Monday, March 30, 2009

Definitions of Role-Playing

This is the first post inspired by the comment made by Azariel in How about roleplaying? and I'm trying to define my views on roleplaying and more importantly, roleplaying in computer games and MMO's. Granted right away, that I've not played in RP server except in EQ2, but that didn't result a single roleplaying experience within the short time I was playing in there.

The issue is such that it requires definitions, even to the people who are playing. If nothing else but to have a common basis and nomenclature from which to discuss. Here we go.
What is roleplaying? What is RPG?

Roleplaying refers to the changing of one's behavior to assume a role, either unconsciously to fill a social role, or consciously to act out an adopted role.
while roleplaying games are defined as:
A role-playing game is a game in which the participants assume the roles of fictional characters and collaboratively create stories. Participants determine the actions of their characters based on their characterization, and the actions succeed or fail according to a formal system of rules and guidelines. Within the rules, they may improvise freely; their choices shape the direction and outcome of the games.
In addition, roleplaying games are:
role-playing game (RPG; often roleplaying game) is a game in which the participants assume the roles of fictional characters.
And further more, computer rpgs:

computer role-playing game (CRPG) is a broad video game genre originally developed for personal computers and other home computers. ... The earliest CRPGs were inspired by early role-playing games, particularly Dungeons & Dragons, and attempted to provide a similar play experience.

Despite a spectrum of features and game styles, there are some elements common to the CRPG genre. Perhaps the most salient is that of the avatar, with its quantized characteristics that typically evolve over the course of the game, and take the place of the gamer's own skill in determining game outcomes. Another common element in CRPGs is a well-developed fictional setting.

Whole lot of definitions.

My personal view of roleplaying games, be it pen and paper rpg, computer/console rpg or MMORPG is that the character depiction, avatar, should be considered as a person in the fantasy world with it's particular rules and laws. Thus I'm very much in favor of the original definition of the Roleplaying.

While I play, I think firstly from the point of view of the character, then from the point of view of my personal greed for power and advancement. And for me there are no winners nor bragging rights in RPG's except from the character point of view. Claiming ownage in pen and paper games is pretty much impossible as the interpretation of the world and rules differs from group to group: thus it was unnecessary point of the game. However, the current MMO's tend to put the emphasis on the GAME rather than the ROLE-PLAYING, making the playfield completely different.

Skin crawl or taking the class

However, the definition of MMORPG is somewhat more detailed and more gamelike. As a matter of fact, Wikipedia states pretty clearly about roleplaying in MMORPG's, that:

Some MMORPGs also may expect players to roleplay their characters – that is, to speak and act in the way their character would act, even if it means shying away from other goals such as wealth or experience. However, as this behavior is far from being the norm, most MMORPG players never actually play the roles of their characters. Still, MMORPGs may offer "RP-only" servers for those who wish to immerse themselves in the game in this way.
So for the roleplaying servers the game should be more on the Roleplaying than on the gear grind and theorycrafting. WoW is more -from this point of view- for taking the class and learning the role of the class than roleplaying the character. That, however, has become the norm of the MMO's from early on, and there doesn't seem to be any difference in the game rulesets (levels, skill based) at all.

Would there be interest for a MMO in which the world -and the ruleset- forces the player to take on the character and do the skin crawl?

Roleplaying vs. Ruleplaying/Power playing

Where theorycrafting rules and gear and levelling is more important than growing the character as such, the power playing rules. In WoW this has been made easier and easier over the life of the game, speeding up the levelling and making the over-levelling of instances and quests a norm. In a sense the game is a vague shadow of the vast content it has, because currently the new players are fast forwarded through the content that really is the Fantastic Journey of the new created character to the Herodom. Purely by roleplaying you gimp your character, as you make your weapon, gear and buff choices based on the character's perception, not to min-max the stats. I have that on my protection warrior: instead of having two-handed sword, which is vastly better for levelling purposes, he has taken dual wielding instead: sticking purely on swords, the human weapon, instead of the axes and such. Min-maxing favours ruleplaying, and WoW -and majority of the concurrent MMO's- clearly encourages this.

Gear and ownage

Like I stated earlier, in pen and paper games claiming ownage is more or less impossible due to the fact that the rulesets, worlds and gearsets differ vastly from a group to another. However, in MMO's the persistance of the world imposes same rulesets, gear and interpretation to all. This massive multiplayer surrounding does however make unique gear less unique due to the fact that it's impossible to have loot tables which would take the uniqueness into consideration. Also 'unique' quest rewards become norm as more or less all the characters finish the same quests. Thus there are no bragging rights with gear anymore, as every content is grindable to the point that eventually everything is available to the one with most persistance.

Which leads to the fact in current MMO's: is the most succesfull player the one who has most time to put into the game, or the one having the most fun in the game with much less?

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