Is actual RP in MMORPGs another next impossible thing?

Started by Patrice, January 03, 2009, 05:47:59 PM

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I've read Dan's original post upon MMORPGs and P&PRPGs and have set my mind upon posting there in order to give account, and open discussion upon what was a major field of reflexion these last years for me. My premises, however, are so foreign to the discussion going on in the previously mentioned thread that I thought better to swing an entirely new upon genuine actual play basis.

Here is my discussion basis: I'd like to bring the matter into actual experience of play discussion, not about pure theory or high level only, and to see the discussion derivate from experiential seeds. For this reason, I'll be using quite a few elements of my survey or experience of both fields of gaming. Of course, theoritical discussion will, hopefully, sprout from this but I'll try to connect it to actual play.

I've been playing MMO and CORPGs for something like 3,000 hours in my life so far, mostly upon what they call "Roleplaying servers". I'll bring in here what are the issues RP-ers face in these games in order to figure out the connection, if any, with P&PRPGs. The thing is, in most sellers (WoW, AoC and now WAR), the designers do NOT provide any basis to distinguish what they call "Roleplaying servers" from other types of servers. The only frame they provide to inform the player (I'd rather say "user", but this question will come later on) is a series of rules barring you from certain choices in character's name or from blatantly Out Of Character open chat, that would obviously break or infringe the other players' immersion feeling.

Now, they sound to think that roleplaying is subsumed into "immersion feeling". There's no mention of being in-character or OOC, which are entirely players' designs. So the equation roleplaying=using chat lines, emotes and in-game movements to impersonate the character I'm playing instead of metagaming is very deeply imbedded in the practices and beliefs of MMORPGs roleplayers. Their definition, being almost similar to saying "Roleplaying is to avoid metagaming" is very different from the designers assumption, which is "Roleplaying is a deeper level or need of immersion in the game content". In some way, it converges, but the statements lead to quite different results.

The designers actually leave the players the job of defining the roleplaying, and event its rules or common shared principles and don't involve into what happens. Which means that they leave the definition of the social contract to the players. Being entirely without rules nor game mechanisms, since the game is only concerned with bare resolution mechanisms, the roleplay actuelly taking place upon the MMORPGs' RP servers varies hugely. I would almost say that each community created its own RPG within the MMO limitations. Some of them being very developped and many of them being slanted towards Narrativism. No wonder it is, there's no way to supercede the game's Gaming mechanism and the computer already provides its own Simulation. There's just one field left to conquer for would-be MMORPGs roleplayers, Narrativism. Some of these games had their limited share of glory. I have many examples of RP sagas happening within MMORPGs or, I would rather say, despite the MMORPG they would take place in. Houses of Tea ran by geishas connecting every night at the same hour to impersonate their geisha-looking human or elven character, Masses taking place every sunday morning in one of the big cities, lots of taverns and pirate crews, and I myself did found a Troll empire a few years ago. It creates a SIS alright. But this SIS doesn't adequate with the game's content. Why?

Because the game doesn't provide a shared system, but a content designed by the industry that the players receive as their own and are free to explore. The sole factor that the player doesn't have his word to say upon the content makes him an... User. It's in the shady ground of user-generated content that RP happens in MMORPGs and it is very directly, clearly and obviously stated this way by the designers. There's one consequence to that, it's that whatever you do, whoever you are and however it is shared, you'll never change the game content. What you can change is only free-flowing user content based upon the social contract the roleplayers of your server or game have designed and its span is encompassed within this limit. If ten or twenty people know and acknowledge you're the Mayor, you're the Mayor, end of the story. Yet, in the game content, you're not and you'll never be. End of the story again. There's still another limit, and a big one, it's that however your own privately user-generated SIS is large, there's always other users your character actually meet who don't share it. They're not part of it. This derivates in huge flaming and bitter RPers everywhere since they feel that, simply because they choose to RP, everybody must share it according to their views. It's of course very much biaised.

RP in MMORPG thus creates a gap between users and designers and a gap between users and users. It happens, often upon Narrativist ground, but happens against the game for all the previously mentioned reasons. There are, imho, the differences between P&PRPGs and MMORPGs.

