How better to follow on from Nicodemus than scavenging a throwaway line from post? Well, there are probably a plethora of better ways but that’s the one I’m going to use. But this isn’t going to be an examination of what little we the Un-beta’d know about how Tabula Rasa may or may not be providing players with ethical dilemmas in its quest structure nor is it going to postulate as to exactly how a being “shooter” does not necessarily exclude a game from being an RPG. That’s dull and tedious conversation and just needs exhibit A: System Shock and exhibit B: Deus Ex to make the case.
This is about the lack of RP in MMORPG.
I’m not a roleplayer. Actually, that’s not quite true. I’m certainly not a hardcore, walk don’t run, 58 pages of backstory, consistent characterization, “Verily where doth thine will taketh thine good self on this fine morn whence the birds are singingeth and the mead doth flow generously from thine goblet which doth overflow with, um, mead. Forsooth! A kobold! Come, let us put paid to the rascally rascal and claim the bountiful bounty from the good captain yonder! Have at ye, foul egg!” type of roleplayer. I’m more a have an idea for a character and a story and that’s about it. I blame it on my old screenwriting habit. It’s okay though – I’ve got it under control as long as I keep taking the pills.
Where was I? Oh right, not being a roleplayer. That was relevant because? Oh yeah, because if I was, I’d be amazingly frustrated by the lack of RP in self proclaimed MMORPGs. The RP in that acronym, I’m assured, stands for Role Playing. Yet, in my experience, the games that call themselves MMORPGs don’t actually let you RP.
When I first had a crack at World of Warcraft, I figured I’d play safe and so created a human Paladin. (No sniggering at the back there – I was young and innocent.) Now, my understanding of what a Paladin is comes from the days when I used to browse through the AD&D Players Manual, dreaming of the day when I might have some friends who’d be interested in playing the game with me. Paladin: righteous warrior and holy knight. Lawful good alignment, devout and just. Heroic champions: e.g. Knights of the Round Table, 12 Paladins of Charlemagne etc. So I got me a Paladin, gave it a name (Rodney the Virtuous) and set out to right the wrongs of the world of Azeroth.
Eventually, having snuffed out the candles of the kobold miners (because they’re kobolds right and are definitely evil – you can tell by looking) I presented myself for duty at Deputy Willem, a fine upstanding young man with strong promotion prospects. The conversation went something like this:
Deputy Willem: Hello Wodney, how art thou today?
Rodney: Um, it’s Rodney.
Deputy Willem: Whatever! Please go to the vineyards and choppeth off the head of one Gawwick Padfoot, a notowious vagabond and wascal who has wampaged awound the valley causing much twouble.
Rodney: You mean kill him?
Deputy Willem: You’re not as stupid as you look? Yes, that’s what I mean!
Rodney: Couldn’t I just, I don’t know, arrest him?
Deputy Willem: What? Didn’t you hear what I said? I want you to bring me back his head!
Rodney: But surely in the name of Justice and the Greater Good, it would be better if I arrested him and then he could be brought to trial?
Deputy Willem: The decision’s been made. Why are we still having this conversation?
Rodney: What happens if I don’t kill him?
Deputy Willem: You don’t get given the nice shinies and won’t be ready to take on the might of the Evil Horde.
Rodney: So, no justice then. Or mercy.
Deputy Willem: Nope, none. Just his head. On a plate. And hurry up, there’s a queue behind you.
Rodney: By the way, what happened to your speech impediment? You know – the Wodney thing?
Deputy Willem: What speech impediment? Haven’t you got some killing to be doing? Get lost, Justice boy!
Disappointed by the apparent ruthlessness of the Alliance, I logged out and decided to try a Tauren – previously described to me as “Evil Cow Men”. Evil could be good. In fact, it could be fun. A few minutes later and Drakyn “Don’t call me Daisy” Fleshrender, Tauren Hunter, bestrode Red Cloud Mesa. I went to swear my allegiance to the might Chief Hawkwind, proud warrior of the Evil Cow-type people.
Drakyn: Chief Hawkwind, please accept my bow and my blade into your service. I am yours to command. What is thy bidding, my master?
Chief Hawkwind: Good. Your hate makes you strong. Before this day is out, we will crush the kobold menace and drive the centaurs from our lands. Then we will join our allies in the mighty Horde and strike against the Elves and the Humans and those annoying little gnobby garden ornament things. Go forth, cleave their heads from shoulders, spill their blood and let it drench the shores of Kalimdor.
Drakyn: Heads, cleave, maximum blood spillage. Gotcha! When do we start?
Chief Hawkwind: First things first, could you just pop down to the well and check on my mother for me?
SWG made some attempt at addressing this with a quest in the Trials of Obi-Wan expansion.
Daarth Revan23: Hello beardy one. I’ve got that Macguffin you sent me after. What now?
Obi-Wan: Well, padawan…
Daarth Revan23: Padawan? I’m only 2 boxes away from Master!
Obi-Wan: 2 boxes you say? Well, don’t get too attached. Always in motion the future.
Daarth Revan23: What?
Obi-Wan: Nothing. Forget I said anything. Anyway, are you going to give me that thing or not?
Daarth Revan23: Well, it’s kinda shiny. And the stats are pretty good. And it would be totally in keeping with my dark side character to not give it to you.
Obi-Wan: Yes, but it would be the right thing to do to give it to me.
Daarth Revan23: Yeah, but I’m kinda like all dark sidey, ya know. I mean I learnt Force Lightning and I got Force Choke down pat. Hell, I even got red crystals in my dual blade lightsabre. I’m bad, dude.
Obi-Wan: If you give me that thing, I’ll give you something in return.
Daarth Revan23: What sort of something?
Obi-Wan: Well, it’s another macguffin but it’s a little shinier.
Daarth Revan23: Oh? Really?
Obi-Wan: Ya, really! And I’ll tell everyone what I good job you did and how much you helped me.
Daarth Revan23: But dude, I just told you. I’m all bad and mean and dark side. I kick light side ass! I’m totally the next Sith Lord.
Obi-Wan: Shiny shiny!
Daarth Revan23: This is so unfair. Okay, here’s the one you wanted – now gimme that. Just please don’t tell anyone I did a good thing, ‘kay?
Obi-Wan: Whatever! It’ll probably get nerfed after the NGE anyway.
Daarth Revan23: NG what?
Obi-Wan: Nothing! See ya round. Force be with you and all that crap – you’re gonna need it!
Richard Garriott is making a big thing about the forthcoming Tabula Rasa giving the player “ethical decisions” to make that will have an impact on future quest chains. Decisions like “Do I let the CIA use my airspace for their Rendition flights in return for future trade deals” which implicitly assume… oh wait, sorry, wrong game.
Perhaps in the future, MMOGs will earn back the right to include the RP part of the acronym. At the moment, if you want a game to react to your decisions, you’re better off exploring the single player world. So go now, walk out that door. Don’t turn around, just dig out that old copy of Deus Ex and just check out your bosses reaction to you investigating the ladies toilets in the UNATCO base. And if Deputy Willem objects to you using the tranq gun on the NSF terrorists, flip him the bird and tell him to Jog on!