Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

30 July, 2009

What the “RP” in “RPG” stands for
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 6:22 PM

Zubon over at Kill Ten Rats wrote a little post about what “RPG” really means. Of course, what’s really happening is another lament that role-playing just doesn’t happen in games called “RPGs”:

An interesting thought, so let’s take a look at role-playing in games that use that term to describe themselves.

Of course, this debate is nothing new. Back in the olden days of Usenet, I remember one person saying that computer “RPGs” should instead be called “KTATTS” games. In most of them you were merely going out and murdering things with the hopes of gaining power to able to fight meaner things.

Roles of paper

Many times people look back at paper RPGs as a source of “true role-playing”. The thing that most people overlook is that there were few rules in these books for real role-playing. Most of the rules were set up to resolve conflicts so they didn’t devolve into the old “I shot you first! No, I shot you first!” arguments we had when playing as kids. The primary vehicle for a lot of situations was combat, so most of the rules focused on that; this is also a nod to the wargaming roots of the early role-playing systems.

Despite this, there was still role-playing. You could just focus on the stats and attributes, damage and hit points. The game could be played as a strict mathematical exercise. But, for many players, the fun was in breathing the spark of life into the collection of numbers. It’s not just a Dwarf Fighter/Cleric, I’m Rainlin Goldcrier, Dwarven Vindicator who throws himself into battle in a god-inspired frenzy!

A lot of the flavor of these games was in the imagination of the people playing it. Mechanically, I rolled a 19 and hit the monster, rolling 6 points of damage with my long sword and reducing the monster’s hit points to non-positive value. I might choose to describe that as: I slashed my weapon hard across the orc’s head, causing him to collapse into a heap on the ground. In non-combat situations, it was all about interacting with each other. I might get into some friendly banter with a fellow adventurer, or I might haggle hard on the price of a new suit of armor with an NPC store owner.

Interestingly enough, the inclusion of mechanics to handle some non-combat situations actually detracted from this interaction. Instead of haggling with the DM, I rolled a few dice to see how well my haggling skill worked against the NPC. More dice rolling, less interaction. But, it still took other people to interact and play a role.

That’s how I role alone

Even when we get to single-player RPGs, you can still have a bit of role-playing. One common form in older games is naming of characters. I often like to name my characters after my friends or my cats (or if there are a lot of characters, both). Daniel is always the Lawful Good type, after my friend Dan who is a stand-up guy, for example. The characters instantly have personality and therefore roles to play, even if its a “personal story” to me. Since humans are excellent pattern matching machines, I often notice when the characters fulfill their roles. When Daniel takes a particularly nasty blow that could have killed another party member, I think of him as stepping in front of the blow that was aimed at the other person, even if that was just a random number result instead of his specific action.

What’s interesting is that as games try to define more roles for a character, it becomes more restrictive. Maybe the role I want to play wasn’t defined by the developers. Or, maybe what the developers consider “noble” is different than what I do for my character. It can actually be jarring to hear my stoic fighter grunting in pain because the developers wanted to add voice to the game. So, defining more roles doesn’t necessarily add to role-playing.

Role with your friends

Now we get to online games. In a way, we go back to the days of paper RPGs. In fact, some people have said in the past that this is experience is what MMOs should aspire toward.

The problem when you get a large group of people together is having them find a common purpose. In this case, trying to define “what is role-playing” is a tough challenge. One person might think it involves using a lot of “thee” and “thou” in your speech. Another person thinks it’s not talking about last night’s sports event. Another person might think it’s pretending to be an elf in a game that has no elves. Putting all three of these people together seems to be a recipe for disaster.

One solution proposed a while ago was the concept of “functional role-playing”. In other words, the person playing the fighter was playing the role of the protector, even if it is a 13-year old kid who thinks l33t-sp33k (or worse, 133+-$|>33|<) is just awesome. This may make the game function, but it's not satisfying for true role-players.

The role of the term “RPG”

The problem is that the term has grown to mean one sort of game play. As Zubon noted in his post on KTR, other games have co-opted this term to add more game-play to their games. A game with “RPG elements” means that you’ll spend points to upgrade your character. This is a way to allow players to develop a character over time, and perhaps compensate for a lack of skill they have. Tired of not being able to aim very well? Take the “aim” skill and the game helps you out a bit. Now you can get headshots like a pro!

But, it’s a bit of an abuse of the term “RPG” if all it really includes is some character advancement. Can I really play a role if the character is already established (and even named!), if my choices are pre-determined (or even meaningless), or if there is nobody else to interact with? Probably not. But, the core mechanic is still there. And “RPG elements” takes less ink than “character advancement”.

For me, an “RPG” is a game where I can take a role in the world through a character (or even multiple characters). The game might focus on combat, but I want to be able to define my own personality (or personalities) for my character(s) and let them develop in and affect the world. Even a typical dungeon delve can be an opportunity for me to add some personal spice to the characters and be an RPG. Note that not everyone who plays the game has to role-play for a game to be an RPG.

