMO. That’s especially true as developers churn out cheap and disposable themeparks that include few roles beyond Psychopathic Adventurer in them to begin with. Almost no one is making virtual worlds where playing anything but that would make sense in the first place. You don’t have to work hard to roleplay at being a blacksmith or a bard in a real virtual world; you just are one.

But I’m not sure we can blame game developers alone for giving roleplaying the shaft. I used to roleplay heavily and took my in-character roles seriously, more seriously than I took the rest of each MMO I played for sure. I dedicated buckets of time to backstories and cultivating character relationships and plots. I spent way too many hours writing stories to fill in the gaps between in-game scenes, and I stayed up far too many nights in a cantina playing out dramatic episodes that just evolved organically. It was the sort of activity I felt I could do only if I did it really well and obsessively.

And it took a lot of time. Way too much time.

MMO players trend slightly older than the typical gamer stereotype; Massively OP’s own demographic stats reinforce that broadly known metric. The bulk of modern MMO players are in very different life stages than they were in the early days of EverQuest or even World of Warcraft. Most of you are not 16-year-old kids. Some of you have 16-year-old kids, though. Just like raiding and grinding and leveling tracks that took months, roleplaying has lost even more ground with MMORPG players because it sucks up time the genre’s core audience has in ever smaller quantities.

That’s not criticism; it’s reality. And it’s at least part of why we’ve seen the genre shift with us as we grow up: Devs are trying to pander to those of us who are short on time but rich in disposable income while they simultaneously cater to the youngins who grew up plugged into a tablet and are just now laying their hands on their first MMOs. Neither group will put up with retro timesinks, and that’s what roleplaying has become. The way the modern gamer thinks, if the devs aren’t going to reward them for roleplaying, they’re sure as hell not going to bother with it. And devs see that no one is bothering with it, so they don’t support or reward it, and the cycle continues on and on.

The frustrating bit is that while raiding and grinding and leveling tracks — and even time-consuming PvP sieges and crafting characters — are all making comebacks in their own way, roleplaying really isn’t. We’ve never given devs a reason to beg us to stay, to focus on us as a constituency they must even acknowledge, let alone pamper. Studios can always count on roleplayers to show up and pay to sit inside a video game and talk. We are the primary targets of cash shops; we fund F2P and B2P games by buying cosmetic gear and emotes, and we quite literally subsidize the gameplay of manic PvE and PvP players who’d otherwise grow hysterical over P2W. Sure, we’ll whine about chat bubbles and sitting in chairs occasionally — and ohmygod Runekeepers are the worst, right?! — but for the most part, we lap up the lore and don’t make much trouble. They already have us.

And we keep coming back even when we don’t really have time to roleplay as we once did. We just like to be around it, to remember those roleplay-enforced servers of yore, and to imagine 40 or 50 years from now when we’re all going to retire and fill our endless hours joyfully roleplaying droid engineers and bowyers and poets once again.

In the meantime, there’s Ever, Jane.

Are video games doomed? What do MMORPGs look like from space? Did free-to-play ruin everything? Will people ever stop talking about Star Wars Galaxies? Join Massively Overpowered Editor-in-Chief Bree Royce and mascot Mo every month as they answer your letters to the editor right here in Ask Mo.
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148 Comments on "Ask Mo: The trouble with roleplaying in MMORPGs"

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watregames
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watregames

DavidVraniak 

Exactly, David. :)

DavidVraniak
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DavidVraniak

RobertBlack3  FYI, MMORPG = Massive Multiplayer Online ROLE PLAYING GAME. It’s folks like you who want to just ignore the whole ROLE PLAY part of MMORPG that makes me cringe.

Aryiure
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Aryiure

BillyDavisKillen RobertBlack3

Excellent response, Billy. :)  I think you hit the nail on the head. My young adult son and teen daughter are now reading along.  It is turning into quite a discussion at our house. 