So here are the issues I'd like to discuss with you folks:

1. What is saying "Roleplaying means to avoid metagaming"?
2. What means, in the designers' mind, "RP is a deeper level of immersion"?
3. Are these two statements wholly and totally opposite from the very beginning?
4. Does the fact that the games' mechanisms might nit be overidden and that the game, though picture, sound and movement provide its own Simulation in such way that there's no other coherent way to simulate confines RPing within MMORPGs into Narrativism?
5. Does giving a game content that the players can't change in any way turn them into users? If this is the case, isn't it also the case for quite a few industry content-based P&PRPGs? If that is so, do they still deserve to be called RPGs?
6. What happens when you have a SIS that other players don't want to share?
7. All these points being taken into account, am I right  state that if actual RP did develop in MMORPGs, it is against the game logics and its non-sharing community?

Sorry for this lon, very long issue and the huge number of questions, assumptions and statements but that's a matter I've been giving some thought as I said and I really can't sum it that easy.

Your turn!

Callan S.

Hi Patrice,

In terms of the mayor example, what about in a pen and paper RPG, where in the text there's a corrupt mayor? Say gameplay happens and your group describes themselves overthrowing the evil mayor and one of them becoming mayor instead.

I'll propose the idea that your not mayor here, either. The text in the RPG has not changed. Some corrupt npc is the mayor.

What you do have is that everyone in your group will not just agree your mayor, but will put X amount of mental effort into treating you as mayor. Even where that's contrary to book texts.

Let's see - I'm trying to think of how one might test whether my proposal is true? Hmm, can't really think of one. I can think of a method of proving if everyone agrees something is 'there', and act as if it were 'there', that doesn't make it true. For example, I could mime a pane of glass in the middle of the room - then everyone else mimes its existance and does not walk through where its been mimed. And hey, imagine this - someone gets so used to it, they were just walking through reading a book, and without even thinking about it automatically navigated around where the pane 'is' so as not to walk through it. It was actually embeded in the guys reflexive habits. I can imagine someone building it into their routine (quite easily). But no pane of glass exists, even though everyone is acting like it does. Heh, actually there was an old Mr Hulot movie where they broke a hotels glass pane door (with a metal handle)...and then latter the doorman is just holding the metal handle and moving it as if opening a door, when letting people in...hehe.

So I'm proposing that your in an identical position with a RPG game book as you are with a mmorpg. It's just that the amount of mental effort it takes to ignore a closed book is far, far less than it is talking over a mmorpgs gaming world, particularly if an NPC mayor is digitally depicted to walk past the player avatar that is 'the mayor'.

This basically ties into your fifth question
"5. Does giving a game content that the players can't change in any way turn them into users? If this is the case, isn't it also the case for quite a few industry content-based P&PRPGs? If that is so, do they still deserve to be called RPGs?"

On question 6
"6. What happens when you have a SIS that other players don't want to share?"
This is an interesting question from how you've phrased it.

Do you mean, what happens if you gave them the choice to share and they decline? Well if you gave them the choice, you'd put in any effort it takes to facilitate the option you offered.

Or do you mean what happens when they just don't want to share it, but that option isn't provided for by anyone?

On a side note, it's odd, I've thought of and refered to roleplayers as 'users' for years.


I don't really understand questions 1 - 4 but I can have the stab at the rest.

5. I don't think the question as to what deserves to be called an RPG is of any use. One could argue that killing critters and going up levels has always been the key feature of table top roleplaying games and if that is the case MMOs just do it better.

You are correct in pointing out that in one of the key limiting factors of the MMO is that the world is immutable. But earlier in your post you also explain what the solution is for this; you don't focus your roleplaying on changing the physical world around you, what you do is change to people, or more specifically to their perceptions. And if enough people buy into your roleplaying initiative, it is validated and legitimised by the community.  And that can be extraordinarily rewarding, especially when, like a ripple, your roleplaying initiative spreads beyond your circle of friends to people you have never met or heard of taking on a life of its own.

