One of my favorite RP elements within Lord of the Rings Online is the housing. With neighborhoods dedicated to each race and located in near-appropriate locations, being able to buy characters their own homes goes a very long way towards fostering the art of roleplaying.
Last RoleCraft issue, I wrote about The Adventure, about rekindling that thrill for roleplaying through quests and instances that perhaps you’ve trudged through hundreds of times before. This issue can be looked at as sort of a balance, by revisiting the value of home ownership in regards to roleplaying in MMORPGs that allow it.
Home buying was, to my gaming memory, first introduced within Ultima Online. Since then, many, but not all, MMORPGs have also allowed players to buy and sometimes build their own homes in game. For non-roleplayers, this may not hold much interest. For many roleplayers I know, being able to have their characters inhabit a dwelling of their own is often considered to be a standard part of gaming, frowning upon games that don’t have it. With MMORPGs now over ten years old, those that don’t launch with in game housing are those that aren’t very serious about providing their player base, especially roleplayers, with what should be provided.
All that revolves around one solid gameplay aspect that I hear roleplayers and non-roleplayers alike constantly asking for, and that is to feel a great interaction between themselves and the game world. This is what housing provides. I think it helps players feel established, more so than any guild or kinship can, and it represents a rooted presence, a way for players to have their characters leave their mark in the game world.
Above and beyond that base, housing opens the door for a huge amount of roleplaying events. On one end, they can be as grand as hosting large gatherings of friends, family, and guilds, only limited by the size of the house. On the other end, they can be a players’ sanctuary, base of operations, and armory, among other things. Houses within an actual RP neighborhood may help facilitate the meeting of roleplayers who, wandering about the wild places of the game world, may never chance upon meeting each other.
A character’s home is a character’s castle, as the saying could go. Indeed, in Ultima Online, small castles can be bought and built. But more to the point of the saying, a home allows players a safe refuge from the day-to-day adventuring life. They are also a place to store goods and crafts, and to showcase the same.
In UO, the housing construction process is of such quality that, not only can players build a home, they may also build stores, museums, arts and crafts galleries, libraries, inns, and other imaginative places. UO is an example of what I call open housing, where players may come upon houses almost anywhere in the game world. Then again, that very fact is one of the drawbacks to this style of housing. There are simply some places where a house shouldn’t be. Yet, it still works well in UO, in my opinion, and the benefit it serves for roleplaying makes up for the cons.
The other type of housing is instanced, where housing is separated from the main game world. Examples of this type include LotRO and Anarchy Online. It’s a hard call, but I tend to like this type more than the other, mainly for the relative security away from non-RP smacktards it provides. Here, roleplayers can congregate outside in the open world and interact with each other for the most part without hindrance.
Sadly, not every MMORPG in play today has player housing available. Yet, for the thinking roleplayer, this may not be very much of a problem. World of Warcraft is one such game with no official player homes, but that’s never stopped me from roleplaying the fact that some of my characters have one. There are many open rooms and buildings within many of the major cities, and a good many more far and wide throughout the world that may be roleplayed as a personal home. Just because the game itself has limits doesn’t mean your imagination has them too.
I believe it’s all well and good to log in to your favorite MMORPG and do daring deeds across the lands. I am also a firm believer that you should pause often to smell the roses, especially if those roses are planted in the yard of your character’s home. Invite some friends or guild mates over, play hide and seek in the neighborhood, and in general just let the roleplay flow from being in the presence of other roleplayers. You just may find it a much needed respite, and it may even be more fun than expected. Role on!