Roleplay has many meanings, but in this case we are talking about MMORPG's and their forerunners. Now, for those of you that don't know, an MMORPG is a Massively Multimillion Online Role-playing Game. In an MMORPG, you can talk to, work with and make friends with millions of other players over the Internet through the game, using your character as an avatar you control to carry out the interactions. Many people play like this, with their characters as simply extensions of themselves. Some people, however, prefer to treat and act is if their character was a different person, with a background story, likes, dislikes and personalities. These are the people who, regardless of whether or not they are on a Role-Play server, are role-players.
Before there was the world of MMORPG'S as we know today, there was pen and paper role-play. Pen and paper role-play, or tabletop role play, was overseen by a dungeon/ game master (D/GM) who created and sculpted a story, throwing challenges and triumphs in the way of characters that players created by speech and the throw of a dice. The people participating in a role-play would create their characters with little more than an idea of what they were like, and with their strengths and weaknesses often derived from how high, or low, the roll of a dice was that game. Players that played often would be more likely to have a set amount of each trait for their characters, and would adjust it a little for each game. During a game, players would describe how their character would react to each twist and turn of the plot, with the reactions tempered by the laws set down by the game master and also by their characters limitations. For example, a character with a low Intellect score would struggle to solve puzzles that required wit, and this would be reflected in the gameplay. When doing an article about role-play, you have to pay homage to arguably one of the best table top role-play games ever, so here it is: Dungeons and Dragons, the role-play game that inspired millions! Unfortunately I have never taken part in one of these games, and can only imagine the skill required to adventure in a world you couldn't see, against trials you couldn't see, with a character that only existed in your imagination!
Similar to the pen and paper role-play was another form of role-play: game books. These books were more singular, and you only had a choice of around three endings if you were lucky! The reader would have a predetermined character created by the author of the book, and on each page would have to make a decision based on the events that had unfolded. The character wouldn't , however, be some kind of unstoppable hero. Instead, he would have statistics that would be determined by a dice roll before the game. Common examples of these statistics include Strength, Luck, Wisdom or Intellect and Charm. Most often, two dice were rolled to create a ?/12 score, that would change each game. The score you rolled would limit or expand on the choice you could make. For example, someone with a high Strength score might be able to lift a huge boulder out the way, whilst one with a high Intellect might be able to lever the boulder out of the way. In this way, the way you progressed was limited by factors out of your control and so the gameplay was more realistic.
Back on to Online Role-Play, and you have the role-play found sprawled over chat rooms, instant messaging services and forums. These role-plays are very similar to the original table top ones, however instead of a group of friends getting together on a Saturday night, you could have up to hundreds of people taking part from all over the world and at any time of the day. During these role-plays friendships and worlds were formed over the course of years or hours, to last a lifetime or a day. One problem that cropped up frequently, however, was the amount of insanely powerful characters that could save the world by blinking, or destroy it with an accidental sneeze. Due to the constant, shifting nature of forum and chat room role-play, it was hard to stamp out people who made life difficult. Nonetheless, those chat room role-plays are considered by many to be the starting stone of modern MMORPGs, which brings us nicely on to to subject of role-play in WoW!
Role-play in World of Warcraft is hard to describe. For a start, there are no set DM's making up and enforcing story lines: all that stuff is player created. All story lines have to stick to the history, or lore, provided by Blizzard, but this isn't hard as despite problems with the timeline there is a lot to work with! Statistics such as Strength, Intellect and Agility do not play such a large role in helping you overcome difficulties, instead they help your character become more powerful in fighting monsters. For example, you could play as a witty and intelligent Warrior, but as warriors do not need Intellect to become more powerful, your statistics would not reflect this. Once again, this lack of boundaries allows creation of over-powerful villains and heroes.
But, it isn't all bad. One of the best things about it is that it is a world you can see and hear, if not touch, with players your character can “physically” interact with. This creates a better immersion and also a basis to create long lasting and more complex plots, as your imagination is not overly stretched to cover both the world and the story line. Working within the lore, you can create a complex character, with a physical appearance you and others can see and have great fun making new friends and developing your character in a ready made world!
Hopefully, this summary will have helped you understand what role-play is, and how it has changed over time. Check out my other articles coming up later for more information on role-play in the amazing World of Warcraft!