As an aside, I've been roleplaying in Anarchy Online (one of the older though far from the most popular MMO) for seven year now. Anarchy Online I think is quite unique in that the developers do take notice of the roleplaying community and interact with us at many levels. They will on occasion make changes to the game world, even significant ones like changing the faction that runs a specific town or introduce new items in to the game, based on player roleplaying storylines.

6. That's easy, you gloss over it. When I meet someone who doesn't roleplay or whose roleplaying is totally incompatible, you just shrug and move on. You can get all sorts of jarring moments in table top too. Real life issue often mean player character will appear and disappear from the party all the time. Or a tired GM might make a gross error and then rewind the whole scene. So what?

7. It depends how you define "actual RP". If what you mean is treating the one's "toon" as a character rather than a game token I would say it does happen all time in MMOs, though I will agree it takes a special kind of stubborn to make it really come to life because the medium does not make it easy.


Thanks for your answers!

I've actually started this post to take a different, experiential-based aim at the "what relates P&PRPGs and MMORPGs?" question and I think we're slowly getting at it here with a different swing. To get back to the Mayor example (the Mayor was actually a friend of my MMO character, a troll tribe leader then it's another live example by the way), I think you maybe confuse setting and RPG, Callan. Most, though not all, P&PRPGs do, true, provide a setting telling you how is the Mayor and sometimes even how he does behave, look like and al. I think that it comes from a major flaw in the way P&PRPGs settings are designed (you may see further reflections upon this in my thread Setting design reconsidered in the First Thoughts forum). A P&PRPG isn't a setting, nor always equates with a setting. I daresay settings went second in history after the system design. Why? Because the system provided a basis for the SIS and the backbone of the Social Contract, which a setting can't provide by itself.

To get back to MMORPG I don't see that they provide any answer for both SIS and Social Contract issues, and as such, aren't RPGs in the way P&PRPGs define what a roleplaying game is. They, on the other hand, provide a setting and a frame of rules for instant resolution of Challenges. The confusion, or should I say mingling because there's no defect or biais involved, is fostered by the P&PRGPs industry. Here we come at the user-player distinction that I've set. I think this dichotomy is somewhat clumsy and I would be eager if you adress it, but it's handy at the moment. Right, if we play, say, in Dragonlance, FR or Runequest, there's no way a player can change the setting except if this change is acknowledged within his group or players. Okay, we find pretty much the same thing in MMORPGs but since the Social Contract and the SIS aren't part of the game, you're quite playing at a different game when you TWIST a MMORPG in order to RP in it, still defining RP as we would for a P&PRPG.

Sure, much of the P&PRPG major industry goes the same way... Players wait for the new extension, or setting bit, and adventure within, never really changing the content themselves. What can we say? That the industry changed bunches of players wandering into "the realm of their imagination" into users of an externaly-generated content? Or that a P&PRPG allows full user-generated content contrary to MMORPGs? This all stands upon the distinction, maybe illusionary, I've set between users and players. I'm craving for your opinions there. I'm maybe just adressing an industry model.

Since neither SIS nor Social Contract are provided by the game itself, I state that MMORPGs aren't RPG in the way P&PRPGs define what roleplaying is. That doesn't mean at all, Soylent, that actual Social Contracts and SIS don't happen. They do, and they sometimes brilliantly do, especially in AO. But the so-called RP players play another game entirely set within the MMORPG. This is itself is a proof that a MMORPG isn't a RPG as P&PRPGs are. I take your point, though, Soylent, upon what should deserve to be called a RPG or not, I went way too far into that and yes, killing critters might be playing a RPG. I'm not adressing the players' RPG experience in MMOs, which I know might be deep and far-stretched, not its conditions, which involve a lot of effort and painstaking, but rewarding hours but I adress the fact that it always happen despite the game itself, regardless of the designers' efforts, and I know those to have been genuine sometimes.