What role-playing requires

So, looking back, what does role-playing require in games?

Imagination This is the important bit. If you have little imagination, you won’t be able to role-play well because you won’t be able to put yourself in the situation. This is especially important if you’re playing a game without others.

Freedom I think the more rules you try to apply to the game, the less freedom you have and the less important role-playing becomes. As I said, the addition of a “haggling” skill can turn a role into a roll. (A good system will allow the role to modify or even supersede the roll, though.) The more you try to codify things in the game, the less freedom you have. You don’t need rules to play a roll, even if you need some rules to resolve conflicts.

Agreement If you’re going to play with other people, you need to agree what role-playing is. For some people, it’s not taking the game too seriously and cracking a few in-jokes. That’s fine, but it’s going to make someone who wants to really immerse him- or herself in a character unhappy. When playing single-player RPGs, I only had to agree with myself. (That’s harder that it should be perhaps.)

So, what do you think? What does role-playing require? Do you agree with me, or do you have your own measurements?

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  1. While I’m not quite old enough to remember the pre-RPG days I did start playing AD&D in the 1970s so here’s my take on the semantic history of a word which has changed very much in meaning over the last few decades.

    Originally there were no single character wargames. If you wanted to wargame you painted an army of lead figures. Probably Napoleonic.

    People did instinctively add an element of amateur thespianism even then. “Mwa ha ha, you’ll never escape from a Le Poinders pincer movement — what! — bah, foiled again, you Engleesh have the luck of the Devil!”

    In 1971 Dave Arnesen and Gary Gygax invented the Chainmail supplement, a rules supplement allowing wargamers to play fantasy, tolkienesque characters.

    Wikipedia link to the Chainmail game. [I altered this because the URL didn't parse properly. -P]

    At this time the playing pieces were still units of troops or occasionally one single powerful unit.

    In 1974 Dungeons and Dragons was released as the first role-playing game. The phrase role playing meant you played the role of one character rather than a unit. It was still to all intents and purposes a wargame, just the scale had changed and storytelling elements had been added.

    Now because people played through the whole story of the character and because the rules did not cover many possible actions like haggling and seduction and grovelling abjectly people became very inventive. At this point the main way to “win” dungeons and dragons was to be so persuasively entertaining that the DM would let you warp the story. So if we were slated for execution an inspired and comical grovelling session, suitably well-acted might allow us to escape the axe.

    In the 80s the storytelling elements of tabletop RPGs rather outgrew their origins. Games like Paranoia and Vampyre were heavily story-driven with interest in the mechanics and number-crunching being derided as “munchkinism”.

    One of the key elements of this phase was that players should drive plot. Players could hijack a vehicle and go off on a road movie type ramble often completely ignoring the GM’s elaborately crafted dungeon.

    Also computer games based on these franchises emerged and began using the term RPG. This is technically correct in the old 1974 sense but failed to incorporate the very freeform expressionistic story-telling elements that the tabletop game had begun to incorporate.

    What we have had since is a recurrent dissatisfaction with the term Computer Role-Playing Game by fans of the amateur dramatics aspect of the hobby who want ownership of the phrase “role-playing”.

    Personally it’s a battle I’d like to see us win. While companies are within their rights to hark back to the old Gygax/Arnesen definition it really doesn’t serve any useful purpose these days to call your latest FPS a RPG. And I think games could do much more to encourage genuine role-playing.

    Role-playing is poorly implemented in games like EQ2, WoW and SW:G because it is dependent on typing (which is a chore) and because it’s not integrated into the action. In fact the behaviour of an Eve Fleet Commander is far more like the role-playing I remember from the 70s and 80s than the behaviour of a Goldshire tabletop dancer. I’d like to play the part of a character who immerses himself in the role because it’s the way to win! Everyone who agrees form up and on the count of three, charge!

    Comment by Stabs — 30 July, 2009 @ 7:49 PM

  2. Short story of RP if you have the time.

    Me and a friend had just moved in the “big city” so we lost our D&D group. Luckily some people at my job had a group and gladly accepted us and allowed us to use our previous characters to match the levels of the group.

    Me and my friend were playing knights really courageous and as lawful as you can be (as were the other characters). Maybe 2-3 sessions after having joined the group we ran into a dragon. We weren’t supposed to attack I guess but it happened anyway. For some reason, the battle ended up with me on the back of the dragon and my friend in its claws. We did killed the dragon but didn’t survived when we crashed (still on the dragon) on the mountains. What were the others doing? I think one was looking for the treasure while another one was at the bathroom and the other one was eating chips while reading his spells. No problem, we picked two other characters, our duo of (evil) thieves.

