About a year ago, and I was playing my Female Natural Stalker, Lucy Liunatic, in City of Villains. I was in the Pocket D zone, where villains have to hook up with hero characters from City of Heroes in order to complete missions.
Now, I don’t normally bother to role-play in MMOs, primarily because no one else does. CoX doesn’t have role-playing servers, so there’s really no role-playing going on.
Nonetheless, I decided to be cute, and make my requests for hero partners “in character.”
[Broadcast] Lucy Liunatic: I am looking for weak-willed, morality-addled so-called “heroes” to serve me on a mission.
[Broadcast] Lucy Liunatic: If you serve me, then when I rule Paragon City, your death shall be quick and painless!
Most people ignored me, because pretty much every character in Pocket D at that time was a villain. But after a couple minutes I started to get angry responses. One player complained that I had insulted him. Another told me he was going to report me to the gamemasters for offensive behavior.
Players were upset that I was acting like a villain. In a game called City of Villains.
I started playing table-top roleplaying games back in a decade with a “7” in it. I remember when the only MMORPG was the original MUD. I lived through D&D, Tunnels & Trolls, AD&D, Ultima, Wizardry, Traveller, Gamma World, Paranoia, GURPS, Champions, DC Heroes, Warhammer FRP, Warhammer 40K, Fantasy Hero, TMNT, Marvel Super Heroes, Space 1889, Shadowrun and the entire World of Darkness.
The most annoying type of RPG player was the “power gamer.” This person cared nothing about the plot, characterization, or any other aspect of role-playing – he (never she) only wanted to build the most powerful character possible under the rules (often by tweaking and deliberate misinterpretation), and then level up as quickly as possible.
The majority of role-playing gamers considered power gamers to be losers. They were usually annoying teenage newbies anyway. The whole point of a role-playing game was role-playing, oddly enough; so power gamers were often met with hostility and frustration.
But role-playing is rare in 3D graphical MMORPGs, the acronym notwithstanding. This isn’t because computer games are poor role-playing environments; online games like EverQuest and Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption are popular with real role-players.
Other games, like CoX, don’t encourage role-playing in their communities, so very little of it exists. Of WoW’s 222 servers, only 16 are designated as “RP” servers, with specific rules designed to promote role-playing.
The fact is, the power gamer is the norm in the world of MMOs, while role-players are the minority. As I said, I have no problem with this. Role-playing online seems awkward to me.
What I don’t understand is the hostility towards role-players. Try to role-play, even in jest, on a WoW non-RP server, and you will be ridiculed. Bring up the subject with MMO players IRL, and you will get laughter and baffled looks.
Pro gamer Jared “cha0ticz” Cugno suggested to me that MMOs have been overrun by casual gamers, aka “normal” people, who are unfamiliar and uncomfortable with the whole idea of role-playing. They don’t want to be seen as the kind of geek who paints lead miniatures and goes to conventions dressed as their character; so they view anyone who reminds them of such behavior as the enemy.
This hypothesis has the ring of truth to me. But the fact is, there is absolutely no reason MMOs can’t support both styles of play, even on the same server. Just let people play how they want to play, and understand that there’s nothing “weird” about role-playing.
WoW wouldn’t exist without Warcraft, which wouldn’t exist without Warhammer, which wouldn’t exist without D&D. Get used to it.