On question 6, Callan, I must confess I've seen and met both. Obviously, the game doesn't imply the SIS option, except if you thwart the definition by saying that you share something with its designers, which is a nonsense because you don't actually play with them.  The SIS is thus provided by the users themselves. At this point, I've met both open behaviours in the "let's come and play with us, the basis are simple and the experience is so cool, stop levelling mindlessly and enjoy some social adventure" mode and closed behaviours in the "forget about them, pretend they don't exist and go build our shell, it's the only way man" mode. This of course leads to different SIS because the nature of the sharing differs.

So, with your help, I think the main statement-question to adress is in the "To get back to MMORPG I don't see that they provide any answer for both SIS and Social Contract issues, and as such, aren't RPGs in the way P&PRPGs define what a roleplaying game is" sentence. It's maybe easier to kick start the discussion from that (maybe adressing the user-player distinction too, false or true) than the previously given questions. I would maybe edit my first post if I could, but it's always useful to see from where it sprouted anyway.


In practical terms I do accept your claim that I am twisting the MMO to roleplay in the fashion I like to roleplay. I had figure out a meaningful and rewarding way to roleplay inside a MMO on my own, through trial and error and a lot of offline thinking. I think many eager rolepayers burn out long before they get there. I am one of the lucky or just stubborn ones.

However for the sake of argument, let's consider this.

D&D provides specific rules for killing critters, awarding XP and how to improve the character as one levels. In its purest form, gaining XP from killing critters is automatic in D&D, it's not something the GM needs to validate. And when I hit 2000 XP I know I get to level even without the GM telling me so. The same applies to MMOs.

D&D does not provide specific rules for how to become mayor of a town. Nor do MMOs. In D&D if you the player wants to become mayor of a town, you need to get the GM's approval. In an MMO if you want to become the mayor of a town, you need to get the approval your peers or ideally of the game's devs.

(( As an aside, in AO, there is one town in which players can become ministers. The mayor himself is a GM character elected by the player base, however the ministers are just players who applied for the post.))

D&D does not provide specific rules to draw graffiti on a wall. Sure you can say your character is going to draw a graffiti but it does not actually happen until the GM approves it or perhaps makes you do some sort of art roll.

In a MMO you cannot physically draw graffiti on a wall. What you can do, for instance, is take screenshot of the game, photoshop the graffiti on to it and post the doctored picture on a forum the roleplaying community regularly references. As with the D&D example the graffiti has not really happened until the community approves this. ( I chose this example because it something we actually did so it is an Actual Play. We once "egged" a police-themed guild's headquarters over some traffic violation tickets.)

I guess my point is in both table top and MMOs, there is stuff which is directly supported by the rules and stuff that isn't. The stuff that isn't, is resolved by a consensus process, the GM in table top, the community or the dev in a MMO. The difference being that most table top systems have a rule that explicitly says the GM can adjudicate stuff not covered by the rules whereas MMO manuals do not, it just something that develops organically and therefore is technically outside the game as designed.

However here is a thought. Say I am running D&D and I use a GM technique never mentioned in any D&D book, does that count as twisting the game too?


The reference to D&D is sure cool, it almost got me tangled up. When I was wondering why, I realized that the game mechanics of MMOs, being so close to D&D mechanics for most sellers (life gauge, levelling, etc) makes one confused about their similarity. Yet, the main core aspect or pen and paper RPGs stands about Shared Imaginative System and Social Contract, not in the game mechanics and I think I've proven that MMOs as such don't provide this. I'm eager to be challenged upon this assumption, though. Makes me think that, it's obvious but nevertheless useful to remind, it's not because you have stats, hit points, levels and an experience system that you have a RPG. I eventually decided to challenge the "killing critters is roleplaying" idea. It's not in itself, or everything and nothing is. It might be, yet, but it's not in itself.

I think we might have got into a false debate at some point here, Soylent, because I do agree with most of your remarks indeed. What I state is not that one can't create a SIS within a MMO nor have a Social Contract inside its limitations (ever tried to create a leader-less guild?), what I state is that the MMO in itself does not lay upon a Social Contract nor defines it in any way (except for the basis web etiquette "no sex, no offense, respect your neighbour please". Whether the end-user agreement passed between the user and the game owner is a Social Contract or not is still to be discussed, but I say if it is, it's a very, very, unequal and biased one, quite opposite to the kind of contracts we find in democratic systems) and does not involve a Shared Imaginative or Imagination System. I totally agree with you when you say that one can actually roleplay brilliantly in a MMO, I do (well, I mumble-chat and emote some roleplay at least, dunno for the brilliant part).

