Monday, July 4, 2011

(Role)Players Don't Know What They Want

I've casually mentioned I am a roleplayer here and there, and I've done it in several games/venues so far. Lately, in terms of my venues of choice (WoW, City of Heroes) I have gotten myself into a rut. I love the process of character creating, I have more alts with character ideas than I know what to do with. The problem isn't with plot ideas either, as most of those ideas end up being written down and saved for the time when they can actually be used in a D&D campaign or RP event. No, I believe the problem is with the games I choose. And for the life of me I can't find a game that can supply what I would like to see.

I've made a previous post on how I'd like to see an MMO with Minecraft style functionality, but this desire of mine is a bit more specific. For example, a good measure of RP that exists in games like WoW falls into two catagories: Romance plots, or tavern meet and greets. There are no rules in place for those who wish an experience closer to a simulation rather than a game, and for good reason. A game within a game would not do. So characters cannot actually affect one another in any meaningful fashion. Sure, you can emote throwing punches and shooting them and throwing them into a pit of crocodiles, but at the end of the day nothing has really happened other than text.

I guess you could say this knowledge has put a damper on my desire to seek out roleplay lately. Collaborative storytelling is fun, but has its limits when any sort of event turns competitive. Your evil needs to either be supplied by an enemy mob, in which victory can be easily ascertained, or diplomatically won through out of character reasoning and agreement. Often these discussions turn to arguments and then both parties decide to take their balls and go home. This leaves holy orders full of Paladins, Priests and other dignitaries nothing to do other than kill NPC's and talk about how pious they are. Evil organizations are stuck in the same spot as well.

Stepping back for a moment, Nils and Gilded have a variety of interesting posts on simulation and games, Gilded being in the middle of his at the time of this writing. Many aspects of the simulation that would be deemed unfit for a game find themselves in a better light when presented to people who wish to portray a character's life in a fantasy setting. Even so, these qualities must have an element of control to them. For example, the topic of character level is one frequently debated. Should a level 20 warrior who has a backstory of being a veteran of several wars be able to best a level 70 young mage? If they were using the game mechanics rules, no. That mage would obliterate him in a humiliating heartbeat. In terms of the story that the players may want to create though, it may end differently.

Let's use a larger scale example. Given our hypothetical simulation game, a guild decides to set up a crafting fair to gather up a server's crafters to offer their services in one place to trade contacts, gain money, and what have you. The server's notorious bandit organization hears of this, sneaks their people into the fair and send in attackers on horses to cover the theft of some very expensive items and materials. Because this is a game, those bandits "ruined" the fair. The NPC guards were only able to take out a few of them before they got away, and scavengers grabbed some of the items off the corpses. The positive reaction to this would be to gather up your friends and chase after them, taking back what was yours and possibly earning a reward for the bounty on their heads. A fantastic immersive experience. But not the one you'd be guaranteed to get. More likely you'd get a lot of whining on the forums because that's not what the storytellers of the fair wanted it to turn out.

Partly what I'm trying to say here is that players love to build stories and plots, but despise it if anyone gets involved without their permission. Yes, my post did start with me complaining that the roleplay I've been finding is not exciting at all for me. To add on to that, I know many people who have quit WoW for that reason. In my last guild in particular, I could get one member on a tangent about how immersive EVE Online was at the drop of a hat. He was one of the reasons I tried the game actually. And most of us are aware that the best stories that come from that game are from things that actually happened.

But strangely enough all of those roleplayers did not immediately jump ship to join a more immersive game. Why? Because roleplayers are writers first and gamers second. The safe environment, though not exciting, is the one they truly want because then they can decide what happens to their characters and not some roving bandits. In the MMORPG culture we have cultivated, those bandits are griefers and a nuisance that the GM's should do something about, stealing from other players is an exploit that the developers should fix, and PvP without being able to opt out is a terrible feature.

Simulation has its place, but unfortunately that place is a niche, and is not the place that the roleplayers I know would want to play in, despite their and my claims to the contrary.


  1. "roleplayers are writers first and gamers second. " I think you hit the nail on the head.

    I wouldn't say that simulation is the niche per se. I would say that it addresses the problem that many people have with rp, the active fabrication of the experience. This is something that some people particularly like about rp (the people we know as roleplayers and the ones described by the quote), but I would say that it describes the desires of the minority.

    I would say that a good simulation is the best option for the majority of players (pretty much anyone who wouldn't normally go out of their way to roleplay). Simulation allows for the depth of roleplaying with the credibility of a real world (which you don't have full control over). It has room to be much more dynamic since it comes about by the nature of the game itself, not by the will of the players. I would say most roleplayers would enjoy a simulation game if they kept open minded and let go of the script a bit.

  2. I never understood why roleplayers often like PvE and don't like PvP. It doesn't make any sense to me.

  3. "I never understood why roleplayers often like PvE and don't like PvP. It doesn't make any sense to me."

