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Rolling With Role-Players

Updated Sun, Dec 20, 2009 by B. de la Durantaye

Age of Conan is just around the corner, and as with any game, the community is establishing itself. One of the longest-established groups of players is the role-player. They've been around since well before Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOG) have hit the market, and continue to populate the computer games today. But the role-player population at times seems to be dwindling. Has its day passed only to make way for a more combat-centric gaming experience?

If you don’t know what a role-player is, chances are you haven’t been communicating much with the rest of the gamers in whatever MMOG you are playing. Role-players are the people you may see in game acting in character, doing or saying things as their in-game character would.

We sat down with four role-players from the upcoming game of Age of Conan to hear their thoughts and experiences as role-players. Not surprisingly, they all had similar comments.

One of the first things we wanted to uncover was the age-old mystery of why people choose to roleplay. Isn’t a MMOG just about the game? Killing monsters and baddies, and getting loot? Not to Khalathwyr, a veteran role-player of almost 18 years, from the guild “Dark Haven.” Khalathwyr describes his in-game persona as "akin to Robin Hood, but a little 'darker.'"

MMORPG. The genre name says a lot,” explains Khalathwyr. “I understand that some gamers want to just ‘play a game’ and not get involved with role-playing, which is perfectly ok. There are, however, many gamers who grew up playing pencil and paper RPGs and enjoy taking that experience to a computer game format with other players.

“I roleplay because it allows me to gain further enjoyment out of the world my character is in. Anyone who has watched any of the Conan and Star Wars movies or read any of the novels and thought to themselves ‘How cool would it be to live in that universe?’ has an understanding of why I roleplay.”

Khalathwyr isn’t alone in his desire to take the games he plays to further levels that the average player may not experience. In fact, all of the players we spoke with said the same thing; they roleplay to have fun. Except Rocqu who plays an assassin from the guild “Sanguiphoria.” He says he does it to meet chicks.

"I mainly look for what the game developers are putting into their game that does not
directly involve bashing something over the head." - Khalathwyr

Rocqu may be onto something though. Among the players we interviewed was Laura “Arcania Arabell” Johnston, who has been role-playing since 2002. She describes her character as "young but savvy, and quite determined," and is part of the European guild “Dark Desires” who have caused quite a bit of a buzz on the internet with their unique guild setting.

“We're a group of role-players who enjoy the more adult and sensual RP themes,” Arcania explains. “I need to stress that we're not a guild based upon the desire to have cyber sex at every turn; quite the opposite. We're just a group of people who enjoy role-play[ing] with a more fun twist than the clichéd themes of mighty warriors or hardy Amazons - roleplay with a kink.”

While not uncommon for a role-playing guild to have a theme, a self-described “prostitution guild” is certainly not commonplace, and has been met with a lot of cynicism.

“At the start there was a LOT of hate,” Arcania tells us, “whether on our [forum] threads or in our PM boxes.

“These days though, we sit in quite high regard with other RP guilds and just other guilds in general. When people started to realize that we're not sexually depraved children and we're not pedophiles, the hostility died down and people started to get to know us. 

“We still get the odd nasty PM or message, but the person is usually 'converted' and they realize that their stereotypes serve no real purpose.”

Stereotypes play a large role in the gaming community’s views of role-players as well, and these stereotypes can lead to animosity. So the question then becomes whether or not it proves to be beneficial to have an entire server, or set of servers, dedicated specifically to role-playing.

“There can be a lot of hate on servers geared towards hardcore RP Guilds,” Arcania continues, “so to have a server specificaly for RP is a big plus.”

“Not only is it fun to actually be immersed in a world where people are acting out their characters but ‘usually’ the players are a bit more mature,” says Zason, a theatre major, and emissary of the guild Sanguiphoria when he was asked about his feelings on role-playing servers.

But what do people actually do on a role-playing server or in a role-playing guild? Is it just a bunch of running around, talking in character, never actually accomplishing anything?

“The player city we had in Star Wars Galaxies held dueling contests, marriages, speederbike races, [and] elections,” Khalathwyr tells us. This time Khalathwyr’s guild plans on building another city in Age of Conan to serve as an economic hub.

“Our primary goal is to establish the city of Dark Haven,” Khalathwyr details, “bringing together a diverse and talented community of craft-oriented players as well as hardy adventurers. We would like to see the city grow to become a true center of trade, with players on our server knowing that they can always come to Dark Haven and find a wide selection of goods readily available, and the finest crafters around available to take custom orders. We understand not everyone will want to be in a guild and thus may not have access to higher end craft goods. We want to be a place those players can always turn to.”