Now, we have players, but I would rather say users who, from and by themselves design a Shared Imagination (it's more a shared imagination than a shared imaginative system imho) and define a Social Contract (what is in-character, what is out of character, how and when do we allow it, what does it take to become the Mayor, who decides it, how, etc). How they do it is totally out of the MMO field itself, it's their own game they design, often designing it upon MUD or message boards roleplaying games unwritten traditions. Their roleplaying game within the game is an user-generated content, not a derivate from the MMO, or not only. I remember myself saying a few years ago to my late guildies "okay guys, burn this game, we don't play this, it's just our playground" (whether this is too extreme, absolutely stupid or biased is another question entirely).

So, back to the basis I think I've got a few assumptions here about P&PRPG being defined by a SIS, a Social Contract and allowing full user-generated content. Could anyone back, challenge or extend this?


I've seen some of these things in MMO's but IME they weren't expressions of a creative agenda, they were exploration for it's own sake zilchplay if you are looking for a term.

I'd like to hear some more about one of your experiences that you felt was narrativist.  From what I'm seeing from your limited examples so far all I'm seeing is exploration of setting and color, tea parties, masses, even troll empires.  You've created elements that you've added to the game, things that dont come from the designers but still just elements of the world.   They dont really provide a focus for what the players are doing in the game, there doesnt seem to be an agenda to it.


It's another game actually. My whole point is about that idea. Let's take an example I know well, the Troll Empire (can't help the caps for the glorious Empire of Zul, sorry). We didn't create anything added to the game itself because no user could actually see the Troll Empire nor walk in it, nor interact in no way with it within the game. The Troll Empire existed only within the space of the story we were weaving together. For the roleplayers community within the users community at large, we were an Empire and since this community, basing itself upon its own mostly unwritten Social Contract, acknowledged it as such, it was the case. That's what we pretended, if I may say so. That was our shared imagination and narration, using medias such as the guild chat channel, some extra user-generated chat channels and half a dozen out-of-game message boards. It is zilchplay, I totally agree with this statement, exploration for its own sake, we didn't have any creative agenda nor did the MMO itself have. We extended it, but not in the way you assume we did, we invented a new game within the game, not an extension of the game itself. And since the MMO itself provided its own repetitive unending Simulation, we had to find a way to make it fun and worthy, we had to create Premises for our characters and to adress those Premises during the course of our play. What was our play? Chat lines, threads and social interactions using the MMO game engine, quests, zones, equipment and even instanced play and NPCs. When we would log in, that was the focus of our play. Yet what we had for agenda was close to basic GM-less zilchplay. What will happen next? Who will shoot it? Basing upon what? Does that deny this kind of roleplay the quality of being a narrativist game in itself? I genuinely ask the question, in order to find out the answer because I'm not proficient enough with the Narrativist model myself to provide the answer. Couldn't that be considered as a basic, very basic rather frameless Narrativist game? What's missing in it? Let me know.

It's, sorry to come back to this, another game within the MMO game, feeding on its materials. If this other parasite game is itself denied the P&PRPG basic qualification, then I must conclude that MMORPGs are in no possible way and extend RPGs as P&PRPGs would call them but only zilchplay exploration-allowing media platforms. The Narrativist game qualification is thus critical to the P&PRPG and MMORPG whole relation issue. And to the future of D&D4 and P&PRPG major industry at large (very very lousy joke this last sentence, sorry guys. Or is it?).


I think it is indeed a matter of SIS (Shared Imagined Space).

When roleplaying around a table, one SIS is built, involving all of the players. If not, something's not working.
Even in a system like D&D's, with separate rules for such actions as killing monsters and "leveling up", there still is one rule covering both becoming mayor and graffiti: ask the DM. Once the DM declares you the mayor, or once the DM acknowledges your graffiti, the SIS is permanently changed according to your action. This is, in fact, what "system" is and what "system" is for.

