11 August, 2018
Usually in games we try to compare one thing to what we already know. Genres are a great example of this: both DOOM and Bioshock 2 are FPSes, but they are different from each other in many ways.
So when it comes to RP in MMOs, we might try to compare it to other forms. Let’s take a look at how it’s different.
The first type of RP that comes to my mind is tabletop RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons or the World of Darkness games by White Wolf. I think the main difference here is that the scope: in tabletop RP you interact with a small group of people. By contrast, in an MMO you have hundreds if not thousands of other people who inhabit the world. Even if you do have a regular group you RP with you still have the opportunity to RP with someone you never see again. This encourages a slightly different mindset for a character since you don’t know exactly who you’ll run into.
A larger pool of RPers also means that there’s no guarantee that people will have compatible RP styles. One person who wants non-canon zombies in their RP might run into someone who thinks zombies are dumb but sparkly vampires are neat. Whereas a tabletop game may have an agreement or at least agreed-upon house rules, an MMO only has the lore to guide it, and reluctant customer service to handle any “that person is ruining my immersion!” complaints.
The last interesting thing is that game mechanics tend to be separated out from the RP in MMOs. Whereas DDO might have rules about reactions from merchants, MMO RP tends to be more freeform and potentially diceless, although people will sometimes use /random results and even build up systems around it.
I’ll admit I’m speaking from a slight position of weakness here, as I’ve not participated in forum RP. But I’ve run into enough people who have and I’ve participated in RP on Discord. Again, I see two differences between MMO RP and Forum RP: frequency and length. These two are related.
MMOs are synchronous by design. A group of players are in the world interacting at nearly real-time. Of course for RP you have to consider typing and response time, but this is often measured in single-digit minutes for most scenes in the game. But forums are more asynchronous in nature, which means the wait can be longer, sometimes measured in hours or even days between posts. This changes how things feel, as MMO RP can feel more “in the moment” with faster responses.
Likewise, length is affected. MMOs often have a character length limitation for chat messages which limits how long a “post” can be. Compared to a forum post, which can be very long. And since you don’t know how fast your other RPers may respond, posts tend to be longer and cover more ground. That way a few post spread over a day can convey a scene that several dozen posts in an MMO over a few hours might.
One last form of RP that most people don’t consider: improv. I think improvisation is a major part of the soul of RP, and a lot of the rules that guide good improv can also guide good RP. An example is that you should never simply negate another person’s actions in improv: if someone says something, don’t simply respond. “No you don’t!” Same thing applies in RP. The idea is to keep the scene moving forward together, rather than one person pushing and the other hindering.
The main difference is the persistence. In improv things are ephemeral by design, the interactions in one scene may provide a funny callback later, but the scenes are not necessarily intended to be strung together into a coherent whole. RP, on the other hand, usually has some form of continuity. While some people like spontaneous scenes and some actions may be non-canon for the character, the majority of RP in my experience tends to have an impact that last beyond the scene. Character development over the long term relies on such continuity.
So, what do you think? Are there other types of RP you can think of that I missed in comparison? Or do can you think of other differences or how they impact your RP?