Darius Black has written a new column about Role-playing today in MMORPGs. Darius talks about the D&D days of role-playing and how they are different today in MMORPGs.

He also asks how many Darkfall fans role-play and how do you feel about today’s role-playing? You can post in our forums about your opinion.


Darius Black: Role-Playing Today
Column by Darius Black (Warcry Columnist)

It’s been a while since I’ve dipped my feet into the tepid pool that is MMO gaming these days – since WoW opened up that Dire Maul instance, actually (fates take me if I hadn’t had enough of killing ogres already). I imagine much hasn’t changed in terms of player behavior and interaction.

/shrug

I was contemplating the evolution of RPGs recently, how they started as pen-and-paper nerd-fests, where pretending you were anything but yourself made life worth living again, if only for the moment. And don’t laugh, that’s ultimately how a lot of unpopular kids spent a great deal of their social lives. Lightning bolt! Lightning bolt! Oh, how I miss Camp Gondor…

With the advent of video games, the meaning of a Role Playing Game changed a little, staying true to the original in some cases, yet going in a different direction in others. The Japanese take on RPGs would define them as mostly linear, story-driven games with a different, and sometimes altogether absent leveling and experience system. Sure, in both types of games – the old D&D dice-throwing breed and its contemporary offspring, and the huge-sword-wielding, spiky hair breed, and everything between – you “play a role,” but by that logic, just about any game out there could be classified the same way. It’s fallen onto the other characteristic to define what we call an RPG today: the leveling system.

So where does that leave the actual role-playing aspect? Well, look around at some of the online games for a good example of how it’s almost utterly disappeared. I realize I digressed from my first point, but this is where it comes in again: how many people actually enjoy role-playing with each other? And no, that’s not an invitation to share the details of your messed-up private life.

When I play an RPG online, I don’t notice many people conversing the way a group of medieval (or science-fictionesque) warriors would. It’s always aggro this, and pulling that, and when they actually have a conversation, it’s about real-life matters. I talk the same way. Why? Because I’m on there playing with friends; because it’s easier to interact in abbreviations and slang; because I’d feel kind of silly yelling out something like “Hark, knights of mine kin! Tonight we feast on heathen flesh aplenty and drink the tears of our enemies’ wives!” over Ventrilo…

It’s a different story with single-player RPGs, where all of the characters around you have a personality relating to the fantasy world you’re playing in. The main difference, I guess, is a game’s sense of immersion, or the lack-there-of. Because of this, it’s hard not to look at MMORPGs as just another IM tool for you and your buddies. I mean, you basically have an elaborate chat-room setup in every massive online game.

But it’s not like the gaming companies aren’t trying; every good MMO out there has a deep, involving story behind it with lore galore (oh… that was bad). Still, most of us aren’t playing for the story. We play out of competition, to gain levels, to collect skulls and shiny new equipment. Online games are, in essence, sports.

PvP oriented games are the most notorious in this respect. Players are there to fight, to compete, and to ultimately kill each other over and over again. Darkfall has what I’m sure will be a highly competitive, hostile gaming environment – this is, if I’m not mistaken, exactly what they’re shooting for. In fact, the name ‘Agon’ is actually of an ancient Greek word meaning contest or challenge.

What Darkfall also has, however, is a huge amount of history and detail woven into the fabric of its world. From the freshly illuminated sands of Rubaiyat, to the mystical forests of Mirendil, we have been offered an in-depth examination of the wonders of Agon time and time again. I’m only wondering if all of this effort on their parts – to make it interesting, immersive, and meaningful as a fantasy universe – will be lost on us.

Now I’m not saying that immersion and role-playing are a horse-and-carriage kind of deal, but one must admit that they often do go hand-in-hand. In our case, we have loads of great material to work with. But, because of the nature of the game, I’m just not sure if we’ll actually see players acting the haughty Mirdain, the barbaric Ork, or the nefarious Alfar (though I’m confident anyone joining that faction will have the prerequisite wickedness we’d expect). Should we just expect a jargoned gankfest not unlike what became of Diablo?

Could be cold in here, but I think I just shivered a little.

It’s understandable that role-playing isn’t exactly everyone’s idea of fun. Some people don’t feel comfortable putting on a different skin just for amusement. That’s cool. In all honesty, ever since I played a female character in Anarchy Online and got some dude sending me free stuff and naughty whispers, I’ve been a little turned off of the idea too. But I can still have a good time playing with racial tension and good-guy-versus-bad-guy scenarios. It’s what makes the experience that much more meaningful, what justifies the whole character creation process. For me, it’s what makes it an RPG.

-db

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