Monday, June 11, 2012

MMOs and the Near-Death of the Roleplayer

Let me preface this by stating openly that I am not a heavy “Roleplayer” in the traditional sense when it comes my Role-Playing Games. I rarely speak in character, and I don’t usually play something that I don’t have something in common with in real life (relatively speaking). In short, I almost always play the “fighter” of the group, and don’t often speak up much.

All that being said, I DO like to Role Play. It’s just that when I do so, I most often do it by making sure that my character’s actions are “in character.” So, my brave fighters rarely run from combat (though a “tactical retreat” is sometimes called for), and I try to play the character according to the basic personality that I assign to him. He does things that he would logically do, whether they are good decisions or not.

Anyways, where was I? Oh, yeah. MMOs.

So, I am playing in a 1E AD&D game on a monthly basis. One of our players is a huge MMO player, as well as being a long-time tabletop gamer. However, in recent years he has gotten more into MMOs than tabletop. And it shows in his playing.

In an MMO, people tend to think of their characters in terms of their “role” on a team. Is your character a Tank, a Healer, a Melee DPS (Damage Per Second) or a Ranged DPS? And this, in many cases, defines their experience within the game.

For instance, in World of Warcraft, I played a Tauren Hunter, Hoofgrimm, for a very long time. Now, Hunters are traditionally Ranged DPS characters, so people who play them tend to quest for and buy the gear that gives them the highest numbers in those regards. I, however, played WoW mainly solo, and often just for the imaginary exploration and fun. I was never overly concerned with my “numbers” beyond buying or keeping better equipment when I found it.

However, I had several experiences where I would join a Raid with strangers (basically a special quest that requires a certain number of people, and is repeatable), only to be kicked from the team during the Quest because someone had an add-on that would calculate my numbers, and display them to the group. Apparently I was crappy at DPS.

My friend was the leader of a Guild, and at one point I had Hoofgrimm join, because it sounded fun. But again, even though I didn’t get booted from the Raid, it was the same basic experience. They were all on voicechat, and it was just an ongoing conversation about how best to handle the latest monster, and who should do what. Turned out, in-game was nothing but tactical play for the most part, and the Roleplay (which my friend touted the guild as being heavily into) was relegated to the internet forums, and special meet-ups where they would interact through private chats. At least, that was my experience.

Personally, I preferred to RP on the fly, during combat or travel. So, in the middle of a fight, I would type out some dialogue that my character would actually say, and I would do things that my character would actually do, regardless of whether he was any good at it. And this is simply not how MMOs are played.

Ok, back to my friend. His AD&D character is a Cleric. Ok, not traditionally a front-line troop, but he could hold his own in a fight. But my friend only sees a Healer whose job is to stay back and…well, heal. Problem is, healing magic in AD&D is not nearly as effective as it is in an MMO (especially when you roll for crap). So, he was constantly whining that his character had nothing to do, and that he was ineffectual.

Yesterday, he was not able to show up for game (oddly, he had made a previous commitment in an online game), so my wife played his character. And she had him do more. He was up there swinging his mace when he didn’t have any spells that would be effective. And you know what? He lived, and, more importantly, he contributed to the success and survival of the group by being in the fray on occasion. And he also healed people.

In short, when the character was played as more than just a healer, he became a more effective character. Clerics in D&D are not combat medics. They are knights and holy warriors in the service of their chosen deities. And they also heal.

To me, this just illustrates the one reason why MMOs will never truly replace tabletop RPGs. There is little to no improvisation in an MMO. There is very little opportunity to freely play a character how YOU want to play him, especially within the mental dynamic of the modern MMO player.

Now, I enjoy MMOs immensely (currently playing Star Wars…occasionally), but I have a ton more fun sitting at a table, rolling dice, interacting in person, and having my character do things that maybe he shouldn’t traditionally do, and being rewarded for the effort. I like that, at the table, we can choose to tie a rope to the Halfling and have the barbarian fling him across the chasm, just so we can have a rope bridge to cross. In an MMO, you can’t do that. You have to summon your mount and ride the long way around. If you are high enough level to have a mount, that is…otherwise you run.


