When you hear about “roleplaying” in an MMO, the first thing that will probably rush to your mind is level 1 human females running around Goldshire Inn sending winky faces and selling their virtual bodies for in-game gold via a series of private messages composed of erotic text, thrown together almost more carelessly than the works of Fifty Shades of Grey. But when you take away some of the more modern experiments with the MMO experience, what was the full name of the genre? MMORPG.
Roleplaying is not about getting naked and kinky with your overenthusiastic level 1, but instead the idea of creating a fictional element to your in-game character. Even when you get past the stigmatic notion of nude dudes swapping pubes, the typical expectation of roleplaying a character is that you walk rather than run, speak as that character would, and imagine yourself to be living in the game world rather than playing it. And some people enjoy this, I’m not knocking it, I find it to be an interesting experiment into fiction. Nor am I denying that this is roleplaying, as that’d be absurd. What I am denying is that roleplaying has to be a different approach to playing the game, and that only a minority of players do this.
In my eyes, roleplaying is done by many of us and we don’t even realise it. Once you spend more than a few seconds in the character customisation screen, choosing your forehead colour and elongating your nose, you may have already started to question just what your High Elf is even doing in Helgen. You don’t even have to flesh out the backstory; just paying attention to the story in relation to your character and the significance of these events is enough to warrant the title of roleplayer. I find that giving your character a good name, personality, and contextual presence within the game world, as well as a set of dashing good looks is enough to enhance your gameplay experience. In all of my previous gameplays, I’d been dashing around the land as Kritigri the whatever-the-race-he-felt-like-choosing-at-the-time, ignoring backstory and killing at will. Now that I’ve actually stopped to give thought as to my character within the game, I’m much more receptive to the world and find that it just can’t be ignord.
…yeah, that was terrible.
The most prominent example I have of the difference between passively roleplaying and not is a World of Warcraft character I once had. My friend and I decided to make Worgens, and given the restrictions of class combinations, I ended up making a Worgen Shadow Priest whom I named Kritigrawr. He made it all the way to level 50 before his name, race / class combo and the ridiculous appearance of a wolf in robes bothered me enough to delete him. He has since been replaced with a Human Discipline Priest, and her name is Divinitaine. I have thoroughly enjoyed this change, and have made similar deletions in the past, typically deleting a character whose name was a variant of “Kritigri” (see: Kritigrawr the Worgen Priest, Kritigro the Dwarf Warlock, Kritigru the Draenei Monk) to make more befitting names and races (i.e the aforementioned Divinitaine, Netherwarp the Human Warlock and, ah… Thunker, the Human Monk. The name amuses me.)
Some RPGs such as Borderlands and the Witcher put you into the boots of a character with little to no customisability. From a narrative standpoint, this has its merits and advantages (I’ve only played a little of the first Witcher game but I already very much like Geralt), and your immersion lends itself more to the story of that particular character than your own passive roleplay. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing, for I sure as hell know I wouldn’t be able to create as much of a glorious Italian badass as the Ezio Auditore that Assassin’s Creed 2 through Revelations presented me with.