    We played our characters perfectly, joined (easily) the group of good guys and the players (I’m not even talking about their characters) thought my friend was a warrior (ok, easy enough) and me a magician(!). We did what our characters were supposed to do as evil self-centered characters so we lied, cheated (not with the dice…) and waited until the time was right.

    We had finally reached the ultimate goal (3 months later) with the big treasure and the big monsters. As they went in with the big plan, we disappeared… They managed to get out alive but were badly wounded. Of course that’s when we finally striked. We left one alive. I think that was the most angry (player)… We never played again with this group but we had a lot of fun RP(PK)ing “for real”.

    So the final line? Well, I guess they never had a doubt about us (and there were some occasions our cover could have been discovered) simply for the fact that they never thought about RP. At least not in the way we thought about it. So we didn’t “agree about what role-playing is” right from the start. They were enjoying RP in the tavern while we were enjoying RP from the time we sat until we left. Of course the DM could have said “no” to this type of character but was a bit curious as they had never played evil characters before (we did that a lot in my previous group and loved to make evil plans against each others and never got hurt in the process).

    So merging MMO and RPG must be taken a bit lightly as you can’t get the MMO part to agree to the same definition of the RPG part. That’s why I think we see a lot of RP done in the forums to add flavor to what happened in-game. It’s easier to imagine the RP in your head then trying to get everyone to “be in character”.

    Comment by Over00 — 30 July, 2009 @ 8:13 PM

  3. I blame DikuMUD.

    Its success as the progenitor of Western MMORPGs is why I have lost count of the number of discussions I’ve had with younger gamers who insist with zealous certainty that the mechanical/numeric character leveling aspects are what distinguish MMORPGs from other kinds of games. The notion of “playing a character” is now just a sort of vestigial tail; levels and loot wag the dog today.

    And I suspect that’s how things will stay until somebody spends the cash to make a AAA-quality game with something other than KTATTS as the core gameplay experience.

    Comment by Bart Stewart — 30 July, 2009 @ 9:57 PM

  4. I agree with Bart Stewart, many players define MMORPGs with level, classes, gear progression and endgame raids. You know of what this smells. The suckers just know nothing else but WoW.

    The most problematic part of RPG is “agreement”: Especially in MMORPGs, some take their role serious, some not so serious, some do not roleplay at all. This is often also a source of conflict on RPG servers. Over00 also has a point, roleplaying an evil character is hard, if you do really evil things people will take it very serious.

    I also think most RPGers left, died out, moved on, adapted or something like that, as the old “PK vs roleplayer” got replaced by “PvP vs carebear”. I personally did not roleplay my chars for ages by now, but hey, my LOTRO char got a proper Bio, and I make quite a fuss and I am very picky about my character names.

    Comment by Longasc — 30 July, 2009 @ 11:55 PM

  5. “I think the more rules you try to apply to the game, the less freedom you have and the less important role-playing becomes. As I said, the addition of a “haggling” skill can turn a role into a roll. (A good system will allow the role to modify or even supersede the roll, though.) The more you try to codify things in the game, the less freedom you have. You don’t need rules to play a roll, even if you need some rules to resolve conflicts.”

    I take a slightly different stance on this, although I agree in principle. I’m quite happy with lots and lots of rules. But rules shouldn’t be thought of as law, they should be thought of as an mediator to be referred to when players disagree (and strictly speaking, it shouldn’t be the rules but the DM that should take the role of the mediator, backed by the rules).

    So to take the haggling example, there’s no point in rolling the dice if everyone agrees the haggling should succeed. There’s possibly a point in rolling dice to figure out the exact amount of money that a player gets out of it. The DM should only require a roll if, for example, the NPC is particularly unwilling to part with whatever is being haggled over, or similar circumstances.

    Having said that, it’s good DM style (IMO) to throw off players by requiring rolls here and there when there’s really no doubt about the intended outcome in the DM’s mind, but that doesn’t really mean the above is invalid.

    The point I’m trying to make is that having lots of rules isn’t bad IMO, it’s the people that make them bad. In the group I played with the longest, we happily played Rolemaster without referring to tables/charts all the time, for example.

    Comment by unwesen — 31 July, 2009 @ 1:44 AM

  6. I role played a fair bit in EQ and thoroughly enjoyed it and often started characters in other MMOs with the intention of roleplaying them but never did. Current MMOs make it far too difficult to RP and using something like voice chat totally ruins the immersion. And no, I’m not going to RP over a chat channel when no one else is :)

    To me, RPing is all about creating a character, a persona, and then acting it out. It’s not about thinking “what would I (as a person) do” or “what’s the ‘best’ weapon” but rather thinking from the perspective of your character. Maybe your character is a weakling tank or a idiot mage… the problem is that with current MMOs if you tried to RP that you would be considered a bad player.

