Since I can't get in game due to increasing real life pressure from preparations of the third member of the carebear brigade (March 8th!), I'll avoid saying much about the renewed -A- offensive other than I was surprised at first they opted to attack 9UY, but in hindsight I can see some very possible logic from the strategy.
There are times I really really regret not being involved at higher levels for corp and alliance planning. Some of the best moments during my Warhammer 40K hooby days were marshaling battle plans for my side at megabattles, culminating in the epic beatdown my Chaos side delivered to the Imperials in a massive megabattle back in June '07. I would love to be formulating strategies for the alliance warfare but I lack the time to give to such a commitment and I leave it in the hands of others.
But that is not the focus of this post. This post is a rambling thought regurgitation on that central concept that is often ignored in moderns MMOs: Roleplay.
In the Beginning...
Pencil and paper role play games (rpgs) were built to allow you to actually play the role of a character in a fantastical setting. You were a character over a series of adventures with a static group. The characters progressed, improved, and the challenges scaled accordingly. I'm sure you all know this but its always good to set an agreed starting point in any conversation.
Anyways, you can see the basis for many common "themepark" MMOs in that basic premise. Somethings are vastly different though. For one thing, the "static group" is now an exception rather than the rule because the online games brought large numbers of people together making it easier for "pick up groups" to form as opposed to having to wait for all members of the static group to be available at the same time. The pick up grouping eventually developed into large entities typically called guilds but with varying names based on the game you choose (i.e. corporations in Eve). Some games, like Eve, have even larger groupings of players emulating an actual society as it grows. But that's another post for another day.
Another thing that has changed a lot from the pencil and paper days, and that is the concept of roleplaying. And thus we come to the focus of this post.
Two things happened recently to make me think on this subject more. For one thing, my best friend Andrew has been playing Dragon Age: Origins and posting about his adventures in that game. And for a second thing, my corporation joined Paxton Federation in Providence which means we are a close ally of the Curatores Vertatis Alliance (CVA), the Amarr role playing alliance in Eve. Listening to Andrew describes how he makes choices for his character in the game (i.e. Fiona would say this and choose this) and how the CVA pilots choose to role play in Eve makes me realize that in this day and age these are often the last things players do in a game, exceptions rather than rules.
All too often in games players make choices based on what is perceived to be the winning move; how to get the best ally in Dragon Age; or how to fight a war against an enemy in Eve. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that Andrew and CVA are weirdos or lolRPGers but just that most commonly people don't make decisions based on the character's preferences, but on their own.
I don't role play in Eve. When I'm in game, I'm using Kirith Kodachi the character but it's me, Bill, talking and making decisions, and choosing to shoot that ship. That's not to say I don't think about what my character might think and feel if I was actually roleplaying him, and my "Fiction Friday" series is evidence of that. Its just that I prefer to not add that extra level of complexity to my game when I'm in game. I have been tempted in the past, back before I found m3 Corp, to join a role play alliance and let my right brain have some free rein (I even tried to apply to Ushra'Khan at one point but I was turned down, don't remember the details, was a long time ago) but it was never a driving need for me.
(Although, I have to admit that right now, the fiction I have for Kirith in which he is disillusioned with the Caldari State ideals and hates slavery, does not jibe with being in an alliance allied with CVA. It was hard enough living in Amarr space! I am trying to mentally reconcile that still. Someday I will return to my adopted homeland in Molden Heath! ... OMG, I'm roleplaying!)
So the question is, why has role playing become an oddity in these "Role Playing games"? I believe there are a number of reasons.
1) The introduction of single player RPGs.
The Dungeons and Dragons "gold box series" set the tone for many copycats for years after, and in that game it took a traditional static group role playing game and turned it into a single player experience with the game acting as Dungeon Master and the player as all characters in the party (typically six). The result was that there is no other role players to feed off of and by inspired by, and as you are playing 6 characters its harder to "get into character" as it were. The divorce of the character and the player is important as it turns the player into a gamer as opposed to role player. Also, game itself, i.e. the Dungeon Master, is a fixed obstacle without any built in human judgment to make the game enjoyable for a player who is struggling. This means that the game rewards optimal decision making rather than character decision making whereas in a pencil and paper game the person acting as the Dungeon Master can more easily change parameters to scale the adventure and reward in-character decisions and acting.
2) The introduction of strangers.
As RPGs moved into the online world and brought about the idea of Massively Multiplayer Online games, the other people make it harder to roleplay. It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to start talking to greet a player you do not know with "Forsooth good mage, I am Lord Lucas Draknoght, knight in the Order of the Obsidian Tempest!" rather than "hi there, how's it going?". In a group where you know everyone well and everyone else is also roleplaying, its ok. In a public sphere, its a different matter.
3) The introduction of casual players.
In order to boost sales and number of subscriptions, role playing games strive to appeal to people who may not have ever played a role playing game before and don't want to. They just want to play a game, Peggle , WoW, Batman, whatever. Thus fewer players in the population role play and fewer people are encouraged to do so.
4) Alts and level caps and progression ramps, OH MY
Since many games have a strict character roles (i.e. DPS, Tank, Healer) and level caps such that a character stops progressing when they reach a level cap (admittedly there are others ways to progress but the main method is fixed). Couple that with lower and lower progression ramps and you have players often playing many different characters (i.e. alts) in order to try different roles and continue to progress, thus further divorcing player from character.
My last, and most controversial point I suspect, is that as games develop further into communities working towards common goals there is no need to roleplay. I don't have to roleplay a character fighting a war with thousands of allies against thousands of enemies in a battle to control resources and living space because I AM fighting a war with thousands of allies against thousands of enemies in a battle to control resources and living space. Eve is interesting in the same way a sport is interesting to participate in; you have competition, camaraderie, glorious victory, ignominious defeat, and at the end of the day everyone goes home to have a beer and go to bed.
To Be Or Not To Be...
So there you have it. My rambling post on role playing in todays "role play" games. I'd love to hear comments on what others have to think and say.