Andre R. W. Schmeichel said...

It is possible you misunderstood your friend. You may have fixated on your friend's particular bewilderment concerning the weakness of the one UNIQUE aspect his character brought to the table and had forgotten that throughout the previous sessions that character had, indeed, contributed in melee and strategy, but found that for the most part everything - and I do mean everything - was being performed better by someone else and often significantly faster in a dungeon environment - the Giants series - that is one of the most combat focused dungeon crawls ever released by TSR for that edition of the game.

It's tempting to put this into an MMO v. PnP contrast, and it makes some sense seeing as this particular crawl is pure hack & slash, but I think the comparison misses the grand point: The word 'Role' in role playing game whether it's a fantasy constructed personality or a specific job in a fight against monsters is key. We play these games to feel unique, powerful, and influential in a fantasy environment. This uniqueness or distinction can come from a great many sources as you aptly describe, but if it's ABSENT the game loses much of it's appeal.

Your wife took over the Cleric and made something of him. Grand. But I doubt she dropped her Mage and basked in the glory that is 1st edition Cleric-fu. In your own words:

And you know what? He lived, and, more importantly, he contributed to the success and survival of the group by being in the fray on occasion.

So his crowning achievement is that he LIVED and OCCASIONALLY hit something. It's not fun to find a way to be useful 'on occasion.' It's not fun to play hours and hours and find a way to contribute in a meaningful and important way once or twice. There's a REASON 1st edition Clerics got an OVERHAUL and it's not because the players of Clerics were inflexible, uncreative, and fixated on one piece of their purpose as characters.

I'm doing my best to ignore the insult implied by all this. That said, as a player who spent time playing the edition we were using when it came out, you should remember clearly that the idealistic tripe concerning the holy champion of their god didn't stop the Cleric from being AD&D's redheaded stepchild long before the first MMO showed up on the scene.

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm not a terribly good team player. Guess that's why I really only play first person games.

Minotaur said...

I've played D&D since high school days and love it! All editions whether it be AD&D 3.5 4th or even D&D next, aka 5th. We got the chance to play the test modules. It certainly has an oldschool flavor to it mixed with elements of other editions.

My friends and I now 30 still love hamming it up voices and roleplay and all that twice a week.(though we don't dress up that'd be a bit much) But 4th has got that element of a tactical tabletop minis game over a roleplay game. With a good DM you can still keep storytelling and rp at the heart of the game.

I've also played World of Warcraft since beta and through all the expansions. While some RP is possible on the appropriate realms it is worth noting that raiding (where players invest hours and hours to obtain the very best gear) isn't a very suitable place to attempt or expect to rp. Maybe between pulls during the downtime to keep people having fun would work but you can't really fault people for being mad at you if you are typing stuff isntead of dpsing or if you're showing up to raid with gear that looks nice visually but isn't suitable for a hunter to pull 'good numbers'.

As a player who has admitted that you don't focus on what gear you wear, you need to realize that others do care. That's what they do IF the very best gear is important to them. They raid to further their dps/healing numbers or to gear up as a tankm and that hinges on succesfully killing bosses and the more dps you do adds up to success vs failure.

I'm not saying don't raid...I'm saying come into it with the understanding that people want those who can contribute. I wouldn't be a dick and tell you that you suck if you had bad gear but I would politely remove you and explain the reasons why.

It's still possible to have some fun while raiding like a macro that you could do up so that every time you use a big cooldown like rapid shot your character visually says something cool or at the end of a boss fight you could act something out. RP is very possible in WOW but it has to be done right. Raiding is usually a 3-4 hour time commitment 2-5 times a week depending on how serious the guild is. Makes sense that raid members would want to look at cold hard #'s and see who the best person to bring would be. If 10 dps are pulling 50k and one is pulling 10k there's a problem :P

Anyways. Just felt I'd give a shout out/explain the wow mindset a bit. That cleric does sound like he needs to do more than just be a bandaid though. Work in some things like your wife did :) Cool blog.