    Comment by We Fly Spitfires — 31 July, 2009 @ 3:17 AM

  7. What does RP mean? It depends on whom you ask.

    RP is one of those multi-meaning terms and the problem with it is that those two meanings overlap. For some, an RPG is small unit tactical warfare with unit persistence and those persisted units are called “characters”. That we refer to “campaigns” in many role playing games is an allusion to their wargaming simulation roots. These players tend to have gamist and simulationist motives. For others, roleplaying games are at one end of a spectrum that is also inhabited by improve theatre, LARP and historical reenactment. They tend to have dramist and simulationist motives.

    The roleplaying game is at that strange point where improve-theatre/LARP and tactical simulations overlap.

    Comment by Dave — 31 July, 2009 @ 5:58 AM

  8. Daily Blogroll 7/31 — For Shannon

    [...] Game? Zubon of Kill Ten Rats wonders if that’s all there is. Psychochild responds by taking a look back at the origins of the term in pen-and-paper gaming. These days, I tend to regard games that don’t force you into certain [...]

    Pingback by West Karana — 31 July, 2009 @ 5:59 AM

  9. “the mechanical/numeric character leveling aspects are what distinguish MMORPGs from other kinds of games.”

    Hate to say it, but as far as the CRPGs are concerned — they ARE. There are and have been a lot of role playing games for the computer, and the only thing that ties them all together and excludes non-role-playing-games is the the use of stats. Otherwise you can’t fit the early Ultima games and Quest for Glory and Rogue into the same category.

    I mean, seriously — you can roleplay playing risk or Chess. Left 4 Dead. Plants vs Zombies. ANY game that involves players, because roleplaying is an artifact of people, not something a computer can reproduce. Its your imagination or not at all. I’ve “roleplayed” while playing solitaire. (What? The princess needs me?! And the only way I can save her is by arranging these cards from Ace to King!? — okay, so I was seven at the time, give me a break.)

    A Computer RPG is a computerized attempt at replicating the roleplaying experience, and naturally falls apart on a number of levels at attaining that goal. And, like the uncanny valley, the more detail they include the more it seems wrong.

    Comment by Trevel — 31 July, 2009 @ 8:29 AM

  10. I’ve had the unique opportunity of playing a fully immersive computer role-playing experience. I hate to keep referring to Meridian 59, but it’s the game I’ve played the most over the years. I’ll explain why I said ‘experience’ instead of ‘game’.

    Sure, none of us can agree on what RP means, but I think a bigger problem is a stale mindset for even approaching the definition. RP is so much bigger than it once was – we’re not using pen and paper anymore, not calling friends, ordering food, getting together, taking ten hours to do one part of a campaign. We interact at instant speed, in a hundred different channels at once. To other people, any given player is the sum of all of his actions, his game accounts, his ventrilo voice and personality, and all the forum posts he’s ever made.

    This is the true ‘role-playing’ of modern times. Ventrilo may be a ‘real’ voice, but that by no means guarantees that the words themselves have any relation to the real person’s personality. This is the subconscious way real players operate, too. Your vague conception of another player’s personality changes with each new action they take or post they make. Finding out a character is a certain player immediately lumps that character into your expectations for that personality. Players don’t expect character separation anymore. In fact, the very concept is ridiculous now, when many MUDs use to enforce it vigorously. Characters and accounts have become, as someone else stated, merely figures on a much larger game board that spans meta-areas much larger than most game devs ever intended.

    Using Meridian 59 as an example of how to craft a modern day ‘role-playing’ experience, one key factor emerges. As a player, I *know every single other player on the server*. If I see a character name I don’t know, I am immediately suspicious and attempt to figure out who the ‘player behind them’ is. New characters are never trusted to be new players (they are only regarded as hidden alts of current players) until they build up enough credit through their actions and chats and forum posts to become a distinct personality. This tight community is possible because each account gives two characters only, and servers are designed to be small and close together. The five major cities are literally one minute’s walk from each other. While it sounds comical, it actually works for a fast-paced and tight game like Meridian.

    Compare this to WoW, or other similar clones. Accounts come with eight or more characters. Servers have thousands to millions of players. The ‘game world’ is bigger than the real Earth in terms of walking distance. It takes several minutes to start up and log in, and even longer to walk some place useful. In this kind of huge anonymous world, players simply can’t keep track of anyone but their direct close friends. This leads to a lack of role-playing, and player behavior that regards all enemies as anonymous griefers. The nuances of the enemies I truly dislike in Meridian 59, who are complex, smart, varied, and persistent, are completely lost in a WoW environment. I also think this contributes to player whines that lead to devs dumbing everything down. In Meridian 59, enemies are the reason you play. In WoW, enemies are the reason you quit.

    I’ve always hoped someone would make a MMOG that let you play on only one server, with only a few characters per account. There might be thousands of smaller servers, but it would change the experience drastically.