In fact, if you're - say - playing D&D in a Forgotten Realms setting, and a new supplement comes out from Wizards detailing how the kingdom of Cormyr was suddenly overthrown and conquered by the Red Wizards of Thay, such a change is not guaranteed to immediately apply to your own D&D campaign... Despite being a suggestion from the Almighty Makers of the Metaplot, it still has to go through the game system: your DM decides whether, and when, the fall of Cormyr happens in your campaign. Only by DM validation (= system) this suggestion actually happens in the SIS -- meaning that FR metaplot from Wizards carries no more weight than player input in actual play.

A MMORPG does not, by itself, provide a system to shape and interact with a SIS. In fact, no instance of a Shared Imagined Space is at all required to enjoy a MMORPG as a computer game. What the makers of the game do provide is, instead, a Virtual Space, which is made up of the visual and auditive representations the software conveys: a simulated "world" which you can interact with (in a finite number of ways) with no act of "imagining" being actually required.

What "roleplaying" users appear to be doing, in such instances as the "mayor" case, is:

1) wishing for avenues of interaction with the simulated Virtual World which exceed the finite capabilities of the gaming software (simply by not being part of the factory-provided game content); thus

2) "patching" that by initiating a pretend-game between themselves, through whatever means they have at their disposal (mostly social means, including the in-game text chat as well as community tools not being part of the game software itself, such as forums).

As soon as 2 happens, an Imagined Space is created, Shared by a number of players, in which player A actually is "the mayor".

However, as the sheer number of players connected to given a MMORPG server prevents them from all individually communicating with everybody else, unlike a gaming table, there cannot be one SIS involving all of the users. At most, a number of Imagined Spaces can be simultaneously in place, each being Shared by a subset of users, probably with some amount of overlap.
(A phenomenon resembling what would happen in a LARP involving a massive number of players, as commonly seen in Northern Europe. Main reason the "Big Model" can't, as it currently stands, fully apply to LARPing, btw).

Long post, more on this later.
Raffaele Manzo, or "Rafu" for short. From (and in) Italy. Here's where I blog about games (English posts). Here's where I micro-blog about everything.


Very helpful clarification, Rafu. Terminology-wise first about Shared Imagined Space, thanks a lot, and very clarifying for the remainder. I think you pretty much wind in the same ideas I've been bringing in except that you do it better, in a much more understandable way.

I'll lay back upon the post to give other people opportunity to answer here because I feel we're reached issues important enough and I'd like you to expand your views, Soylent to answer to that and Callan, Caldis and all other would-be posters to contribute if they wish so. I keep reading and will post further later too, maybe writting shorter posts, sorry 'bout the indigest lengthy previous ones.

Lance D. Allen

Rafu has the right of it; System is more than the rules. One nitpick: System != DM Validation. It's actually group validation, though the default assumption is that if the DM says it, it's true, hence the group validates what the DM validates.

This is less true in the larger context of a roleplaying community on an MMO, or even in a message board /chat room based community. There may be stated "DM"s in such a community, but not every aspect of play will be vetted by those DMs, simply because they won't likely be present for everything.

In the case of the mayor example.. Well, it depends on which game you're talking about. Different games had different levels of mechanical interaction with the SIS that declared a person as mayor. In Star Wars Galaxies, it was mechanically enforceable.. In-game resources would give a mayor in-game powers over the city they were mayor of. In Ultima Online (pre-Trammel) mayors of player-created towns were endorsed by the players who lived there. If someone chose not to acknowledge their authority, it could be enforced with violence. Signs on houses could be created that would mark the boundaries of the Empire of Zul, hence making it visible and tangible.

I have to assume you're talking about World of Warcraft, or maybe Everquest 2. I haven't played the latter, but the former definitely holds true for your statements.

