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.