Jim Moreno's "RoleCraft" MMO Column

RoleCraft: Defining the MMORPG


Many roleplayers have our RP background solidly based on the tabletop RP games of yesteryear, Dungeons & Dragons being the prime example. That is still the lens through which I view roleplaying of any type, including MMORPGs. In those classic RP games, there are two components that make up the playing experience: the DM (dungeon master, or GM – game master – if you prefer) and the PC (player-character). People filled both roles, which sparked and fanned the flames of highly engaging RP.

Today’s MMORPGs are sadly missing one of those crucial elements, and I’m sure you know which one. Without a DM, the synergy simply isn’t there. AI advances in computer gaming over the last decade have been astounding, of course, yet they do not come close to having a living, breathing, and imaginative human being filling the game moderator seat.

Over the last couple of weeks, a few items have blipped up on my radar and caused me to think about the missing element of a DM, both from a game makers’ and game players’ perspective. With this and the next RoleCraft edition, my goal is to give a call out to both, to clear up some confusion about what an MMORPG is and should be, and how the addition of a DM could possibly be what roleplayers are in dire need of.

So, first things first. Avid MMORPG players, especially those of us who have been playing them from the earliest days, may be well familiar with the development path they have traveled to get to where they are now. Needless to say, despite being called a ‘roleplaying game’, roleplaying has not been their primary objective. Confusion abounds about what exactly an MMORPG is, about what type of gameplay it should adhere to. I don’t think it’s all that difficult to understand.

An MMORPG is a game where you the player actually creates the character you will play in game. Simple. OK, there’s more to it, but it’s that point alone where I think much of the confusion stems from. It is inconceivable to me that an MMORPG and an MMOG (massively multi-player game) could ever be confused with each other. If you actually create the avatar (e.g., choose race, class, skin tone, facial features, etc.) that will represent whatever personality you wish to exhibit in game, then that is an MMORPG, not an MMOG.

A MMOG is a game where you simply step into the likeness of a character, and where you generally only have a choice over what weapon to use and when. Some examples include Team Fortress 2, Counter Strike, and the old Tribes series. None of those and like games allow you to create a character from the ground up. Players only have to log in and choose a class of sorts, and then get straight to play. No RP is expected in these games, not even from hardcore roleplayers like myself. Why would I want to? I have MMORPGs!

MMORPGs should come with the labeling that says if you buy this game, you are expected to roleplay. There is a reason ‘roleplaying’ is in the name of the game genre, that being it. Likewise, I don’t see how you could fathom creating an MMORPG if you are not a roleplayer yourself. These are two factors that lead current MMORPGs down their paths to today, I believe. Not enough roleplayers voiced their opinions or employed their talents as MMORPGs have evolved, hence their current lack of RP. We roleplayers, no matter how crafty and imaginative we are, may never be able to dictate gameplay in our favorite MMORPGs to what is most proper, at least not until game makers themselves set out to make a proper MMORPG.

Oh, wait, by chance have you heard of Neverwinter Nights? A most brilliant game, to say the least. It adresses just that point, by allowing the addition of a DM into the mix. Players therefore have the benefit of engaging in excellent RP with and through their DM, and the DM can build an interactive game world that can be manipulated on the fly according to the players’ actions and reactions. Cooperation between characters and their world, another great item sorely missed in MMORPGs. Synergy of this sorts is something that cannot be programmed, I don’t think. Neverwinter Nights (and Neverwinter Nights 2) is making it work, however, and it’s a major element all MMORPGs need to take heed of.

The next edition will cover more about cooperation and how a DM can help bring that about. I want to thank fellow WarCry writer Jonathan Steinhauer for his last article, I Gotta be Me: Roleplaying and the MMO, which helped inspire my own thoughts. I started to write a response in the Comments under his article, which I soon realised would be about two pages! Consider this and the next RoleCraft my response, John. Roll on!

Have you read RoleCraft Storyteller – Rose of the Sun? It’s the story of Wil’amae Sunrose, a blood elf priest set in the MMORPG World of Warcraft. Not only that, it’s a story in which you get to help shape! At the end of the piece is a link leading to a poll where you may cast your vote on where the story of Wil’amae will turn next. The poll is only open until March 8, so hurry and vote now!

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