Anyhow.. I've not chimed in prior to this because I'm having difficulty determining your goal with this thread. Are you advocating a position? Are you hoping to encourage a change in the mechanical aspects of modern MMORPGs? I would very much like to understand your goals, because I have a lot of interest in this topic.
~Lance Allen
Wolves Den Publishing
Eternally Incipient Publisher of Mage Blade, ReCoil and Rats in the Walls


Well, I'd like to question the relation between P&PRPGs and MMORPGs at large but i'd like to do it from an experiential perspective, and to see the questions emerge from actual play debates instead of throwing too much theory in from the start. Starting from my own experience, I've come to question the nature of what is called "roleplaying" in a MMORPG and, discarding the label altogether when it is just stamped out of habit upon the whole game, I focused upon the so-called roleplaying servers and users.

From there, yes, I have questions. My first question is: Is actual roleplaying such as it is defined in a P&PRPG possible in a MMORPG? What defines it? What sets it apart of what we call roleplaying in P&PRPGs? What conditions might see it emerge if we find that such conditions aren't met?

I state that roleplaying gaming happening within a MMORPG is a different game using the MMO resources, but living in it as a parasite does. And I now wonder if such a game is bare zilchplay exploration or does shape the embryo of an user-generated Narrativist game of its own. That's where we are.

Of course the main underlining question is "What is the difference between MMORPGs and P&PRPGs?" but since another thread *coughs* deals with it, I couldn't post it like this. I'm just taking a different aim at it to see if it leads us somewhere.

Lance D. Allen

Okay, this term zilchplay.. I don' think it means what you think it means.

I did a search, and this is a quote from someone who claims to have coined the term (Walt Freitag) from an earlier discussion here on the Forge*:

QuoteZilchplay is the absence of interesting contribution on a player's part, with "interesting" given a very specific meaning of "relevant, but not predictable." If a player's contribution is limited to choices that just about everyone would make the same way given the same situation, or to actions that are part of the player's own well-established routine, that player's play is Zilchplay.

From my (moderately copious) experience roleplaying in MMOs, this isn't even applicable. Maybe it is for you, I dunno.

Next, you say:
QuoteIs actual roleplaying such as it is defined in a P&PRPG possible in a MMORPG? What defines it? What sets it apart of what we call roleplaying in P&PRPGs? What conditions might see it emerge if we find that such conditions aren't met?

To answer this question, I think we first need to know what you consider the definition of roleplaying from P&PRPGs... Because there isn't any single definition of roleplaying for P&PRPGs that I know of.

I'm not going to try to define it. I suggest you don't bother either, or else this discussion may devolve into nitpicking that definition. What I will do is make a statement in answer to that question, based on my understanding of what roleplaying is.

Roleplaying can and does frequently happen in any number of games without any support from the rules. You can roleplay in Monopoly. I've heard of very successful, very fun instances of such. All the rules of any game do is provide a basis of common understanding for the players to play the game. The rules are simply one contributor to system. This holds true for MMOs as well. In almost all games, to include the most bleeding edge P&PRPG, some roleplaying will happen with no support from the rules. So simply this: MMORPGs as a group are no worse than any other game at facilitating roleplaying. Some facilitate it well. Others facilitate it no more than providing a channel for communication, and getting out of the way.

Like I suspect you do, I feel that MMORPG and CRPG are by and large misnomers. These names suggest that the game is about roleplaying, which they are not as we understand the term. Unfortunately, we're just going to have to accept that this term is used. The nature of the games DO allow roleplaying, and some very satisfying roleplaying has come from these games. I had a deep, in character discussion about the nature of virtue in UO. I've felt the anguish of failure to save a friend who needed me. I've given trust, and had it returned when I stepped outside of the guard zones to hunt with a relative stranger, and I've risked death and loss by safeguarding their items by committing a technical crime when they fell in battle. In City of Heroes, we explored the concepts of romance between those who work together, and saw the results of what happen when jealousy rears it's head in a team. We talked about the price of duty. I personally, with one character, explored my own insecurity and bitterness about friends who've left me behind, but still yearning to extend that trust again.

Gah. My tendency to ramble has reared its head once more. I think I may have made my point already.
~Lance Allen
Wolves Den Publishing
Eternally Incipient Publisher of Mage Blade, ReCoil and Rats in the Walls

Callan S.

