Series Info...Pleasures of the Flesh #6:


by Heather Logas

One of my frustrations with playing any given MMORPG is the distinct lack of role-playing. I want to be transported to another world, and while the new world and its inhabitants look the part (in a graphical game) talking to any of the player characters shatters the illusion instantly.

I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking about why this is the case. There is no simple answer, of course. These games are mass market, and there is no expectation for role playing. But I think one thing that is definitely missing is a strong demarcation between OOC and IC. As in, there is none. Players simply play themselves. Their characters are simply avatars through which they speak, and collections of cool powers through which they bend the game world to their will.

The concept of “out of character” (OOC) is easily overlooked as an important counterpart to “in character” (IC), but it is just as vital for a strong role playing experience.

I played in a Vampire: The Masquerade LARP chronicle for seven years. Some of the best role playing experiences I have ever had, I had in that game. I don’t believe the game could have been as great as it was without the strong out of character bonds many of the players had. The game ran every other Friday night. Every Thursday we would meet at a local café for “downtime”. Basically, to tell the storyteller what our characters had been doing during the week. Each of us spent maybe 10 – 15 minutes with a storyteller. But we spent usually three hours just hanging out. Talking to each other about our everyday lives and chit-chatting about game and non-game related topics. Every game night, we would go to the bar after the game and have a drink or two and chill out with each other.

This out of character companionship made a strong impact on the in character dynamics of the game. When game time came, players went in character and stayed that way. Out of character interruptions were greatly frowned upon. After all, anything out of character could be saved for “after game” or “at the bar”. Character back-stabbing and death were much easier pills to swallow as well. Character deaths almost always had strong in-game motivations and the player who lost their character could at least be assured that someone would treat them to a drink after game. People could be completely nasty to each other IC, and then laugh about it together at downtime.

In an MMORPG, there is no sense of out of character. Therefore, there can be no sense of in character. Here is my almost completely unfounded belief of how online RPGs evolved:

  1. Old school D&D players (who weren’t really old school at the time) delighted in playing hack and slash role playing in text-based MUDs.
  2. People interested in deeper role-playing created new games with less (or no) combat and role played their hearts out.
  3. Graphical games got big, and the mainstream computer gamer came in with no role playing experience, and very little in the game to encourage role playing.

I have played some MUDs that had an OOC room before you entered the actual game. Here is what I would like to see in a graphical game: You make your in-game character when you start playing, but you also can make an OOC avatar that has no stats or anything associated with it. It is just a mouthpiece for you. When you start up your game, you first go to an OOC “lounge” (it could be visually represented as anything, but the important thing is that it is separate from the game world). You can hang out there, or simply jump into the game. Throughout the game world, there are portals that can take you back to the lounge. This would be akin to stepping aside with someone in a LARP to have an OOC conversation without disturbing any of the other players. To go back to the portal you entered would be a simple click. Going back and forth would change your avatar accordingly.

Would this help? Of course I can’t say for sure, but I think that demarcating the difference between an IC persona and one’s OOC self (or hell, an OOC persona) may just be the first step away from “Hey! ASL?”

[ <— #5: The Taoist Storyteller | #7: Character Advancement —> ]

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