I’m sort of an odd duck. I play tabletop rpg games, but only started about three years ago. I don’t do forum roleplay, and the one time I tried a MUSH, someone immediately whispered me wanting cybersex, and I was so surprised I actually shut off my computer as an immediate reaction. I’ve only played the 4th Edition of D&D.
What I do love, and where I really love roleplaying, is in MMOs. I’ve been doing so since about 1998, with vast breaks between games or between finding non-insane groups in-game. I started out in Ultima Online, my first MMO and my first ever roleplaying experience. I literally chanced upon a bunch of rp’ers at – of course – a player-created tavern. I didn’t understand half of what they were doing, and of course half of it was stuff you’d actually never allow in a bar, but still. Little avatars talking to each other just seemed like an awesome idea.
I don’t even remember what shard I was on now, and I don’t remember much of the rp. The overwhelming majority of it was dorky beyond belief: a street-urchin-turned-princess who had about four husbands in the two years I played, and who was kidnapped or otherwise imperiled about every other week. The military guild that went through a new leader every month, and was nothing.but.angst. The necromancer drow evil guild who – and this is a consistent thing in every MMO I’ve played – did tremendously gory and awful things, in public, like putting huge “HI, I’m EVIL” signs on their chests. Oh, and just to confirm the stereotype of MMO rp, I ran into a lot of roleplayed sex in odd corners of the world.
Roleplay in World of Warcraft turned the dial on everything I’d seen in UO up to 11. Maybe 12. Nekkid night elves sitting for hours on beds in the little inn in Goldshire, not talking outside /tells. Evil evil evil kins desecrating public monuments and carrying out executions in the middle of Stormwind. Good good kins acting as equally violent vigilantes. Everyone running rampant in terms of what would be realistic, or best for the roleplaying whole, or fun.
And yet. I had a blast through all of it. An utter, complete, blast. In UO, I made a lumberjack. A simple red-headed (no, no violet eyes) lumberjack. She later got religion, became an axe-wielding paladin, kicked a great deal of evil-creature ass, found a lover, found a kin, bought a house, was betrayed by her mentor, etc. etc. My first Trinn. She had a humble background, a plain way of speaking, several neuroses, and a fierce sense of duty, and WOW I just realized that there are few things more boring than hearing about someone else’s roleplay character so I will stop right now with the UO one and move on to the World of Warcraft version of Trinn.
I’d shed a tear for little Trinn if I could. To date, with all the tabletop and writing and roleplay I do, she’s still the most complex, most interesting, most heartstring-tugging character I’ve ever made (now level 76, raar). A simple Westfall girl, chosen to the Light (unwillingly) at 14, a veteran of many battles, a hard-drinking, formerly prudish woman with a sense of duty that went well past healthy. She’s the one who met Bryant’s character and fell in love, and that’s how Bryant and I met (and fell in love), and even if that alone wasn’t reason to shake little Trinn’s hand and thank her, I have to give her great props as being the first time in roleplay I found it okay for my character to fail.
God, this is turning into a tome. But fast forward a couple of years, after raiding and slowly letting rp slip away. Fast forward into a much smaller-scale game called Lord of the Rings Online. (cue my loud squeeing). I’ve always been a huge Tolkien fan. Huge. Fan. And roleplay in Turbine’s version of Tolkien’s world is sort of a combination of respect for Tolkien’s creation AND the same rp craziness that happens in every MMO.
I just wrote a two-paragraph screed about how people roleplay villians in MMOs, and instead of that, I’m going to sum up with the whole reason why MMO rp is so full of the crazy.
No GM. No consensus, no decisions, no shared assumptions except about the explicitly stated lore of the game. In that sense, LOTRO fares better than most, given the source material available. But still, little things: Elves drinking in the Prancing Pony, for example, and flirting with Women. That’s…well, that right there is the subject of a gabillion indignant forum posts, all of which contain, no matter what the subject, at least one poster who says, “When you pay my $10 a month, you can tell me how to roleplay.” And with that attitude firmly in place (and it’s one I happen to share, completely), you’ll always have tons of the inconsistent, wildly erratic, seemingly nonsensical rp that happens in MMOs.
And I’m not even getting into the OOC drama. But seriously, I’ve had some of the best roleplay in my life in MMOs. I’ve had drama! danger! true love! betrayal! faith! triumph! despair! Happiness in MMO rp basically depends on a willingness – learned over time – to just roll with the punches, choose your friends wisely, and not be too surprised when everything goes sideways. For $10 a month, can’t beat that.