I have a friend named Jon. Jon and I played Dungeons & Dragons together when we were in college, back when D&D was cool. Jon was noteworthy for being the best role-player in the entire party. He was the Robert De Niro of D&D. He was a man who actually lost 3′ of height just so he could better understand a dwarf. If his character lost his right arm, he’d only roll dice with his left. He once put his own eye out so he could simulate wearing the Eye of Vecna. Daniel Day Lewis actually took notes at our D&D sessions to learn better Method acting. Jon was just that good.
When college ended, we drifted apart for a few years, until we reconnected – once again through gaming. It happened when I discovered massively-multiplayer online games. In my early cluelessness, I perceived these to be vast computer recreations of the tabletop gaming of my youth. At last, a place where I could roleplay with like-minded gamers, setting aside the concerns of the real world to escape into a land of fantasy.
My poison of choice was Asheron’s Call, and the server was called Darktide. Darktide, for those of you who managed to miss the Call, was the One True Server, the focal point, the most important server in the entire game. It was, you see, the only open-PVP server in the entire game. My 30th level creature-magic / sword specialist reaped sweet slaughter on Darktide.
OK, that’s perhaps not quite how it was. It would be more fair to say that Darktide was the game’s biggest Hive of Scum and Villainy, and that I tragically selected Darktide because I thought that open PvP was “more realistic.” I believed a more deadly world would yield more tight-knit communities in which truly social, immersive behavior would flourish.
I had, perhaps, read too much Raph Koster for my own good.
Nevertheless, I set about to roleplay. Of course, I didn’t play something nambie-pambie, as who wants to be made fun of? No, I was a fierce demon-worshipping evil swordsman, an anti-paladin of dark power. Others would fear me. I spoke in complete sentences and used capital letters and my monologues put Dr. Doom to shame.
I was spawn camped when I logged in. MMOGs are not, as it turns out, very conducive to role-play, and PVP servers are perhaps charitably described as “unfriendly” to the roleplayer. It was a question of mass: A roleplayer cannot stand alone in a world of powergamers and gankers.
Strength in numbers! I needed it. Since I was a roleplayer, I reached out to the best roleplayer I knew – Jon. Here would be my right arm, a companion in earnest who would join me as we rose to power. I contacted him via email and he seemed enthusiastic. He mentioned he’d been playing That Other Massively Multiplayer Game so I knew he understood the problem. We arranged to meet up in game.
I spotted his character, Anterys, in Stonehold, and hurried myself over. “Hail, Anterys,” I said. “It is long since we met.”
“Sup,” he said. “Wanna level?”
I was too late. Jon had been assimilated. It was at that moment that I knew: Roleplayers are an endangered species. We have always been a fragile genus, the output of an ephemeral moment in the Darwinian descent of the gamer, a brief, shining example of gaming purity that could evolve only in the rarefied ecology of a Dungeon Master’s living room, kept safe from gaming predators, and nurtured on a Eucalyptus leaf blend of Cheetos and Mountain Dew. And like the giant panda and the koala, we do not breed – in captivity, or otherwise.
Because of this fragility, under the fierce evolutionary pressure of a massively multiplayer game, the roleplayer species cannot survive. Perhaps it’s because of the peer pressure, perhaps it’s the crushing blows to immersion and escapism poised by “leet” speak, perhaps it’s just the numbers and names floating over everyone’s heads. No matter. The roleplayer cannot survive. Its most fit members can ascend to a new rank on the food chain, perhaps becoming voracious powergamers, or networking guild leaders. A rare few become bestial, the worst of griefers.
Of course, today, steps are being taken by concerned citizens all across the virtual world to protect the roleplayer. In more and more games, special wildlife preserves, called RP Servers, have been set up so that our most fragile and special species can still flourish in a protected habitat. But it may be too late. Certainly it is too late for Jon.
You ask: What about Max? Of course, I could not be assimilated. I still roleplay on the PvP server. I roleplay a 14-year-old prick.