Roleplaying in MMOs has always been a minority pursuit. I think a lot of people do enjoy being able to interact with the world and the setting, but it takes a certain mindset to forge ahead with a character background and try to tell your own stories as well. Plus an understanding of what it actually means to be in character or out of character (if you think of roleplaying like amateur improvisational theatre, you’ll be fairly close to the mark.)
You have to be just a little bit bloodyminded to ignore all the other activities which the game offers and go stand in a pub and chat to people, virtually. And tell stories.
So in economic terms, roleplaying has a high opportunity cost. If you choose to go and roleplay, it’s because you’re rejecting all those carefully planned tour bus quests, grinds, PvP battlegrounds, barbie dress-up, pet collecting, or whatever else wacky activity the devs intend for players to do. You’d rather go your own way.
It is possible to roleplay while doing other activities. You can use chat channels or just interject the odd, ‘For the HORDE!’ while you’re in a battleground but really, proper roleplaying requires 100% attention. You’re actually supposed to pay attention to what other people are doing and saying and respond appropriately. This means that it is in some ways more demanding than raiding.
Roleplaying servers have their own conventions too. Some games let you flag yourself when you are roleplaying. It is very common for people to set themselves to walk instead of run to show that they are in character. Some channels are usually in character (say usually is) and some are not (trade and general usually are not). And guilds may have their own conventions on top of that.
I combined my desire for a new death knight alt with my curiousity about hardcore RP guilds, err and about inscription… and created a new death knight on another RP server. I joined a RP guild. I started inscription. It has been good fun so far and an interesting change of pace.
I’ll have more to say about that all later (DKs are good fun, but I tanked my first instance the other day and … why am I still playing a warrior again?), but what I have really noticed recently is that as people get bored of the expansion, the roleplay has really picked up.
So what’s going on in WoW
Even just on my server, there have been events in which the Royal Apothecary Society (ie. the ones who didn’t know anything about the Wrathgate) have been tried and given a second chance to prove themselves in battle against the scourge. Someone is organising a western themed gold mining day out in Tanaris. We have regular roleplay evenings in various different in game pubs. I think the night elf players have get togethers in Ashenvale.
There’s a lot going on if people are curious, and it really isn’t all cybering.
Aleora has an awesome What’s On in Azeroth blog where she chronicles all the roleplay events that are being organised across both EU and US roleplaying servers. Just go look at the wide variety of things that are actually going on. And I’d bet that the organisers would welcome anyone who wanted to go join in as long as they were polite about it.
And tell me again that players are dumb, lazy morons and that the game is being dumbed down. (Note: I see that LOTRO, having already eased the levelling curve and reworked some of the more tedious old zones is also making old epic storyline quests soloable — all very smart changes in my opinion. Does it still count as dumbing down if it isn’t WoW? :) )