Topic 008 - Role Playing

started 1999-03-26

What is Role Playing?

Marriage counseling and other psychological sessions sometimes employ role playing. The patient pretends he's "in the shoes" of someone he knows in real life, frequently someone perceived as an antagonist, or possibly even himself at a younger age. Exploration and problem solving might be the ultimate goals of the session, but the essential mental exercise is the "putting yourself in someone else's shoes," the role playing. If the patient fails to empathize, to make an honest and self-convincing effort to perceive the world from someone else's perspective, then he is not role playing.

MUDs (and nowadays MMORPGs) are a prime vehicle for role playing. Not so much in the impersonation of characters within the intended domain [wizard vs. warrior vs. thief, high level vs. low level, etc.] but rather in the impersonation of real-life people.

Probably the purest form of role playing you'll see anywhere takes place in chat rooms, where guys impersonate girls, girls impersonate guys, guys try to act "cooler" than they are, girls try to act older or more naive or more beautiful than they are, etc. Unlike at a bar or classroom or other face-to-face social arena, online chatting allows you to remain physically hidden; your expressions and body language go unseen, your voice and laughter go unheard, and your long pauses are not measured. You have time to compose, to make stuff up that "sounds" good, to act.

Sometimes mudders assume multiple identities. I generally didn't. Back when I used to MUD (1991), I played myself literally. I called my characters "Travis" because I thought nicknames were pretentious. I made no efforts to "smooth over" elements of my personality. I'd get into honest, heated debates with people about wide ranging topics from religion to censorship to debating in general. And of course I had the typical hot-n-heavy teenage chatz with girls and even went so far as to meet a few of them in person [shudder].

Sometimes, when girls started hounding me or people were flaming me over some dorky argument, I'd create secondary characters that would go around and ask people what they thought of Travis or Travis' ideas. I'm sure lots of us have done stuff like that. :) Those "feeler" characters were the only real role playing I did.

A Quick Note About Online Romance

I noticed that girls would frequently "play up" themselves by calling themselves beautiful and acting flirty and sending me pictures of how they looked 5 years ago when they were thin, etc. When we finally met in person, the often girls liked me because I was just as appealing in person as I was online [since I didn't "act" online]. But when I saw the girls I wanted to puke because they were almost always fat, ugly, timid, dishonest, humorless, had annoying voices, boyfriends, etc. There was one girl whose online persona I hated; I absolutely did not want to meet her in real life, but out of chance she ended up coming over to my room one day... and we hit it off immediately and ended up dating for five years! :)

Remember that next you play a MUD (or a MMORPG). If you've gotta chat [I personally think it's a waste of time, but then again I'm a hermit], then be yourself, be humble, and if you have to act, act more annoying and less attractive than you [think you] really are. Above all, don't be pretentious!!!

Role Playing in Roguelikes

Most Roguelikes allow you to play a variety of roles such as mages, warriors, thieves, etc. There are usually dozens of races and classes to choose from. However, different games are better at providing true "role playing" opportunities than others.

In a true RPG, the most beneficial strategies and tactics depend on your character's role. For instance, a mage should be played much differently from a warrior. Also, a low level character should "feel" less knowledgeable about the game world than a high level character. Random dungeons, potion names, scroll names, and quest monsters are an excellent way of forcing low level characters to start off ignorant about certain aspects of the game world, but then learn as they "develop". Randomness increases the role-playing elements, and also contributes greatly to replayability.

Of the main Roguelikes, Angband probably has the highest level of role playing, at least in the early stages of the game. Mages start off really bad fighters; fighters cannot cast spells, and are [early on] bad at using magical devices. Later in the game, as you collect better weapons and rings/potions of strength [if you are a mage] or rings/potions of intelligence [if you are a fighter], your characters tend to even out. Since mages can cast spells and still do everything else a fighter can, they end up being better overall than the fighters. At high levels I end up playing all my Angband characters in the same way, as fighter-mages. In that respect, Angband requires less and less role playing as the game progresses. At least for me; other people might be playing their characters less homogeneously (and more successfully).

The other Roguelikes are even further from being role playing games. NetHack and ADOM might give each character type unique bonuses such as resistances, extra speed, pets, and cameras, but magic in those games is so underdeveloped and wimpy compared to the magic in Angband that I end up playing each character essentially the same way, even in the beginning. For me, the differences in play in NetHack and ADOM are not nearly as dramatic as those at the beginning of Angband. Other Roguelikes also tend to allow players to ignore the role playing element altogether.

Trav's Caveat

Maybe I'm just doing it all wrong. Maybe my failure to role play, to adapt my behavior to the specific abilities of my characters, is what is preventing me from winning these games! It could be that opportunities for role playing abound, but I'm too literal to see them (or take advantage of them).

Well, for me, a really effective role playing game is one in which it is not only beneficial but essential to "put yourself in your character's shoes". If you don't pay close enough attention to the specific abilities of your character, then you should fail. So does that make The Lost Vikings and Commandos more "role playing" than Krondor and Baldur's Gate? I don't know.

Is chess the ultimate role playing game?

Topic 008 - Role Playing

started 1999-03-26