[The Secret World] The Secret Roleplayer

Funcom’s ‘The Secret World’.

You’ve heard of it, you’ve looked into some of the concepts or gone through their initiation test to see which of their three factions you naturally fall in to. If you’re like me, you’ve shrugged that answer off and picked which faction you like the sound of based purely on their name, or external factors!

It’s a classless secret society MMO, set in a semi-real world environment (of course taking London and New York and the rest of the world and giving us the urban fantasy versions of the cities, where monsters and magic exist). If you’ve jumped aboard the hype train, you’ve also seen the Facebook videos, the ARG sites, and stepped firmly into the ‘Secret’ World.

I’m intrigued by the concept as an MMO. Not necessarily just because it’s something different, but because it harks back to the books I enjoy reading, the RPGs I played with pen and paper back in the day, and even to some extent to the card games I learned years ago and still play with friends when I get the chance (yes, Illuminati, I’m looking at you!!). But over the past few weeks I’ve realised that there’s another big hole for me in MMOs, and which I think The Secret World has the best chance of plugging amongst all the games that are coming up for release. It may actually offer a really good platform for roleplay in MMOs.

I’ve had this discussion and debate since the days of Dark Age of Camelot, and in order to make my point, I should perhaps list the MMOs I’ve played (it makes a difference, trust me). They are: Dark Age of Camelot, World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, Warhammer Online. Any others I’ve dipped into very briefly, such as Everquest 2, Age of Conan and Vanguard with maybe a month of each and not really in with a group or guild – or even seeking out other players, just keeping my head down and seeing what the game was like for a relatively short period.

In games I have played I always join the roleplay server. I try to roleplay, I will ALWAYS respond in roleplay fashion if spoken to first in one. But Dark Age of Camelot was the one most people around me /tried/ to roleplay in. We had some great events, we tried, we really did, but it never came close to text-based roleplay found in MUSHes and MUXes back in the day.

MMO roleplay is restricted by it’s very nature. It’s very inflexible. There’s no human GM tailoring the setting and story to the players. You can’t really choose any look or any background that works, instead you have to fit into a more fixed settingr, the emotes are often rubbish, and it’s hard to really settle into a character, for me, anyway. There are also lots of players who think exchanging ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ for ‘you’ is actual roleplay. Or ‘I have reached my 30th season of experience’ (ding 30!). No further comment.

You can’t really take the role of a baddie, your story progression is there for you, and it’s a hard reach to really think ‘what is my motivation for killing these 10 rats instead of telling this lazy guard with a massive sword to do it himself’. But we forgive those in the name of story and people genuinely DO roleplay on all MMOs… I just don’t have the tolerance for it as things stand right now.

But when it comes to The Secret World, my interest in roleplay is piqued. It reminds me of my World of Darkness MUSH days, and actually  creating a character that I could write a detailed background for and who could be internally conflicted and act appropriately. Maybe it’s because I did more World of Darkness and In Nomine roleplay than I did the more fantasy settings as I was growing up, and the urban fantasy really does grab me far more than Middle-Earth as a world I want to really roleplay in (with apologies to all the lovely fantasy settings, but they just don’t do it for me, roleplay-wise). Like nostalgia for board games, I’m now feeling it for roleplay games and ready to embrace it in a setting I like.

So, I find myself looking at the trailers and information differently. Instead of really caring about the smack-talk about what factions people will play and how much we’ll all hate one another and seek each other out, I am starting to create the background of the character I will play and that I will flesh out and breath life into regardless of everything else. It’s not a case of wanting to even know where and what my friends will play, I believe I’ll be able to have contact with them even if it’s cross-faction and we can form uneasy truces if we want to play together… but with a level-less, classless system, and the ability to play around more with character style and fashion (even if still limited to certain faces and body types), it’ll be an interesting journey, whether it succeeds wildly or falls to its face. And that’s the kind of anticipation I can live with.

Thoughts? Have you played pen and paper RPGs, and if so, how do you think roleplay has worked in current games? Do you avoid like the plague or actively seek it out a lot more than I do? Or if you are an MMO RPer, do you think the pen and paper grognards have totally unrealistic expectations?

And what do you think The Secret World might add or ruin for the genre?