Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

7 August, 2018

Why people RP in MMOs
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 11:29 PM

I think it’s important to think about why people RP when we look at role-playing. Of course, it gets a little dangerous to make too many ground pronouncements without data, but sometimes observation and experience can help make sense of things.

So, let me share some of my observations about why people RP in MMOs.


Let’s face it, sometimes life just sucks. Sometimes people are overworked, underappreciated, and feeling lonely. Some people are trapped in situations beyond their control, and having the ability to escape it for a while is appealing. Of course, just about any escapism might work for this type of person; if it weren’t RP in MMOs, they might live vicariously through TV shows, or even turn to other distractions besides entertainment.

This motivation gets a bad reputation since escapism usually means you want to escape something. Some people might moralize that one should address problems instead of escaping from them; however, problems can sometimes be more complex than they look. Sometimes a little escapism to get some breathing room can help tremendously. It’s a question of what an individual needs, and sometimes solutions to problems are not always easy to find.

Doing what can’t be done

Another motivation is to do what can’t be done normally, or what isn’t even possible in the “real world”. We see this in a lot of stories presented in the main quests in games: where the player is the hero that saves the world. In reality few of us get to make world-saving decisions and get to tell the tale.

But the motivation may not be quite so grandiose. Maybe people want to role-play something a little more mundane but still tough. Become a parent, serve as a law enforcement officer, cut down a rival in cold blood, or even just find a friend they couldn’t have possibly met outside of the game. Sometimes the game allows simple pleasures to become possible when they seem out of reach.

Then there’s the space between. Dating multiple partners who know about each other, getting broken down only to be built back up again stronger than before, discovering something that changes the lives of many people, leading a group of people to do god work and brighten days. These are things we could do in “real life”, but that may not be easily achievable without the willing suspension of disbelief.

Writing challenge

This is perhaps my particular interest. I like the challenge of writing something in a situation that I don’t entirely control. RP is a cooperative medium, where other people control other characters, so it’s improvisational but requires some fast thinking and typing skills. To be truly in the moment and interacting with another person is a great feeling for me.

This is different then when writing a story because you can plot out a story perfectly. Maybe you get a stroke of inspiration, a character “talks” to you as a writer says, but that’s different than someone doing something plausible but completely unexpected in RP. The schookid actor who always got the lead roles when acting out the little plays in class loves this challenge along with the collaborative storyteller.

Love of the setting

The last group I’ve seen are people who just love the setting. FFXIV is based on the beloved Final Fantasy franchise, obviously. It’s got all the hallmarks: the warrior of light, chocobos, an old engineer named Cid, etc. And it’s got plenty of references and callbacks to other games as well, tickling the nostalgia of fans of the series. For these reasons, it’s exciting for a person to RP in the setting, to get to know and experience many of the star features of the Final Fantasy universe. Best of all, you can find other Final Fantasy fans in the game.

This is why I think defining the setting is important, because after a while this is what people fall in love with. Looking at Final Fantasy in particular, each game is unique to the series, but it’s the common elements that keep them related to each other. Building the world with an eye toward what people will role-play can help players RP easier in your world and also let people tell their own (sometimes non-RP) player stories in your world.

What about you? Do you RP for a reason not listed here? I’m interested to know if there’s something I missed.

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  1. Going back to childhood. It applies to the whole experience of playing MMORPGs, not just roleplaying. For years I used to compare EQ’s gameplay with my own childhood. From when I was about 8 or 9 years old until I hit my teens, any day I wasn’t in school would go something like this: get up, have breakfast, walk half a mile to The Common (a large, empty, green space between my village and the next) and see who turned up. Depending on who came we’d split into teams and play ball games or go off in a gang into the woods, along the river, wherever the fancy took us. We’d climb trees, collect fossils, have stone fights (throwing stones at ea ch other -very dsngerous!), make rafts from tree branches or discarded oil drums (where those came from in the countryside I still have no clue). We made friends, enemies, alliances and broke them all. We had no adult supervision and nothing worse than a sprained ankle ever happened to anyone that I ever heard of.

    If that doesn’t sound like EQ circa 1999-2003 I don’t know what does. About the only thing we didn’t do was kill anything. Right up to now, when I play MMOs I’m partly re-creating that experience, which is why many of my characters act and talk like children.

    Comment by Bhagpuss — 8 August, 2018 @ 3:14 AM

  2. Since reading the book about play that I mentioned in some of my recent blog posts, I’ve been struck by that fact that all kids engage in RP, and they do it a lot.

    Maybe it’s a fundamental human urge, and instead of asking why people RP, we should be asking why most adults stop!

    Comment by Pasduil — 8 August, 2018 @ 8:37 AM

  3. Personally I don’t normally actively seek RP. If I do it, it comes about like this…

    I often prefer to play on RP servers as there’s usually a more mature, thoughtful, lore-loving crowd, and there also tends to lots going on. I join a casual-friendly guild that does some light RP, and I get caught up in their RPing and have a lot of fun.

    Typically though being fairly casual I can’t keep up too much RP for very long.

    Comment by Pasduil — 8 August, 2018 @ 8:49 AM

  4. Pasduil wrote:
    instead of asking why people RP, we should be asking why most adults stop!

    Probably for the same reason why adults stop “play”, because it’s seen as a childish, not-serious thing. Play is preparation for the “real thing”, so if you’re an adult you should be doing the “real thing”.

    But I think it stirs enough of that creative urge for some of us and are mature enough to not care if others think it’s too childish. :P

    Comment by Psychochild — 8 August, 2018 @ 9:58 PM

  5. I’m not sure I stopped because it seemed childish to me, or because I thought others would think it was. I’m pretty sure I never really gave any thought to continuing doing it or not, it just sort of faded away in later childhood.

    I’m thinking that maybe in the same way that I continued to for example play board games and watch TV shows, but not the same ones as earlier, a more complex form of RP than running around pretending to be the Scooby gang would have been needed to be satisfying.

    Comment by Pasduil — 9 August, 2018 @ 8:25 AM

  6. Right. We form our opinions from those around us, and if they think that play is childish then if we want to not be seen as childish we stop play. But that’s an interesting observation about wanting more complex RP, like we enjoy more complex stories in other media. I hadn’t considered that before!

    Comment by Psychochild — 9 August, 2018 @ 1:08 PM

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