Quote from: Patrice on January 05, 2009, 12:59:36 AMI state that roleplaying gaming happening within a MMORPG is a different game using the MMO resources, but living in it as a parasite does.
That's an interesting observation - a parasite relationship? Kind of fits, it feels like. Again I'd say that happens in table top roleplay as well"Oh, we just follow the rules that are the most fun/we let the host organisms rules whither and die, for our benefit alone". However, rather than just a parasite, I'd say many table top groups exult in taking over the host entirely. Perhaps that's what your finding is missing in mmorpgs - the inability to start controlling the mmorpgs imaginative space, so the players never get out of a parasitic stage and into a host controlling stage (where they not only act like they are the mayor, but the damn programmers had better start making NPC's that respond that way, as a quick example)?

QuoteAnd I now wonder if such a game is bare zilchplay exploration or does shape the embryo of an user-generated Narrativist game of its own. That's where we are.
There's an unfortunately similarity between narration and narratavism that some people think describing game events/narrating is narratavism, as the forge defines it. I'm just checking, do you just have narration in mind, when you talk about narratavism?

Lance D. Allen

I think Callan is right; there seems to be some conflation of narrative, that is, telling a story, and narrativism which is defined as somehow answering a question about human interactions, values, beliefs and mores. Narrativist play is possible in any roleplaying; I think my examples earlier where I mentioned roleplay centering around love, duty, virtue, trust, sacrifice and loyalty. But that isn't necessarily what roleplay in MMORPGs has to be about. I think the majority of roleplay would fall under the category of Right to Dream, which is defined as a commitment to the imagined events of play, by way of in-game causes and thematic elements.

From my experience, most of our MMO roleplay was this way, focused on being in-character, playing the character consistently, and incorporation of each other's contributions into the ongoing narrative. Occasionally, quite by accident, we would stray into the big human questions and answer them through our play, but by and large, it was about living this other life for a time.

The parasite observation is interesting. The general definition of parasitism involves a relationship where only one party benefits. Before unpacking this concept, I would have thought that such games as D&D would be identical for the purposes of this analog, but that's not really true.

In D&D, it's more of a symbiotic relationship between strict rules interactions and roleplay. You could play what amounts to a miniatures wargame with none of what we call roleplaying by using the rules by themselves. You can also roleplay without ever dipping into the mechanics of the game. But both contribute to the other, each making the other a little bit more fun. The mechanics offer justification for roleplayed narrations (I pick the lock because the rules say I do) and the chance of failure, hence tension. The roleplay offers color, flavor and personality to the pure mechanics of the game.

In most modern MMORPGs, that's not true. Roleplay may benefit from the mechanical contributions of the game (the appearance of avatars, relative positioning, emotes, surroundings and settings) but the roleplayed interactions don't have any effect on the mechanical aspects at all. The only place this could be true is in the games' social interaction systems, specifically guilds, though roleplaying may be replaced with real-world social interactions. Roleplaying could place someone in a guild officer position, giving that person certain powers over their guildmates, or it could take them out of that position. Roleplaying could also (in some games) garner wealth for some characters, if for instance one character is the "mayor" and demands taxes from the other players who share that SIS. But by and large, this does nothing to the mechanical aspects of the game.

Now, of course this is simply the way it is, not the way it has to be. As with many of the newer games, roleplayed actions can have a greater effect on the mechanical portion of the game if the designers wish them to, and design the game so that they can. Star Wars Galaxies allowing players to form cities and elect mayors is one such step. The mayor may then collect taxes, determine zoning for his city, supply services to his citizens, denote security personnel who can enforce the laws determined through roleplay, and a few other details. Again, because this is a mechanical system, it doesn't require roleplaying, but it does require some things that may resemble roleplaying. A roleplayer and a non-roleplayer can claim to be the mayors of their respective cities, and the game will back up their right to do so.
~Lance Allen
Wolves Den Publishing
Eternally Incipient Publisher of Mage Blade, ReCoil and Rats in the Walls