Introduction to the Role-Playing Series

I had always assumed that the "RP" in MMORPG was ironic. After all, most MMORPGs have had to deliberately set aside designated role-playing servers, and these have always been in the minority. This suggested that role-playing wasn't something most players wanted to do in an MMORPG. At the same time, it was clear that a role-playing subculture existed that operated with its own rules and etiquette. In the most recent survey phase, I decided to explore this player subculture.

I knew from the start that defining what "role-playing" is would be difficult, and yet without a working definition, it would be even harder to figure out what the results meant. So I approached this in two ways. I used an open-ended survey to explore the role-playing space, and in the multiple-choice portion, I presented a loose, working definition of role-playing. Respondents were told that role-playing referred to "creating a novel persona for your character that fits in the context of the game world and interacting with others through that persona". As we'll see, even among self-described role-players, what counts as role-playing can be contentious subject, but overall, a coherent set of guidelines and etiquette do emerge from the open-ended responses.

For some, role-playing is a spontaneous act between two or more players who play out a short scenario on the spot. These players typically do not have background stories and have a low likelihood of interacting again in a role-playing context.

I was standing in my house when a ghost ran in. I tried to resurrect it, but it refused the resurrection. I thought perhaps the player had pushed the wrong button, so I attempted to resurrect again - again it refused. At this point, it occured to me 'aha! a role player?' The ghost's job was much harder than mine as a savage, because a ghost can't even emote... all a ghost can do is OoooOOoo. But I allowed it to lead me around - it was many years ago now so I can't remember - it lead me to a monster which I worked out it wanted me to kill in revenge, then led me to a nearby 'treasure' and disappeared (as a satisfied ghost would). [Irth Online, F, 39]

A murder-mystery that spontaneously occurred, the main catalyst for it, was that some player, had been killed in front of the cantina, then decided to go AFK, leaving his corpse there. only two people started it, but a lot of other players really stepped up well during questioning, it ended with about 8 players staying there, until the issue resolved itself. (Not an 'RP Server, Bria in SWG. SWG doesn't designate servers) [SWG, M, 32]

On the other side of the spectrum are elaborate, sustained interactions between a network of players, each of whom has a background story, some personality quirks, and a set of psychological motivations. The stories amongst these players typically develop over time in a combination of planned and spontaneous scenarios.

What followed was about 3 months of slow, careful build up where my character came more and more to depend on them as her emotional support while they tried very hard to wean her away from her own unhealthy tendencies, while the designated future beau tried to hide her enormous crush (which, of course, my character was wholly oblivious to, as she'd never even consider that someone else might love her again). The day when everything finally came together was one of the greatest moments in RP I've ever had. It was so great to watch something that had been building up for so long finally bear fruit, and it's had more of an impact on that character than anything else to date. I feel truly blessed to have had a chance to participate and help design in such a great story. [WoW, M, 24]

I was at a Guild Wedding for our Guild leader. It was a roleplaying Guild and we had many members. We also had a 'rival' Guild and a whole situation was played out including the kidnapping of the bride and her resue. It was memorable for the great roleplaying efforts of everyone. The Guild leader had invited many players who were not apart of the Guild nor roleplayers so they could see how we operated. It was an enjoyable night for all. [CoH, F, 35]

And of course, there are players at different points on that spectrum. Because I was interested in the specific player subculture amongst the group of players who self-identify as role-players, I emphasize the guidelines and etiquette of the more elaborated role-playing rather than that of the spontaneous role-playing. The data from the surveys is presented in 3 articles:

1) The Demographics of Role-Playing: Quantitative data on how many MMO players role-play, how often they role-play, and whether there are gender or age differences.

2) Faces of Role-Playing: Qualitative data on the personas that role-players create.

3) The Protocols of Role-Playing: Qualitative data on the guidelines and etiquette of role-playing and player's responses on what constitutes good role-playing.

Note: It is also worth noting that role-playing also technically does include sexual role-playing such as in the case of Furry Sex or the sub/dom culture in worlds like Second Life. I think these forms of role-playing are equally interesting and valid, but they are not reported here because, with the exception of one respondent (among 215 respondents in the open-ended responses), no one described participating in role-playing in a sexual context. This may be because role-playing in a fantasy MMO has a particular meaning, and role-playing in a sexual context becomes bracketed off instead as "cybering".