SOE is adding new facial recognition tech to EverQuest 2 that lets the game track your movement and facial expressions and replicate them on your avatar in real-time. Voice chat is also built into the feature so that your character will animate naturally while you talk.
PCG have an interview with SOE’s director of development about this.
It may say something for my lack of enthusiasm that I could think of at least a zillion reasons why I might not want to do this, ranging from “I don’t have a webcam” to “what if it sees me picking my nose” or “what if my character is male and I’m not?” (The latter is presumably solvable using filters, which are mentioned in the interview.) PCG do also point out that most RPG players spend a lot of time looking at their characters’ backs rather than their faces.
Having said that, there may be something in the notion that any RPG will eventually have to come around to the idea. It’s just that MMO players are so used to using voice chat anyway outside of the game that having a lipsynch feature in game may be just a bridge too far. Not to mention wondering what the extra processing load might turn out to be.
However, it is true that a lot of human communication is passed via expressions and body language. I’m just not sure whether I prefer that CRPGs keep the communication fairly limited, its one of the things that makes them so good as escapist experiences. There was an originally a notion that your character in a virtual world was a character with a background and culture of its own (even if it wasn’t all that well detailed). The closer characters get to the players, the more that difference fades. In a way, real facial animation ™ is a kind of anti-story device. If you see someone’s character actually rolling on the floor laughing when someone tells a dick joke on vent, are you still going to think of them as a paladin of the light? Just saying.