Could an MMORPG ever really become a roleplaying game?

What does an MMO need to really be able to call itself an RPG?

There has never been a true computer-run roleplaying game. Games like Skyrim come close, but the ability to immerse yourself in a role, play the character you want to play with no artificial restrictions and inhabit a truly dynamic world is still the realm of human-led gaming – whether online (even within an MMO “RPG”) or over a table or Google+.

I’ve been roleplaying for 28 years now, and have seen computer gaming get increasingly close to the holy grail over that time – but it’s never quite made it. So, I found the Rampant Coyote’s article on games design and what it would take for a computer game to truly become a roleplaying experience really interesting –

“Whether it’s trying on an idealized persona, experimenting with a role, or acting as an interactive author of your character’s story, role-playing for its own sake can be an extra layer of fun on top of the hacking and slashing and looting and coming up with bad puns to make your friends groan.

It is also something that is extremely difficult to translate into computer games. It’s often very difficult to maintain in tabletop games or even LARPS, as well. But once you have the computer acting as both medium and (in multiplayer games) an intermediary between players, it gets even harder to keep that aspect of RPGs going. After all, the game world itself is completely immune to all but the most coarse of interactions – very little more beyond “destroy,” “loot,” and “trade” – so aside from some canned dialog or story options, there’s really no way to express the subtleties of character. You can’t wink at a barmaid to try and catch her attention, or bribe some of the street urchins to tip you with information when they catch site of your rival, sneer at the mayor as he welcomes you to the town, or treat your horse to an extra bit of oats and an apple and a good brushing to reward it for its courage and the hard run it made to bring you back to the town in safety. These are things that might not make much impact in a human-moderated world either, but might at least gain some acknowledgement from the other humans around the table. They’d at least make a mark on their collective history of the game world to register what kind of person your character is.

Computerized game worlds don’t do that. Yet. And probably at no time in the near future. Computers aren’t any good at that.”

It’s interesting to look at Coyote’s list and spot the things that may be more or less difficult to achieve. Games with memory are actually developing nicely – Skyrim has a crude version of this already. On the other hand, true freedom of action pretty much requires natural language processing and something worryingly close to true AI.

Games like Guild Wars 2 and Pathfinder are chipping away at parts of the monolith. It’s still a hell of a long way away – but it’s getting closer. One day, perhaps we really will see a massively multiplayer world which genuinely is an immersive roleplaying experience.

Do you think we’ll ever see a true MMORPG?


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