Jim Moreno's "RoleCraft" MMO Column

RoleCraft: RP Gets Religion


As the month and year come to an end, a number of religions celebrate their respective holidays. Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hannukah, and probably many more I’m unaware of. Many roleplayers may be busily purchasing and wrapping gifts, reconnecting with friends and family, and generally putting the finishing touches on another year lived. For the most part, religion and the precepts of spiritual living are the reasons for this season, so I’ve heard.

As roleplay and roleplayers often mimic real-life items and events, I pose the question, what (if any) religion or spiritual belief does your character hold true to, and how are you roleplaying that in game during this (or any) time of the year? To those who are thinking religions don’t exist in MMORPGs, I have to agree, but only to a point. I currently do not know of a single MMORPG that explicity incorporates any structured likeness to a real-world ‘religion’ within gameplay. However, the number of direct and obvious correlations to real-world religions and spiritual beliefs that can be found across the entire MMORPG gaming world is nothing anyone would or should miss. Doing so has the potential to harshly limit your imagination’s power to create and carry out immersively fun roleplaying.

In the MMORPGs I play, each of them have written within their Codes of Conduct and Terms of Service specific wording about infringing upon and/or discriminating against any real-world religion in game or on game-related websites. Aside from that, roleplaying characters who follow a Life-guiding spiritual belief is not only allowed, it’s very often implied. Monks, shamans, priests, druids, clerics, paladins, and more, all exist in current MMORPGs, and are all associated with historical religions and edicts of spirituality. The choice of whether to carry on those historically respective beliefs or not is totally left up to the player, as it should be.

Is it possible to roleplay a direct example of a real-world religious entity within a MMORPG? My answer is that if it cannot be found within the known lore and canon of the realm, don’t do it. If you do, extreme caution should be made, and you should be prepared with a supremely valiant RP story, and for perhaps no small amount of ridicule. There are so many plain and abstract uses of religious ideals already in games that it’s best to avoid the headaches and loss of fun outright.

Beginning with a look at character classes, take a common class like Priest. Dictionary.com defines it as “a person whose office it is to perform religious rites”. Even amongst roleplayers, I can count on one hand the number of characters I’ve seen roleplayed in accordance with that definition. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, I just mention it as an example of a hugely overlooked RP storyline.

My first memory of learning about a priest was in watching one of my favorite TV shows, Kung Fu. Shaolin priests are still the foremost image in my mind when I think of a priest, and it has no small effect on how I roleplay my troll priest in WoW. He is skilled in Unarmed combat and the staff, and spends his days wandering the lands helping where he can. There are many more priests in real-world history to take precedents from that can influence your own RP style. In fact, allow me to provide some links to real-world historical accounts of common MMORPG classes. Knowing the real-world counterparts will I think help strengthen your ability to create a more believable character.







It’s worth bearing in mind that spiritual beliefs are not always associated with any one god or dieties. Many are simply common traits shared by an entire culture, or philosophies of Life given an exalted level of importance. Likewise, in roleplaying, your character doesn’t have to be subservient to any pantheon. Any element can be ‘worshipped’, or made into a system of beliefs to be followed. Take for instance witchcraft, which is widely known not to be a religion, but simply another ‘cultural ideology’. With it’s relation to Nature and magic, it could easily be used in roleplaying a character with strong ties to one or both aspects.

Even common principles can become a guide for how one wishes to live their life. My favorite example of this, and one of my most favorite of any game, comes from the Ultima series of games, now known in Ultima Online as The Book of Virtues. Comprised of The Three Principles (Truth, Love, and Courage), and The Eight Virtues (Honesty, Compassion, Valor, Justice, Sacrifice, Honor, Spirituality, and Humility), it makes available a wealth of roleplaying concepts either taken in parts or as a whole. These concepts have added value in that they can be used in any MMORPG world setting, from old world fantasy to new age science fiction.

There are indeed a vast number of MMORPGs currently on the market, and their settings vary greatly. However, all the ones I am familiar with still have a single fundamental component in common: war. Ever known anyone who treated war as a religion? The Greeks and Romans at least had a unique god for just that purpose. Don’t forget that the opposite, peace, can be just as powerful to roleplay. Think of the hippies and flower childs of 1960s America, and imagine the fun that could be had roleplaying a likeness in your favorite game.

So, whatever your personal reason for the season is, remember it can be a valuable inspiration for your characters. Religion, spirituality, and philosophy make for excellent RP factors, as long as they are handled with due respect. Yes, they can be very touchy subjects to some, but fear is no reason not to add them to your RP skills. Simply follow the Golden Rules: roleplay unto others as you would have them roleplay unto you, share some RP goodwill among your fellow players, and role on!

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