Method Gamers

Method Gamers
The Contrarian: Masks in the Woods

John Scott Tynes | 31 Jan 2006 11:01
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Their in-game RP exploits sound fun, as in this example I heard from Sahn'Jin, Dark Elder of the Tribe:

"A few months back, one of the guild officers had an extended absence and was unable to communicate with us. When it came time to have our internal duels for leadership, known as the Rite of the Black Moon, we decided to let someone else take his officer spot. He returned shortly after and roleplayed that the tribe had betrayed him and was slowly dueling certain members he faulted for the loss of his position. Out-of-character, everything was fine and he understood the decision."

The Tribe speaks in character for all forms of in-game chat, other than the guild channel. "We do this not only to enhance our own playing experiences," Sahn'jin says, "but because when those around you see you RP, it triggers a natural urge to do so as well...a domino effect."

Fittingly for a medium whose primary mode of expression is text messaging, however, the lengthiest roleplaying efforts seem to be put forth on message boards. In a lengthy thread, for example, Black Moon Tribe members collaborate on a story in which they meet at a tavern, get drunk and have some fun. It's difficult to imagine even this straightforward exercise existing in any useful way in the game, where facial expressions and gestures cannot very effectively be tied in with text messaging - let alone the inability of the game to provide you with a new character entering the scene at a dramatic moment as a plot twist. The control over narrative and expression that RPers clearly crave just doesn't exist in the game, and so they divert their energies to this kind of writing.

Tabletop game designer Robin Laws has a term for this sort of thing: "closet drama." In gaming books, closet drama is the endless backstory nobody but the gamemaster is ever really going to know. A tabletop game might have 18 centuries of heroes, villains and legends, but there's little chance players in the game will ever glimpse more than a fraction of it at the weekly dungeon crawl. It's just reading material for the gamemaster, slathered on thick. That Black Moon Tribe thread was written over the course of 16 days by several different players. Will it come up in their online play at all? Or is it just closet drama, inaccessible to anyone in the game who doesn't also read the forum? RP guilds are often divided this way, their energies neither wholly in the game nor in the forums. At their web site, they play passionate, engaged characters who face life head on. In the game, they assiduously level up and quest for loot.

This split between what RPers want and the reality the game gives them makes me sad. I wish they could have their stories and tell them, too. They do their best. But game companies haven't shown much interest in innovating tools for RP.

But you know what really makes me sad? The Order of Mithril Twilight.

I ran across their website while researching RP guilds in World of Warcraft. The melancholy music, the animated scrolls, the devotion to a higher cause - it all adds up to something rather nifty. This group of holy warriors has extensive histories and gospels explaining the story of their guild and Lady Twilight, in whose memory they quest against the undead. As I read through page after page of what was admittedly closet drama, I got more and more curious about who these people were and what their gameplay was like.

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