I think this is why I don’t play MMO’s anymore. I honestly became tired of the racist/homophobic/misogynistic attitude of many of the players, not all, because I have plenty of non-role play friends.

I do find role players to be more mature, more educated in many instances, more apt to think before they speak/do and much more organized in their thoughts. I do play pen and paper games still, with police officers, teachers, engineers, a minister, college students, and computer IT techs. :)  And they are excellent role players…none of it erotic…although I don’t know what they do on Skype. lol

BillyDavisKillen
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BillyDavisKillen

RobertBlack3 No you didn’t. Not in college at least. You’re kinda hard to respond to, I have to admit. The shit you’re saying is well, so random and incoherent it almost seems like you’re ranting out of butthurt instead of trying to make a valid complaint against something. The amount of “ERP” compared to the amount of “I lick goobers!” in general chat by people that don’t RP is so small that it practically doesn’t exist. Therefore I know if you play MMORPGs you’re not actually upset about ERP because it generally only happens in town in /say where I catch a fragment or two now and then running to an auction hall. Also, as I mentioned earlier, the General Chat is way worse in every aspect, it’s more flooded with “I love bacon!” bullshit, it’s more flooded with racism and vulgarity than any place I’ve ever seen ERP going on. So NO, you are not concerned with ERP tainting your gameplay experience lol. I have no idea what it’s like on the regular servers but I really can’t contemplate why someone who is into role playing (even ERP) would be on a NON rp server. Because I’m assuming you do in fact play on non rp servers since you can’t stand RP. 

Also as a non Rper how do you know what ERP people do on Skype or with their personal time? None of what you said rings a bell with me and I’ve been frequenting sites like this along with official and non official game forums for waaaaaay over a decade and have never heard of what you mentioned. Seriously, how the hell do you know that? (or did you make it up?)

If you don’t want to role play then stay the hell off the RP servers. It’s that simple. You sound like one of those retards that joined an RP server and named your toon MissouHunter WTFDeerPawner and got pissed off when people called you out for your name. Let me guess, you think fuktards such as yourself are supposed to be allowed to join RP servers and make stupid names and hinder the RP taking place there because it’s some kind of constitutional right?

Aryiure
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Aryiure

RobertBlack3

Not sure who you are responding to, Robert, but you make no sense at all. :)  You seem very obsessed with sex though.

Hun, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to to do. If things are going on that are against the rules, then report it. If you don’t want to write fan fiction, then please, do not. I don’t write fan fiction either.  And yeah, cut scenes are boring.

And so glad you are proud of your own game play. We all should be. A game is what you make of it, right? 

No one here is telling anyone else how to play their game. It is a discussion. 

Oddly enough I do agree with you on one thing. I believe games for serious games should be niche games rather than carved out from a MMO that is made by a company to make money and appeal the masses. Not only is that better for the role players, but they get the tools they need to attract their niche audience and the rules that they can enforce so that “no one tells them how to play their game.”

Then we are all happy. Who am I? I make my own games so that I don’t have to play with you.

RobertBlack3
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RobertBlack3

Ok, you must be the only student athlete in the world then. Lmfao. Dude none of your points were valid, or even came close to responding to what I said. I played sports in high school and college too, that doesn’t make anyone better than anyone else. And nice job proving my point about how RPers are gay af bud. I didn’t say anything about RPers hindering raids, I said I’m tired of seeing ERP in town, it’s fucking disgusting to do that in a public area where children can potentially see. And yes I was going to buy a copy of the game with colored boxes running around doing quests but all the RPers bought them out, created non canon lore to it then fapped to it with their friends on Skype. I’ve been playing RPGs like final fantasy, dragons quest, chrono series, elder scrolls etc for a long time, does that mean i have to write fan fiction for it? No. “But robert it’s a role playing game, you have to at least draw the characters naked and fap to it Q.Q” no sir, I don’t. I don’t have to role play at all to enjoy playing a MMO,hell I don’t even have to watch the cut scenes (which I don’t.) I love having a persistent character that I can be proud of having put so much work into without having to create a story outside the storyline with other like minded people. I don’t talk about anything in the game storyline or lore related, and neither do the majority of MMO players, they want to play a fun game with friends that they may have known for 10-15 years, who the fuck are you to tell them any different?

