[Roleplaying] Death of the Actor

Wolfshead writes (again) about the death of MMOs as a genre, and this time he explains quite clearly how a lot of gamers feel about roleplayers:

Why do actors in real life pursue careers as actors? What kind of person finds fulfillment in being somebody else?

In his view this isn’t the same as roleplaying, because you don’t actually create the character yourself. But the ability of an actor to ‘become’ their character and to immerse in that character and setting is very close to what immersive roleplayers get their kicks from doing. I’ve played one-shot tabletop games where we were given pre-generated characters, and there was definitely plenty of roleplaying going on.

I have also listening to actor friends describing the kick they get from acting, and I always felt there was commonality with a really kickass RP session where you got deep into your character.

Virtual worlds should be fertile ground for this type of immersive gaming, and in many ways they are. You don’t have to imagine what a room looks like if you can stroll around (virtually) and check it out for yourself. You can learn a lot about an in game faction or NPC by interacting with them rather than just having some data read out to you across the table. Yes, your role and storyline might be fixed but this doesn’t mean that it can’t also be an immersive experience, especially if (in games like DAO and ME) you have some room to personalise how you portray it.

But the key thing about this type of immersive play is that it can only work well in a large scale game if most of the other players are similarly immersive (or good enough at RP that you never notice) or you have a well crafted storyline and NPCs to interact with (mostly single player, but maybe with some group stuff too). As soon as you end up trading insults in trade chat or an instance with xxArthasdkxxx and lolboobies the immersion is gone.

Wolfshead argues that the Actor stance is a step back from the sandbox roll-your-own-role stance, and I’d say that it’s a shame if we can’t have both but players have shown that they’re more interested in winning and achievements than in either acting a role or making their own adventures. There was a time when Actors were more welcomed. When player run RP events brightened up MMOs on a regular basis (I remember RPed trade markets and RPed winter pantomines and parties, for example.)

Wolfshead concludes by saying:

MMOs should be proving grounds where players can distinguish themselves by testing their mettle against the environment and other players.

And I’d say that one of the sad things with MMOs is that this is all that players have wanted to do. What else do you call achievement collecting and PvP arenas/ battlegrounds?

So if I’m looking forwards to SWTOR, it’s in the hope that just a little of the Actor remains in the world and that some people at least will care about their characters and roles. Because I don’t see it happening in many other upcoming games.

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20 thoughts on “[Roleplaying] Death of the Actor

  1. From my own experience, the Actor role is actively discouraged by other players. Attempts to roleplay are met with ridicule and scorn, even on roleplay servers. There are large amounts of roleplayers out there, it’s just most have given up on it.

    As for SWTOR, I’ll share my opinions as soon as the NDA lifts ;)

    • I think you’re right, but I also think that when the genre was smaller (and younger) more people had come from that sort of background. I don’t know where they go now to find others to roleplay with .. maybe communities of fanfic writers?

  2. I suspect that the whole “progression” ethos is part of the problem, too. It boils motivation down to numbers. Perhaps there’s nothing inherently wrong with that in game design, but it runs contrary to nuanced acting with myriad motivation.

  3. I had a long post written up (partially in my head) about why his analogy of acting is incredibly flawed, but I gave up because it was a) too long, and b) too convoluted for me to really make it legible and relevant.

    Suffice to say: his idea of acting, and the context it’s used in, is woeful. “Themepark,” as common as it is now, is just a much better term for it. Everything is set up for you, the customer, to come and enjoy, and you do, but ultimately it’s a variation on a theme and it is more a means to an end (i.e. interacting with others) rather than the end itself.

  4. Spinks, I don’t know if post-apocalyptic is your cup of tea, but when I was playing Fallen Earth there was definitely a healthy RP segment of the population. They held weekly events and were very invested in the overall community. The game is slated to go F2P in the near future.

  5. Is acting a less well regarded profession on Wolfshead’s side of the pond? Saying WoW sucks because it’s like being an actor when you could have been adventurer simply has no impact here. Who doesn’t want to be Macbeth, James Bond and Winston Churchill as part of your day job?

  6. We shouldn’t think of them as noobs and rude jerks who verbally assault roleplayers. Instead, just think of them as bad directors, investors, and the guy whose house you broke into for a set of your your amateur film. Or just be more inclusive. I doubt the Knights of the Round Table only dealt with submissive peasants, royalty, and glorious battles. We need only watch the English documentary about their search for the Holy Grail to see that the mocking Frenchman is a clear historical precedent for everyone on the internet.

  7. “Why do actors in real life pursue careers as actors? What kind of person finds fulfillment in being somebody else?”

    Because some of us don’t like being ourselves… :-/ It’s why I game too — escapism.

  8. Where the Roleplaying monster rears it’s head, ye shall find me.

    I am of firm believe that roleplaying and video games don’t really mix. Leave on the table top.

    I play to win, and most of us players do to. We don’t play to taste imaginary food, or haunt Pornshire.

