Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Play Warcraft, or Roleplay Warcraft?

Roleplay, in the traditional sense (*cough*), means assuming a role or identity and act out based upon it. In theory we all should be doing this, World or Warcraft is after all an MMORPG. This is especially the case on RP servers, where identities are assumed and whole events are planned out based upon those identities.

After being questioned for the nth time ‘Why do you play a female Paladin?’ or some years ago ‘Why do you play a female Rogue?’ (strangely it never came up on my original character, a Human Male Paladin) I didn’t give the usual pithy response of ‘I’d rather be looking at a chicks backside for 30 days /played’. I did something rather novel (for me) and went and had a think about it. This is what I came up with.

Any character I’m playing isn’t an extension of me, nor a deliberate extension of some facet of my own personality. I don’t seek to make any distinction between ‘in character’ or ‘out of character’ because my character has no personality of his or her own. Nor have I taken the other route and crafted an elaborate backstory for any of my characters, and wouldn't seriously consider doing so; such an enlightened activity can wait for my first mid-life crisis when I sit down to write a novel ;). I am therefore not an actor, playing out what I believe my character would do in a story-based situation. I won't choose to not do a quest because of a pretty arbitrary imaginary construct.

And so I feel almost a sense of geek class betrayal in saying this, but I don’t roleplay.

This mode of play is fine in WoW because your gameplay experience doesn’t change much with the personality you choose to imbue your character. Choices, beyond gear and spec, are few and far between; killing or not killing innocent NPC X doesn’t bite you on the backside 10 levels later (though it might in Wrath, depending on how Blizzard want to run with their Phasing mechanic). RP in WoW is a social construct, rather than an integral part of the way Blizzard has chosen to implement the game world.

I treat RPG’s such as WoW, or Final Fantasy, or even good old Diablo 2, in much the same way I approach First Person Shooters. The character is just a vehicle for me to experience the game, or learn the game mechanics, or have fun with online friends. Imbuing it with personality of it's own feels like giving a unique identity to my Counter Strike avatar. Not doing so makes it much easier for me to drop the game for months at a time if I’m getting frustrated with inactivity, but maybe because of this I lose out on some of the social aspect of gaming. So questions like ‘Why do you play a woman’ in WoW seem as strange as ‘why do you play a woman’ in Diablo 2.

In a wider sense the same line of thought has lead me away from getting involved in LARP, or even table-top RPG gameplay. I’d have to admit that there’s also been a certain amount of selfishness involved in that choice on my part - if I don’t invest too much time or emotion into such an enterprise I can drop it whenever I like and no-one can complain too much.

Well, that was something of a ramble. I think I'll finish it off with a video clip of a man who had something of the opposite problem:


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