Aryiure
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Aryiure

BillyDavisKillen RobertBlack3

Not sure if we are the only reasons these games exist….but I think Gary Gygax and his fellow DnD creators has a huge impact on the modern MMO’s through the history of role playing, MUDs and the like, etc.  Gary, whom I met while working on a game where he was a consultant, was the nicest guy and a ROLE PLAYER, one of the founders of modern role play and the modern dice-roll games that inspired WoW and other such games. 

So indirectly, role players were crucial to the development of multiplayer/mmo video games. Kind of cool to think about that, huh? :)

Aryiure
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Aryiure

RobertBlack3

Robert, Robert, Robert…First of all, I am not really into erotic role playing. That is a totally different type of role play, trust me. :) I understand how confusing it must be to some people to understand that role playing and “role playing” is not the same thing, but trust me…as a woman, I have had my share of “whispered propositions” in MMO’s, and none of them from other role players. All of them were from the tough, trash talking guys like you.  Erotic role play belongs in niche games made for that..I absolutely agree with you.  I see nothing wrong with consenting adults doing what they wish, but you are right…my kids play MMO’s and I would prefer to know if such things are in the game.

However, creativity comes in all places. I happen to be a writer, and a game developer, and an environmental artist. Stories were oral long before they were in books or in games. They were told from person to person. You know this already because I bet you watch movies and plays.  Role players create stories through their role play, sort of like improvising on a stage.  Some like gritting realistic stories, some like romance, some like adventure tales. 

I honestly don’t get why role playing makes you so angry. It is sad. I am sorry that you feel so negative toward something that really shouldn’t affect you at all. I don’t even get why you are posting here other than to try to hurt others. I find that a lot more disruptive than a bunch of people talking about the kind of game they like. ;) I don’t go to your threads and bother you.

BillyDavisKillen
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BillyDavisKillen

RobertBlack3 Firstly, we’re the only reason these games exist. If you’re not into at least some light RP I have no idea why you’d be an idiot and play a massively multiplayer online ROLE PLAYING GAME. I’m assuming a game of colored boxes running around doing quest would be ok with you because creating a virtual character, clothing that character, doing combat in a particular style or class, etc are all basic role playing. I doubt a simpleton like you ever thought about that but you know people are stupid and that’s why we have warning labels on packages of toilet paper. Secondly, you’re full of shit. The amount of role players that take it to the extreme that you mentioned 99.9% of the time have no interest in ever leaving town so they are most definitely not hindering groups or raids. Thirdly, I was a 3 score athlete and all county and all district linebacker and power forward in high school and walked on to a 2 year college for basketball. So you calling these people (and me) nerds is kind of hilarious because you’re not high enough on the “non nerd” totem pole to be considered fit enough to slob my jock knob lol. Better luck next time chump. My recommendation for you in your future interactions is simply reading and learning, not speaking.

RobertBlack3
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RobertBlack3

Y’all are the worst kind of people to deal with in MMOs. I agree though, there should be dedicated RP servers, because the “average mouthy trash talker” wants to play the game as designed, without having to endure erotic role playing in /say as we run to the auction house/market board to pick up food and supplies for our next dungeon. I’m the guy that calls you weirdos, nerds, and a choice few expletives when I’m trying to complete a quest and, in between the quest givers text, I see 2 nearly naked male characters “role playing”. You people need to remember that first and foremost, these are games, all kinds of people play them, and what you’re doing can, and is, disruptive to the majority of players. If you want to be creative, write a book. Nobody is going to stop you. Hell, code a game together. If there are so many people out there that want to RP and the current stock of MMOs aren’t catering to you, then there’s a niche that needs filled and you dorks can make a killing.