    • I don’t really understand what the play to win guys get out of virtual world quest based games when they could focus on something like TF2 or SC2 that probably has better designed gameplay and actual win conditions.

      • Some games have changed to attract that type of playstyle – in an attempt to have competitive arenas and ranked matches. It’s understandable to a point – some of these companies pioneered ‘video game as a sport’ – the problem I think is they don’t understand why those types of games work.

        If you play a chess game – your opponent could be Kasparov himself – but he doesn’t start the game with 4 queens and 2 ‘remove all checkmate conditions for free’ cards because he’s the #1 player.

        Games like TF2 or SC2 or even CoD and BF2 are popular because you all start pretty much even – and skill is the biggest thing that makes you better. Even in games like CoD (MW-2) where you can upgrade your gear with ‘points’ – it’s not so overpowering or different that you are suddenly an Adonis among mortals.

        MMO’s that are gear based – have this problem – a ranked Arena team will *wipe the floor* with a newbie team – even if it’s the Arena version of Kasparov playing the newbies.

        On the subject of rollplaying however – I think you’ll find the more the Dev’s support this type of playstyle – the more it comes out of the dark. LoTRO has systems (in game music – that is actually played) and emotes constantly added (with some very cool animations) and many other things along with very very cool outfits that are all added purely for rollplaying – and because of the developer love you get quite a bit of rollplay that is seen around the world. I don’t honestly know of a single other game out there atm that has put as much effort into supporting the rollplaying ‘playstyle’ – WoW barely tolerates it – just look at how many new systems (housing? emotes? cosmetic ‘fluff’ gear?) that it has put out for rollplaying…. that says vollumes :)

      • Back in the day say in Dark Ages of Camelot or Vanilla WoW, you were part of something bigger than yourself. You were an Albion Cleric, or You were a part of a 40 man Raid crew.

        Back when being hardcore meant something. Hardcore winning is very addictive.

      • We actually did a fair bit of RP in DaoC also. I remember even some of the hardcore guys got into the knights of the round table mindset and turned up to RP events. At that time, it wasn’t an either or.

  9. Being Actor is interesting but it requires also interesting role. Current games offer most of the time generic “kill x mobs”-type of quests and that’s not a role I find anyway interesting. So instead of having tons of generic quests, we need few interesting and epic quests to give that Actor part of the game feel of importance. But I agree with the assessment that best game probably would cater to both categories and would give player the option to choose what he/she wants to do…

  10. I and my guildmates in WoW used to roleplay more than we do now, we’ve all slowly become more progression focused I think – though also one by one more burntout on the game as well.

    But we almost always RP’ed inside instances or while questing out in the world. For us RP was never scripted events or big public gatherings. We were simply giving defined personalities to the members of our group of adventurers. (I played the same way in DDO for some time as well).

    I suspect given the hostility or at least lack of understanding that RP receives, even in games with dedicated RP servers, that many others may have followed suit – it’s simply less hassle to weave RP into an instanced space rather than deal with the ‘bunny-hoppers’ and griefers.The consequence may be though that their is a perceived decline of RP since it’s not so visible to the non-RPers in the major hubs/cities.

  11. Pingback: We Are Wolves Among the Sheep « A High Latency Life

  12. Nice article.

    I guess I may be overstating my maturity level today when I saw: “RPed trade markets and RPed winter pantomines and parties” and, instead, read, “RPed trade markets and RPed winter panties” and immediately had a picture in my minds eye of a stoutly dwarvish lass wearing woolies. Go figure. Kind of a RP Gone Wrong moment :)

  13. Interesting article.

    But being an Actor is very different than RP. An actor is interested in exploring emotional boundaries and situations. There is never a time when an actor becomes another person. Acting is really a study of the human animal.

    RP play is something altogether different. It reminds me more of those old adventure text games except they are free-form and written by other players.

  14. I don’t think there’s really a solid dividing line between being an actor and role-playing. A good actor creates the character they play and bring more to it than the words on the script, to the extent that two different actors playing the same role can create two quite different characters. And on the flip-side, a role-player is always constrained by the setting they’re in and the others around them. I can’t just decide to roleplay a “jedi space pirate” unless I’m playing SW:ToR (and maybe not even then)… if I tried insisting I was a jedi in LotRO I wouldn’t get very far with the RP community.

    Also, I would say that all of the ‘hardcore’ gamers are actually roleplayers. They’re all roleplaying brutal, arrogant, loud-mouthed sociopaths online, while I suspect they act quite differently face to face in real life :)

  15. Original SWG was great for this, there really was no progression, you got your XP from combat to buy new skill boxes for your professions but there were no real dungeons nor raid content to start with. Certain places needed more than one person to do it but they weren’t instanced and anyone could join in, grouped or not. It was a game that was made by the players and I have a lot of fond memories of that. I am part of an RP guild for TOR and I know there will be a lot of the SWG crowd transferring over to populate the world with RP.

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