    Comment by Gar — 31 July, 2009 @ 9:44 AM

  11. It is nice to see you bring this up as I’ve often felt the immersion and RPG in our MMORPGs is starting to bleed out. Long ago I played a decent amount of table top RPGs with a big group of people and it was great. I moved to MUDs for that same experience. While we did a lot of e,e,e,e kill all we also played our characters as our characters. I was a roleplayer.

    These days I don’t even try. If you act in character you usually get a strange look from others. It can also be inconvenient to a group of non-roleplayers. As such I’ve more or less accepted that the “roleplaying” is me enjoying a character who isn’t me in a fantasy setting. After all, I’m not really a cleric in reality.

    I would like a more immersion experience that relied more on how we act than just pressing buttons. I’m no tsure we’ll see that though.

    Comment by Ferrel — 31 July, 2009 @ 10:57 AM

  12. I’ve been RPing for many years now, originally and briefly on paper games, but exclusively on MMOs.

    Brian’s three elements of RP I think are the minimum you should have there in place for successful RP. There are others, but those are basic. Once you have those and you’re at that point…

    The main problem of RPing in MMOs is that RPers are against a static framework that automatically tries to quantize something which cannot be, which is human socialization, actions, interactions, reactions and decisions. Games are static and formulaic in the sense that players cannot change the game’s mechanics. They cannot do anything which is not contemplated in the game’s framework. This is the main difference with (good) DMing on paper RP, in which the DM is a thinking person and can allow for that framework to be modified. An MMO or a game engine is a very poor substitute to a DM, not just because one is alive and the other isn’t, but because one can -change- while the other one can’t.

    Example: During my time in WoW my main RP character who was an alliance rogue, as per an ongoing storyline development, ended up imprisoned in the Undercity during an incursion which went all kinds of wrong. While imprisoned by the Apothecary Society, suffered a grievous injury due to the torture received.

    So far so good, and this is absolutely -nothing- to a human DM who can almost instinctively adjust and change whatever needs to be changed to accomodate this character and its situation, account for the injury, etc. But as far as actually -doing- this in-game, we had to jump through all kinds of hoops and ended up having to pretend and assume that a lot of things happened. For starters, there’s no way for anyone to be a prisoner of anyone else. The game will not put your character in a cell, it will not put a guard on that character, etc. The only way the game allowed us to perform this part of the storyline was for me to slink my way into a quiet corner of the Apothecary Society installations, park my character there, assume there was a fight, assume the character was captured and basically not log in to that character for (n) days until a rescue could be devised and executed. Which is all kinds of silly because I could have just logged in and walked out the exact way I came in, so we had to stage a mock rescue just to carry on with the storyline.

    As far as the injury the character came back with, this also had to be completely simulated and assumed it was there by anyone, since the game gave me no option to modify my character’s stats and looks to account for the injury.

    As far as the game was concerned, during this time -nothing at all- happened to the character, just some offline time, last location: Undercity. While as far as our story was concerned, this was dire news because the character had to be rescued ASAP, there were concerns it would reveal things under torture, there were security issues, there was the need to muster an adequate force to go in, there were diplomatic negotiations being carried with Horde guilds about this, there was an exchange of prisoners deal in the works and there were some who even wanted to leave the character for dead and move on.

    This is the main problem right there. Until we can perfect our game systems to be able to at least -account- for all this detail, the detail will be lost. And this is also why most RP in MMOs feels flat, uninspiring and formulaic; because it has to deal and shape itself around unchangeable, flat, uninspiring and formulaic mechanics.

    It’s like transitioning an audio file from analog to digital, there will be information loss. Of course we say this now this is not the case because we have lossless compression and what have you. That’s fine. But the state of things in game land regarding online RP is that we’re trying to sample an orchestra with a 4-bit sampler. It’s always going to sound like crud and most of the information will be lost.

    tl;dr – Without change, and without the ability for players to effect palpable change, RP will be mostly flat.

    Comment by Julian — 31 July, 2009 @ 1:20 PM

  13. I still Roleplay almost unconsciously when playing solo or with my girlfriend or with online friends I know fairly well. It’s waht I think of as “roleplay lite” in that I no longer do the backstory work I would have done a decade ago, but my characters still have distinct personalities that are clearly different both from each other and from my own.

    The changing stats and other mechanics of MMOs have virtually no effect on this roleplaying. It’s more that certain characters display traits, like recklessness, plodding caution, barely-contained hysteria, naive enthusiasm and so forth. It’s mainly expressed in dialog tics, like my Vanguard Raki being unable to pronounce his “th”s, having them all sound as “v”s for example.

    The real change is that, whereas in 1999 – 2002 or thereabouts I would and did use these tics and quirks routinely in pick-up groups and general channels, nowadays I drop them when interacting with people I don’t know. That element of casual, unconscious roleplaying, so ordinary and uneremarkable lass than ten years ago, would now seem very weird.

