Posted by: Sean | August 26, 2008

Theme Week Genre: WoW’s a Mumorpger!

Right now, half of you are rolling your eyes at me, and the other half are saying, “Well duh!” Yeah, I know, it’s an obvious answer here, but it’s an important one to say; there are certain hurdles to role-playing in the MMORPG genre that are simply insurmountable. Others could be fixed, but it would require radically overhauling the way World of Warcraft runs.

  • Dude, you kick ass. Every single person in World of Warcraft can kick the shit out you. Unless, perhaps, you’re a soldier, policeman, martial arts expert or criminal. But in general, this is true. Your newbie level one priest can kick the crap out of you, the player. They will pick up their mace and proceed to beat you upside the head with it. And before you argue this, consider: A brand new starting character can parry with their weapon. Could you do that? Could you take a sword and parry a strike with it? No, you couldn’t. Admit it.This is a problem. Somehow, you need to either explain or handwave every single character of yours being able to kick a whole lot of ass. And I admit, I’m lousy at it. My gnomish rogue, Fulthruttle McKenzie Wintersmith, is a rogue because she sneaks well. So how the living fury of hell does she manage to serve up kobolds nicely filleted with pepper sauce? Nothing, nothing at all in her backstory says she should be able to.And my undead warrior is even worse! Baron Ligradi DeMontafe claims to have been in the navy, which explains his swordsmanship, and would be a wonderful explanation if it weren’t for the fact that it’s a complete and total lie. He’s a delusional madman who was a watchmaker. How, I ask you, does insanity somehow grant kickass sword swinging? It absolutely doesn’t!

    Some races are better than other. Pretty much any orc has a built in excuse for combat ability. Night elves do seem to have a fair warrior culture for their women – but where did all these warrior men suddenly come from? David Bowers, I’m hoping damn well you’ll explain this when you get to your Night Elf column. Actually, this gets to my next point quite neatly.

  • You can’t ban people from doing things in any meaningful way. So, you’re a pious priest of the Holy Light. No shadow magic for you! Bravo! We applaud your commitment to role-playing even at the expense of raiding versatility. It’s a damn shame that the other priest in your raid is there whacking down Mind Control on everything that moves, all in the name of purity and goodness. Kind of an immersion breaker. You really just can’t put in the kind of role-playing constraints you could put into a tabletop game unless you were prepared to alienate the entire non-role playing player base. Nobody is seriously calling for Blizzard to do this, are they? Good.(To be fair, and to answer Jess’s concerns in advance, this is more true for a Night Elf, Draenei or Human priest than really any other race. All the horde races don’t really have the Light/Shadow distinction that the Alliance do, and even the Dwarves make sense swinging around both as priests of the Titans. Still, as an example of a broader issue, I think my point holds.)

    Or what about the previous Night Elf example? Lore is really freaking clear on this – In Warcraft 3, women are Night Elf priestesses and warriors, while men are druids. These gender roles seem to be a part of their society. So why the heck are there women shapeshifting like crazy in Darnassus nowadays? In the tiny intervening period between Warcraft 3 and World of Warcraft, where were the massive Swordcraft for Men community workshops taking place? It’s nonsensical… but it’s required. Can you imagine the uproar if you banned female PCs from being druids? Or male ones from being warriors? Fuggedaboutit. It ain’t happening.We are never going to get rid of the naked Night Elf dancing on the mail box. We’re just not going to. There are some real immersion breakers to an MMORPG that would never exist within role-playing in just about any other platform.

  • He’s never going to build that damn trebuchet. And so, the mighty warrior Katafray strode out upon his mighty quest, to kill ten, but no more than ten, mangy wolves. Truly, epic fantasy at its finest. But like it or not, this is something you’re going to be doing more than you’d like. It’s easy enough to separate the OOC going around killing things from the IC character interactions, even when they’re occurring in parallel, and very rarely you can make a quest into part of an IC story. (Instances are gold for this – I had a blast role-playing through Gnomeregan.) And I know, this is an old complaint. Everyone’s had a go at the static, repetitive nature of an MMORPG and how it leads to really weird consistency issues.But it has other odd issues when you throw role-play into the mix. If you’ve done the full Defias plotline from early in the Alliance side, you will eventually be party to a political assassination; murdering both a Stormwind noble who’d been providing the Defias with support, and his Defias liason. Do you claim responsibility for this deed? To someone else who’s likely done the exact same thing? How can you both have done it? I tend to get around this with generalities – My rogue performed an assassination, but I’m not about to say whom. It forms a nice rumor about her, it doesn’t tread on other people’s stories, and it works. But you have to do this over and over again. Sooner or later, you want to hear a proper noun.

Like it or not, World of Warcraft, or any other MMORPG, is not the ideal role-playing platform. That’s not to trash the role-play going on there, not at all. (And as a side note, when I said that MMORPG role-playing is like a soap opera, I did not mean that as an insult, it’s true of 90% of all role-playing games in any platform, and I’m including my play as well.) But let’s be honest with ourselves and admit it – We do a lot of handwaving to make our play work. And some things will never be any better.

But some could.

  • Blizzard could reduce the number of role-play realms, offering free transfers to anyone on a realm that’s going to be turned into a regular PVE realm. The biggest problem with role-playing on World of Warcraft is the sheer level of noise to signal. Even on Moon Guard, which has the highest saturation of role-players (and Blood Elves, but that’s another story,) I’ve ever seen still has probably twenty regular players to role-players, and I’m probably being ludicrously generous. If Blizzard really wanted to foster role-play, they should cut down the number of role-play realms to one per time zone slot. (Adding in one for both the Oceanic and Latin America zones in the process.) Perhaps one RP, and one RP-PVP realm per time zone. All others would be turned into plain old PVE or PVP realms. Free transfers to one of the new RP realms would be offered, along with a statement that this is aimed at improving role-play. And once this is done, no-one starting the game should be recommended an RP realm unless they’ve actually stated that’s what they’re interested in. Would this get rid of non-role players on role-play realms? No, but it would increase the percentage remarkably.
  • Blizzard could enforce the damn rules a lot better. Blizzard are really freaking odd about what they choose to hammer down on and what they leave. Twinking is fine, but the Ghost Wolf had to be hot-fixed out of existence. One of the things they don’t choose to hammer down on is the naming policy. You can report Legolass as much as you want and it won’t ever be changed. Sylvunas is staying right where she is. Dammit, Blizzard, this is stupid. Don’t have a policy then ignore it – Tell your GMs to enforce the rules as they’re stated, or change the rules. Not only will you improve immersion for role-players, you’ll improve trust among all your players.
  • Blizzard could introduce guild halls or other role-play elements. Credit again to David Bowers for observing that Blizzard don’t seem to understand role-players that well. This is something that would need to change. Happily, this is happening a little – Hairdressers are a gift to role-players, and there will be other smaller things we can use. But still, more off-hand items that look like books or other common, everyday items would be nice. We like simple props.

Not every element of an MMORPG is hostile to role-playing, and some of the problems in World of Warcraft are fixable. But remember this, before you whine to Blizzard about how badly role-players are treated: You’re playing in the MMORPG genre. Some parts of it just aren’t meant for role-play, and you’re always going to have to fight over them.

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