When a cartoon or anime touches on the subject of Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games, it tends to depict lively fantasy worlds where hundreds of players live a virtual life. Adventurers are aplenty, but people also run stores and inns, players contribute to their factions through pure support roles, or who could forget about Bart Simpson being the local dark lord villain tormenting the other players.
The reality of MMOs is very different. Every player is some manner of adventurer, most of which are going through very similar quests. People cooperate to engage in dungeons, raiding, or PvP, but rarely do they require the services of somebody who exclusively cooks or crafts armors. At least, not until they hit max level and can craft raid-worthy gear or brew potions that massively boost their stats.
While media loves to portray MMOs as a big online renaissance faire or LARP, the reality is that they are number-crunching multiplayer games that a vast majority of gamers play just to battle others or tackle boss-battles. These games don’t have the mechanics and depth to make non-combat roles viable and fun, and players would rather have an NPC repair their armor than deal with a guy roleplaying a drunk dwarf who operates a smithy.
In fact, trying to seriously roleplay your character in an MMORPG is a quick way to get yourself mocked and have your fellow players call your sexuality into question.
I feel this is a shame. An MMORPG sounds fantastic on paper; an RPG where players are not the chosen hero of a pre-determined storyline, but merely characters inhabiting a fantastical world alongside millions of others. The opportunities are endless, yet developers boil them down to simplistic races to reach max level wherein support roles do little but give you a slight edge somewhere in the distant end-game grinds.
Due to these problems, roleplayers have long been condemned to a handful of dedicated RP servers where, supposedly, they could play out their characters alongside like-minded individuals. This sounds like a good compromise, but I want you to imagine a D&D session with 2000 players in it and no GM present. That’s what playing on an RP server is like in every MMO I have touched.
With no moderation or centralized control, RP servers become overrun with trolls, grievers, degenerates, and people who don’t even want to be on them. Roleplayers still have their immersion harmed by people just looking to play the game “normally” or those looking to deliberately sabotage their fun by invading events and harassing roleplayers. Even worse, people haunt starting areas soliciting new characters for digital sex under the guise of erotic roleplay.
Everybody who played on World of Warcraft‘s Argent Dawn server has their own horror stories of random people running up to them and “roleplaying” acts of violence or sexual harassment at them, people whose character backstories were ludicrous and conflicted with the game’s lore, or having their interactions with other players interrupted by curious onlookers and random people looking to join in without asking. For every funny story about somebody catching a couple erotically roleplaying somewhere in a sewer, there are dozens of frustrating tales that paint a grim picture of the state of the ever-decaying roleplaying scene.
This is not exclusively a World of Warcraft issue. At its launch Age of Reckoning saw similar problems that left fans of the amazing Warhammer universe unable to satisfyingly roleplay their mad Orks and fierce battle priests of Sigmar. Faced with mockery and at the risk of having their events crashed, genuine roleplayers are forced into small groups that seek refuge in far-away locales where few normal players would come, which makes it harder for fresh newbies to even find the roleplaying scene they signed up for, or they get a wrong impression from seeing the nonsense interactions and sex in the populated starting areas of the game.
When I played World of Warcraft, almost half of my time was spent exclusively on RP servers and that’s also where I wiled away the final year of my subscription. Grinding raids and repeating the same 5 battlegrounds lost its splendor, but I was in love with the Warcraft universe and saw RP servers as the ultimate way to interact with its lore. However, without proper design and considerations, not to mention moderation, roleplayers fight a continuous uphill battle, despite being some of the most passionate players in the fanbase.
It’s shocking to me to see MMOs pushing hyper-detailed character customization and massive skill trees, but we still can’t have player-run shops or professions that are more than just side-gigs. Until somebody really sits down and creates an MMORPG about living in a fantasy world, the genre is doomed to remain less developed and interesting than even Sword Art Online.