    I preferred it as it was then. Can’t see what’s been gained by having everyone always talking in their own voice.

    Comment by bhagpuss — 31 July, 2009 @ 1:33 PM

  14. Gar: “I’ve always hoped someone would make a MMOG that let you play on only one server, with only a few characters per account.”

    As it happens….

    Comment by Stabs — 31 July, 2009 @ 2:41 PM

  15. Links, and what I’ve been reading

    [...] What does it mean to roleplay in a game? Psychochild takes a look. [...]

    Pingback by Welcome to Spinksville! — 1 August, 2009 @ 1:01 AM

  16. Who Killed Role-Playing in MMOs?

    [...] there have been some good questions being raised and insightful explorations on the subject of role-playing in MMOs. These discussions have prompted me to put down in words [...]

    Pingback by Wolfshead Online — 1 August, 2009 @ 7:47 PM

  17. “Example: During my time in WoW my main RP character who was an alliance rogue, as per an ongoing storyline development, ended up imprisoned in the Undercity during an incursion which went all kinds of wrong. While imprisoned by the Apothecary Society, suffered a grievous injury due to the torture received.”

    This is a great example. It’s only possible at all because you can treat the Undercity players as NPCs who you can control. What if players controlled the Apothecary Society, then you’d have to somehow agree with them that they’d torture but not kill an enemy, and that they’d let them escape? Players HATE that kind of stuff (I know because I used to have to try to moderate it).

    Comment by Spinks — 1 August, 2009 @ 10:26 PM

  18. Thought for the day.

    [...] think the general discussion, triggered by Zubon’s original post has covered most of the bases, but my basic [...]

    Pingback by Killed in a smiling accident. — 2 August, 2009 @ 12:38 AM

  19. In defense of calling games with character advancement elements “RPG”‘s, it’s not uncommon for role-playing games at conventions or tournaments to provide (and possibly even require) the players to use pre-generated characters. Clearly the players are still playing the same game, even if for the sake of expedience someone else generated their characters.

    Comment by Brad — 2 August, 2009 @ 1:34 PM

  20. Still mulling over this idea I went off and wrote a blog post which became a design template for a whole game.

    Would love to know what people think:

    Comment by Stabs — 2 August, 2009 @ 2:28 PM

  21. Playing Roles

    [...] ironic that the “RP” in MMORPG even exists — from the game’s perspective, I am not playing any more of a unique character role [...]

    Pingback by Bio Break — 3 August, 2009 @ 7:51 AM

  22. What the “RP” in “RPG” stands for

    [...] August 3, 2009 by Jim Moreno What the “RP” in “RPG” stands for – Psychochild’s Blog [...]

    Pingback by RP Archives — 3 August, 2009 @ 4:11 PM

  23. I’m going to add one more observation to Role Play in MMORPGs. In a guild debate on loot distribution, one of the raid leaders asserted “I don’t play this game to make friends!”

    It occured to me that the only real thing we could take from the game was a friend, all the rest belongs to Blizzard. I like to get to know the people I spend my evenings adventuring with, Personally, I want to know the individuals not the character they are playacting. Not their name, address or telephone, but their genuine personalities.

    Sitting around a kitchen table, with people whose real lives intersect mine, then the ‘role playing’ adds a certain element. But in the virtual worlds the practice seems to me counter productive.

    Comment by CountZero — 4 August, 2009 @ 9:01 AM

  24. There was a time where I used to get really bitter about the abuse and misuse of the term RPG. But eventually I had to get over it, because there really is no way we can change it. I basically feel the same way about “MMO.” It is a horrible, silly term, but we are kinda stuck with it for now.

    There are, imho, a couple of reasons that there is little or no RP in MMOs right now. In no particular order:

    1) Lack of institutional will to maintain an environment conducive to roleplay. RP servers are a nice concept, but even there name enforcement is minimal. And if you aren’t going to police the environment at all, why bother? I’d be fine with global channels staying OOC if people were at least IC in local/says. All it would take to set the tone would be a few CSRs hanging out in busy areas and sending out warnings (or worse after repeated warnings).

    2) The death of “says.” MMOs have so many gazillion methods of global communication, who even bothers with says? It is usually easier to use some kind of zone chat command to talk to the guy right next to you than it is to use a say. This mentality completely destroys any sense of proximity to other characters.

    3) Quest based advancement and excessive solo friendliness. When you are constantly running from A to B, and working on a giant “to do list” of quests, you are too busy to talk to people you encounter along the way. Also, you don’t even need to build social relationships when you can easily solo a game to level cap. Heck, in most MMOs nowadays soloing is BETTER and FASTER. I am not a fan of forced grouping, but when soloing is the superior way to play I think there’s a problem. Quest heavy advancement plays a huge role in this. Ok, I better stop myself… my full rant on that issue is here:

    4) Frenetic gameplay with little or no downtime. I understand why people don’t like downtime, but sometimes players are their own worst enemy. Downtime is when people actually tend to engage in socialization. A 1 minute pause between battles often means 1 minute of chatting. Sure, some people will just tab out to a web page or whatever, but a lot of people will use that time to actually communicate (and maybe RP) with others.

