Jim Moreno's "RoleCraft" MMO ColumnRoleCraft: Balancing RoleplayJim Moreno's "RoleCraft" MMO Column - RSS 2.0
Welcome back to RoleCraft, fellow roleplayers! This edition will once again be hearkening back to my roots of RP, the Dungeons & Dragons game. This past Saturday (March 20) was Worldwide Dungeons & Dragons Game Day, and I of course made sure to attend the closest place hosting an official function. Not only that, but I also had the honor of introducing the game to four people who had never played D&D before. We came, we roleplayed, and we conquered the dark denizens Beneath the Lonely Tower, and we all had a very fun day.
Sure, much the same fun can be had MMORPG roleplaying. I know I've spent many hours alone at my computer, yet still felt close to those with whom I'm playing in many online RP sessions. However, this article is not to compare the two genres. I was struck yet again by the dynamics that each genre has to offer us roleplayers, especially to those who are brand new at one or both, so I instead hope to bring to your attention these dynamics, and how they can be experienced in balance.
If you're sole RP time is spent in MMORPGs, I implore you, get out of the house and find or start an offline gaming group. If you are currently only involved with such a gaming group, and are possibly finding it a hassle to gather friends and family for weekly or monthly games, and still desire to scratch your RP itch when it's most convenient to you, then MMORPGs may just be the answer. Either path you take, there are many ways their dynamics cross over into each other, and will I believe ultimately help you into becoming a much better roleplayer.
Two specific dynamics are crucial to each: imagination and interaction. In some ways these are shared between the two, yet I think they each have their own primary side they do best with, hence, the need for a balance. Imagination is the key ingredient with D&D, and interaction with an MMORPG is its' mainstay. If you only play one or the other, I feel you are missing out on a lot of roleplaying potential. However, if you can somehow do both on a regular basis, then not only will your RP skills benefit, so will the fun factor, and that's what gaming is about, right?
During my Game Day, I watched four people, two males and two females, ranging in ages from 17 to 30, step out of themselves and into an almost completely foreign world, and it required nothing but pen, some paper, some odd-shaped dice, and their imaginations. Introducing them to D&D (and RP) in this manner was so much easier than doing the same through an MMORPG. Everyone has an imagination, and the pictures it can create are without compare, even for the best computers, which makes the time in game seem much more alive.
Imagination also played a grand part by way of problem-solving, in that each person was able to bring their own wisdom and real-life experiences into the game during our encounters. In the case of an MMORPG, the presiding judge in action-outcome decisions is the game AI, and like imagination, is sorely lacking when compared to human intelligence. These new players were able to look at an encounter from four distinctive points of view, rapidly pool their unique character skill sets together, come up with a number of solutions, and talk each of them over with the Dungeon Master. It worked every time. It worked especially well when one person noticed their character had a set ability that almost exactly matched one of their real-life traits, which resulted in an exceptional outcome for the entire party in an encounter with an adult white dragon. Being able to use such subtle nuances with both imagination and intelligence in an offline game are what help make it much more pleasing for new and old players alike.
MMORPGs often pride themselves on their level of interaction with the game, and many rightfully so. Since at their core they take their cue much more from first-person shooter games than from roleplaying games, the prevailing mentality is one of keeping the player engaged, through sight, sound, and action. Whether a player is strolling solo through the beauty that is the Shire in Lord of the Rings Online, to hacking and slashing and slinging spells against the Lich King with a full raid group in World of Warcraft, MMORPGs know how keep you physically and mentally involved in their worlds.
Even the veil of anonymity that is provided through MMORPGs can very often help a player be more interactive, especially when involved with a guild and using Ventrilo or some like server for voice communications. I know of more than a few people who simply prefer to stay at home in their downtime and log into their favorite MMORPG, and they seem to get the same if not better level of personal satisfaction from meeting online friends as I do meeting friends offline. In my case, for example, I've learned how to better seek out fellow roleplayers in online games, which many times has resulted in meeting them offline, and fostered more in game RP sessions.
The fact that MMORPGs also provide a quick solo play experience is another factor that cannot be overlooked. Of my party for Game Day, all four of my fellow players had some previous experience with a MMORPG or CRPG.
Thankfully, they also all had positive experiences, enough so that it sparked their interest in learning more about offline game play.
Finding MMORPGs to play is relatively easy, as there seems to be a new one released weekly. Google is perhaps your best friend here, or chances are you know someone who is an avid MMORPG player and is more than willing to help. Finding an offline gaming group may be more difficult. Wizards of the Coast recently started D&D Encounters, a weekly game session that is hopefully being hosted somewhere close to you. This is a great way for getting into D&D for the first time. As for where games are being played, use their handy Store & Event Locator, or join Meetup.com and search for D&D groups in your area. This is how I came to join the Rocket City Table Gamers, and was able to find a local place for my D&D Game Day pleasure. And if by chance none of those options pan out for you, then there's nothing wrong with starting your own group.
So, despite being very different genres, MMORPGs and tabletop RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons do share some very essential elements, and what elements one is missing or weak on, the other can help bolster, as in the cases of imagination and interaction. The way I look at it, roleplaying is roleplaying, no matter if it's dice or mice. Enjoying RP one way can almost surely help to enjoy RP the other way. Until next time, role on!
Do you play both online and offline roleplaying games? Share your favorite games and gaming groups in the Comments section here, tweet them to @RoleCraft, and join the RoleCraft Facebook Group to sound off there. Thank you for reading and roleplaying!