Method Gamers

Method Gamers
The Contrarian: Masks in the Woods

John Scott Tynes | 31 Jan 2006 11:01
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Of all the players who ever went through In Media Res, that group was something special. They jumped into their characters with everything they had, cut loose with their emotions, got very physical with each other and improvised their parts to the fullest. Even when they did things that frightened me, like when Gantry started choking Douglas, I could tell they were in control. They weren't just roleplaying. They were acting, and it was something to see.

When Gantry was about to shoot Douglas and Douglas let out that plaintive wail to his long-gone sister, the moment was electric. My whole body seemed to vibrate with the emotion, chills rippling across my skin. I'd never been in the presence of that kind of power - except in real life.

After seeing dozens of Gantries and Douglases and Pfeiffs and Morgans struggling to understand themselves and each other, lashing out in violence or in guilt, running that scenario at game conventions I can't even name anymore, it's really hard for me to take online-game "roleplaying" seriously. In my experience, very few games have really progressed past the point of "Blue Elf is about to die!" or "Warrior needs food badly!" When Brothers in Arms included a voiceover by your character where he freaks out and starts screaming and sobbing about how his best friend died at the hands of those stinking Nazis, I felt only mild embarrassment for the actor who had to perform that stuff, as if someone at a cocktail party broke down and revealed his infidelity to complete strangers. It wasn't moving, it was just awkward, and that's about as good as it gets in this field.

Yet, people try. If the game-makers can't do it, maybe the game-players can. The truth about In Media Res is my hands were tied. As gamemaster, I gave all the power to the players. There were no NPCs, not until the very end, so there wasn't much for the gamemaster to do in that scenario, except describe the location and answer questions. That game was only as good as the players, and they certainly weren't all good. But when they were good, the game was great.

Is that possible in online gaming? Can good players make a great game? It certainly isn't easy. A human being emoting three feet from you is a very different experience than a human being emoting in text messages interspersed with notices like, "You hit the Large Sand Crab for 5 points!" or "Cleric 5 LFG!!!!"

There are a lot of guilds out there for online games, and many of them advertise a roleplaying focus - or RP, as it's known. They're often very passionate on the subject, at least in message boards where they write stories about their characters or pass the time at work roleplaying conversations. They have their controversies, too, such as the degree of IC vs. OOC gameplay. IC means "In Character" and OOC means "Out Of Character," and RP guilds frequently have guidelines for how and when you use each form of text messaging. One guild might demand all chat on the guild channel be IC, while another uses guild chat for OOC and local or group chat for IC.

A good example of a typical RP guild is the Black Moon Tribe, on World of Warcraft's Emerald Dream RP-PvP server. The Tribe primarily consists of trolls organized in a sort of religious cult dedicated to kicking the Alliance out of Stranglethorn Vale, the ancestral troll homeland. Their most recent game event, the Rite of the Black Moon, saw the guild gather amid ancient troll ruins. There, members had the opportunity to advance in rank, celebrate, pray to the spirits and even duel the leaders to take control of the guild. Rite screenshots like this one are oddly moving, as the tribe kneels before its leader, who proclaims they have now returned to their ancestral home.

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