    There are more reasons of course, but I think those are some of the big ones. #1 is probably the biggest, because an environment that is not RP friendly will eventually scare off roleplayers. Further, it allows “RP haters” free reign to flame, ridicule and chase off anyone who tries to RP.

    Comment by Muckbeast — 4 August, 2009 @ 11:07 AM

  25. I agree with you on 2, 3, and 4. Actually, one of my favorite games that I’ve played for a decade is a text MUD called NetherWorld. It’s existed for 15 years, and never ever had more than 20 or 30 players. The thing that keeps me coming back is actually the amazing degree of automation allowed in text MUDs (and this one in particular). You have to ‘explore’ manually or else you don’t know what you’re doing, but once you learn an area you can basically program a few simple triggers (e.g. if ‘You killed the rat!’ you can have it type ‘kill rat’ to attack the next one). The game supports this by having plenty of tracking skills that return text for more triggers to work off of (i.e. if you use ‘hunt rat’ it says ‘You sense a rat to the north!’ and then you have your triggers ‘go north; kill rat).

    Why am I bothering to explain all this? Well mainly because the game has a perfect mix of player control (exploring, equipment choices, etc) and automating the grind. While the grind still takes time, you can pretty much ‘turn off’ battle text and sit around chatting the entire time. Some of the more advanced skills play off this, requiring you to pay attention and enter specific commands to deal extra damage or fight better, allowing players who don’t want to chat to turn that energy into combat bonuses.

    In other words, the game is built around downplaying grind, accepting the fact that most players hate grind but some like it, and creating plenty of time for social interaction. Having been a high-level bot creator in my gamer days, I have felt first hand how automation of a grind boosts the fun you’re having (fortunately Blizzard never sued me for 2 million like it did that WoWGlider guy… ridiculous… but that’s another story) If I get the chance to design my own game, it will most definitely have the unique feature of built-in automation commands. Literally, UI supported dumb commands and certain simple analysis features. I can see an entire personal and social meta-game extending out of the best ways to create ‘automation scripts’ for your characters, to run places, PvE, farm, or anything else players will think of. At the same time, I’ll offer intensive unscriptable options so that players who WANT to focus on PvE can, and have fun doing it. In total summation, I’ll accept the new reality that characters are just characters, building isn’t fun to most but is fun to some, and that third-party programs will always be created to ‘fill in’ timesinks. Why not standardize the new era? If my own UI supports character automation, then players can spend that time talking and socializing.

    Oh, and a jumping off point for my imagination – supported automation means one player can ‘operate’ multiple characters/accounts at a time dependent purely on his or her pseudo-programming skills. If my game supported THAT, too, by allowing them to log in many characters at once, I can see an entire meta-game forming that allows individual players to become entirely new entities, almost like a ‘group consciousness’ for the characters he/she runs. Strange stuff.

    Comment by Gar — 4 August, 2009 @ 12:13 PM

  26. Gar: You gotta tell me why you don’t agree with #1. :)

    I honestly cannot see any MMO having significant amounts of role play unless the devs/admins/staff police the environment. They can set up a pyramid of volunteer staff to report problems, but they ultimately have to show some will or else everyone will run around telling Chuck Norris jokes.

    Comment by Muckbeast — 4 August, 2009 @ 9:32 PM

  27. The Rampant Coyote addresses this topic as well: Role-Playing By Any Other Name.

    Comment by Psychochild — 4 August, 2009 @ 10:11 PM

  28. Should blogging be a solo or group quest?

    [...] Psychochild’s blog is another great source of inspiration and clarity. If you’re an aspiring game designer, into publishing indie games or just love design discussion like me you should check it out. Recently he asked what does RP stand for in RPG? [...]

    Pingback by Epic Slant — 5 August, 2009 @ 5:33 AM

  29. Schroedinger’s Game

    [...] Playing has rippled through those blogs that I frequent. Wolfshead has a great article up, and Psychochild wrote another great one earlier, and even the Rampant Coyote chimes in, each linking to other ones worth reading. This is [...]

    Pingback by Tish Tosh Tesh — 7 August, 2009 @ 6:24 AM

  30. To Muckbeast:
    I hadn’t intended to disagree with #1, merely make no comment… but now that I think about it, I do strongly but passively disagree, on the belief that institutional will has minimal to no effect on an online gaming environment – as opposed to an online work environment, the main difference being the relationship between Admin and User. In a work environment, the Admin has every right to log every single thing you do down to the keystroke, and can take away the User’s paycheck as punishment, as well as remove the User entirely.