    I think it has a lot to do with control. As a writer, you may have a direction that your character wants to develop and unscripted combat adds too much of a random element to that. I think in WoW as well there has been a history of the story leaning towards Horde/Alliance cooperation. I'm planning on writing a post that explores that particular facet a little closer.

    "I would say most roleplayers would enjoy a simulation game if they kept open minded and let go of the script a bit."

    Role playing, though, is a good part acting as well as writing. An unhealthy habit some exhibit is making their character a fantasized and idealized version of themselves, and therefore are incredibly hostile against any sort of negative development they do not desire. It once again goes back to control: For some roleplayers, the experience becomes less fun if they cannot control if negative things happen to them.

    I find in D&D games there is a measure of simulation, as the DM can place consequences for player actions within the world fairly simply, but the focus of the game to make the players the hero usually means those consequences only serve to assist the player. Roleplayers often choose to be their own DM, in this regard, and thus shun negative, meaningless experiences such as petty theft. I'm reminded of a conversation I read that involved how meaningless negative experiences are specifically shunned in games, but I can't remember where from.

  4. Interesting article, I've always found RP to be frustrating in MMOs because of the mechanic limitations of the games. In your example of the fair actually unless the merchants and robbers agree to do silent, prearranged trades of the goods then there wouldn't be any stolen goods to win back anyway I guess?

    "I never understood why roleplayers often like PvE and don't like PvP. It doesn't make any sense to me."

    However this for me is a big reason why I do not consider Sandbox games, which I guess should offer a better platform for roleplay. I have slow reactions and poor coordination. Therefore in an MMO I could only effectively roleplay older characters or weak Mages? Roleplay (pen and paper) is a great form of escapism, yet MMOs are in large part e-sportish as they are affected by real life factors like twitch skills. So to me (personally of course) that makes PVP servers/games a very *poor* platform for roleplay.

    Put simply I cannot coordinate typing chat or emotes and play active combat at the same time. This has really stunted my roleplay in LoTRO in the past - my guild doesn't sit in taverns we go do dungeons or open world activities and roleplay during these adventures. However instances I found problematic as the action is just a bit too intense for me to have time to type stuff as well...

  5. The big difference between the fair scenario in the game and in a D&D campaign is that in the campaign, the roleplayers would accept it as a plot device from the DM.

    In a game, there is no story other than what the players are trying to live, which is an enhanced version of themselves. Since they are two wholly different beasts they do not function in the same way.

    Take that simulation game, and include some story tellers who could see both events happening, and who could build a story out of it, then perhaps people would be interested.

  6. "In your example of the fair actually unless the merchants and robbers agree to do silent, prearranged trades of the goods then there wouldn't be any stolen goods to win back anyway I guess?"

    True. I was talking about a completely hypothetical simulation game where all that is required to steal something is to loot it. But yes, in a WoW scenario all that would have to be pre-arranged and such. Could it be done and made into a successful event in a WoW setting? Yes. But given all the different factors leading into it, and having to trust that all bandits, all fair participants, and all those going after the bandits afterwards would RP a fight in a fair manner, there are a lot of places where things could go wrong, people get mad and walk off frustrated.

    As for the twitch based gameplay, well, I can't really account for that sort of problem. It's more of a problem of the genre.

    "in a D&D campaign is that in the campaign, the roleplayers would accept it as a plot device from the DM."

    Ah, but can we not consider the mechanics of the game to be the DM? Consider WoW to be a D&D game where you're not allowed to attack each other in specific area. The DM is laying down strict rules and if the players want to do something, they have to do it on their own time. In a sandbox, given that the rules are so open, the plot device is given to you by other players actions in the game. They might not be roleplaying, sure, but they are immersed in the game by performing the role of a bandit.

    I wouldn't think the storytellers would be necessary in the sandbox one. I think they'd be more necessary in the WoW setting given that creating an event of that scale requires a temendous amount of pre-planning out of character to get everyone in the same spot and on the same page.

  7. My friends and I played a great deal of D&D when we were younger... we still play today, but not quite so often. We are gamers as well. We've had numerous conversations discussing role playing and mmo's. The dilema, as I see it, is that true role playing has only one's imagination as a limitation. The possibilities are endless. In any pc game, the limitations are strictly defined. As they must be due to the programing and coding. I'm encouraged by the recent shift to include the ability to create user generated content in pc gaming, but even that still has it's limitations. In the end, whether we're talking about a sandbox game, a strictly linear progression type game, or all the amounts of user generated content; the role playing will always be up to the players themselves.

    Even if it were possible to replicate a real table top role playing experience in a pc game, (D&D's Virtual Table comes to mind) I'm not quite sure how it could work for the multitude of players in an mmo. I'd love to see someone try it though. I'm just not sure how it could be done without a live moderator, or DM if you will. Even with an actual real person working behind the scenes to progress the story as the players make their decisions; it could only be effective for small groups of player, not hundreds or thousands on a server.