That’s a pretty hefty goal, and can certainly be seen as an incredible accomplishment should Dark Haven succeed in their plans. Part of the challenge they may face is that Age of Conan hasn’t been focused primarily on the crafting aspect of the game. One of the real draws of the game, it gloats, is its robust PvP content.

But how does PvP fit in from a role-player’s perspective? While Dark Haven and other guilds may settle themselves on a PvE server, other role-playing guilds like Sanguiphoria have decided to land themselves deep into the PvP game.

“To really feel part of Robert Howard's universe we think a PvP server would feel more like the world Howard portrayed in his stories,” says Rocqu.

“I think there are a few RP/PvP guilds out there. I think what a lot of people want out of Age of Conan are mature guilds where we can fight against one another and have fun doing it. The RP in PvP helps keep the exploiters and gankers out of guilds that want to have fair and epic battles between one another.”

Actors of "Who's Line is it Anyway?"

"Sometimes it feels like I'm watching an improv comedy show that I'm a part of." - Rocqu

“For us, it comes down to the thrill of the hunt,” adds Zason. “Many of us are really into the PvP aspect and the freedom that can come with it. I like it if someone is giving you a hard time; you have the option to feed him your sword.”

Sanguiphoria has teamed up with other like-minded guilds to form what they refer to as the “Hyborian Accord,” which is a group of role-playing guilds with its own political stories.

“We have had good and bad experiences within our own ranks and in the Age of Conan community; there are always those who sneer at the idea of role-play[ing],” Zason goes on to explain. “That is why role-players should stick together and be on friendly terms OOC (Out Of Character). We are in a group with other role-play[ing] guilds called the Hyborian Accord. We have alliances and enemies within the accord. I think it’s better this way.”

Even with all of the stories within the guild and the Accord, the fun involved, and the events planned, it’s not always easy to get others to try out role-playing and to join in on the fun. Sometimes it takes a bit of motivation to have friends join the festivities in a role-playing spirit.

Khalathwyr says that “encouragement mainly comes from a few people taking the lead and just being in character themselves. Those that wish to give it a shot usually jump right in and, I hope, find it's not a big weird bear that so many people on forums make it out to be.”

“It can be hard sometimes depending on who is in your group or if everyone starts using ventrilo instead of chat channels,” adds Rocqu.

The major difficulties, though, don’t stem from the player base and an unwillingness or hesitation to participate. Some of the biggest challenges actually come from the games themselves. Developers nowadays just aren’t putting as much focus into the little things that make the world feel alive, and rather concentrate their energies on combat content.

“I think that idea of role-playing is the most streamlined and/or neglected concept when it comes to AAA MMORPG developers today,” tells Khalathwyr. “What I mean by that is that combat is the focus and that other aspects are ancillary if at all included. Everyone gets to play a combatant with meager non-fighting abilities to round the character out. Star Wars Galaxies (Pre NGE) was the last AAA title that I believe gave equal attention to both combat and all things non-combat, and allowed for many enjoyable hours of hanging out with people I'd never met in cantinas listening to the music. I know many believe that it's up to the role-playing community to be creative in this respect and I think that has been the case as much as possible. I do believe, though, that there are many non-combat related items/abilities that companies can add to their games that we've seen in the past, such as in-game books that players can write in; this and other tools of role-playing creativity, that aren't making it into games anymore and the idea of a persistent online world, as opposed to an online game, is narrowing in scope and may be dying.”

Perhaps role-playing is dying. New MMO games come and go a lot more rapidly in today’s market than they did even five years ago. Maybe developers are in such a rush to push a game out to appeal to the immediate masses, that they are overlooking the addition of enough detail into their games to make them feel “alive.” Without this kind of life of its own, it’s not surprising that the lifespan of most MMOGs is a lot shorter than it ever has been in the past. Players, whether role-playing or not, eventually lose interest in something that doesn’t feel immersive. While having a role-playing population may certainly help; if those players aren’t given the tools they need to keep things fresh and involved the game itself may very well stagnate and eventually fade away with all of the other titles that didn’t have what it takes.

Games come and go, but good gaming experiences last decades.

Guild Links:

Dark Haven
Sanguiphoria
Dark Desires

Special Thanks to Arcania, Khalathwyr, Rocqu and Zason for their contributions and comments.

Is role-playing destined to extinction? Are game developers ignoring the one important aspect of games that will give them lasting value? Tell us what you think on the Ten Ton Forums.

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