    In a gaming environment, Admins have very little lasting power to do anything at all. I have seen this firsthand in every game I’ve ever played. Unruly players can change IPs, change credit cards (gift cards even), use other people’s accounts, hack the system, exploit bugs, attack people socially, attack people through other things like Facebook, and so on. Add on to this the pointlessness or impossibility of logging every single event that happens, and you have Admins that are both uninformed and powerless. Add on to THAT the fact that the USERS can take away the paycheck of the ADMINS by quitting or abusing in numbers too numerous to ban all of them, and you have the trifecta of ineffective bureaucracy – no motivation, no information, and no power.

    You may take it as a point of hilarity that I myself was once one of the ‘unruly mortals’ that so resisted Psychochild’s efforts to admin in his own game, Meridian 59. While I was of the existential bug-finding and constant-questioning type, many others were of the abuse-hacks, grief-new-players-endlessly, or scream-profanities-til-people-quit type. Ironically, now that admin presence has been ‘defeated’ and is completely absent in Meridian 59, the community is *exactly* the same – no worse, no better. Actually, in some cases, it’s better, because people who used to abuse hacks or grief constantly no longer do, through a curious situation that rarely happens in MMOGs – the hackers know that blatant hacking/griefing in an admin-less world will simply cause people to quit, instead of causing them to complain. If people quit, there’s nobody to grief. Therefore, the hackers and griefers behave better now that the admins are gone.

    However, admin presence is still the #1 most requested thing by former and current players of M59, so take that as you will.

    In terms of a roleplaying environment, institutional will won’t be able to do anything about the social atmosphere. In addition, a large group of socializing RPers is a dream target for griefers, who will flock to the RP game and fight admins just for kicks. Therefore I deem the existence of a true roleplay environment in a MMOG impossible. Attempting to create a true roleplay game will only result in a meta-game of a thousand socializers and one admin versus five griefers. If you attract achiever or explorer types to fight the griefers, well then these new people won’t roleplay either… but admins can’t ban them or the balance will be lost and the griefers will destroy the game. So you let things slide with the roleplay atmosphere… and you’ve got yourself a typical MMOG.

    Comment by Gar — 7 August, 2009 @ 1:03 PM

  31. I diagree with you, Gar. I think that you can have some influence over the atmosphere. The question is how easily you can do this without compromising the core game.

    In Meridian 59, we generally took a hands-off approach to administration. The problem is that if we banned everyone who got a complaint, we would have had no players left. It was hard to punish someone for killing another person when that was the point of the game. People often tried to use the administrators to “win” a battle. Accusations of cheating where a big part. Many times the accusations were not correct. (If they were cheating, then we banned people as soon as we had enough logged information.)

    (For those not familiar with M59′s personalities, Gar was one of the interesting cases himself. He is a true Bartle Explorer and understood the game mechanics to an amazing degree. He would often share information, but then sow in a bit of disinformation in to keep his enemies at a disadvantage. He was often accused of cheating for this reason.)

    In a role-playing environment, I think the issues are a bit better to handle in general. You might still have people who try to use admins to get the upper hand in a spat, but someone who is being disruptive is a bit more obvious.

    I think an administrator can also grow a community as he or she wants it to be, if you can start fresh. For an RP-focused community, get a good base and prune out the disruptive elements quickly. Don’t let the problems fester and grow to the point where you’d have to rip out a large portion of your community to fix a problem.

    M59 was a special case because we started with an existing community and disruptive behavior wasn’t easy to objectively separate from legitimate gameplay. But, other games and types of gameplay don’t have to suffer the same fate.

    Comment by Psychochild — 7 August, 2009 @ 3:21 PM

  32. Very true that M59 was a special case. A 13 year evolutionary process that constantly weeded out ‘weak’ or ‘vulnerable’ people and promoted aggressiveness and griefing has resulted in a core community of the most intelligent, aggressive, and destructive players I’ve ever seen. As much as we hate each other, we hate everyone else more, moving to other games en masse for awhile to go there and dominate and ruin everything we can :P It’s very… barbaric. And strange. It’s a wonder you put up with us for as long as you did :p

    Comment by Gar — 7 August, 2009 @ 4:53 PM

  33. Thought for the day.

    [...] think the general discussion, triggered by Zubon’s original post has covered most of the bases, but my basic [...]

    Pingback by Killed in a Smiling Accident. — 6 September, 2009 @ 10:49 AM

  34. A Game of Roles

    [...] (and getting a reward) or not doing it (and thus not getting that reward). Being a paper RPGer, I know the importance of role-playing. Sadly, EQ2 (and really, most MMOs) don't allow you to create a meaningful [...]

    Pingback by Psychochild's Blog — 12 January, 2012 @ 3:08 AM

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