The RPG Course – Lecture Four

The fourth lecture of the RPG studies course was about virtual roleplaying games. That is, RPGs online. However, it started by differentiating virtual RPGs from other types of RPGs that are played online or that have online components, such as RPGs that are played on IRC or an instant messenger program or a forum or by e-mail or what have you, or LARPs where the characters have Facebook profiles. Me, I use a Finnish campaign wiki called Mekanismi for managing my Pathfinder campaigns and try to run the downtime stuff like selling loot and crunching numbers online to save time at the table, but this does not make it virtual roleplaying.

The concept of virtual roleplaying was also differentiated from the concept of artificial personalities, fictional characters passing off as real people online, either covertly (lonelygirl15 before she was figured out) or not (Heroes characters’ MySpace pages). I find these, especially lonelygirl15, interesting. I like a well-crafted lie or plot. I think the ultimate example of this kind of creation is the Brits’ Operation Mincemeat during World War II, where a carefully equipped body planted in the right place at the right time led to the German forces being moved to Greece and Sardinia to guard against an impending invasion while the Allies took Sicily, and in the future led to them repeatedly disregarding actual Allied battle plans that had fallen into their hands. Operation Mincemeat is such a skilful deception that I can only weep when faced with its sublime beauty.

But I digress. The virtual roleplaying games meant here were roleplaying games in an artificially created world – that is, in a programmed game. Roleplaying in a MUD, World of Warcraft, EVE Online, Second Life. There was also some talk of text, hypertext and cybertext, but the terms “texton” and “scripton” made my little philological heart blot out most of it.

In regard to virtual roleplaying games, they expressed in more detail and academically what I said over a year ago in this blog about the limits imposed by the interface and graphics of the game, what’s coded in, and how this affects roleplaying in the world. Here, there are two broad varieties of MMO, the amusement park and the sandbox. The amusement park is a game where all the attractions are open to the player and he can go and have a ride in the carousel or whatever, and come back tomorrow and do the same, while the world remains unchanging. Examples of this are World of Warcraft and EverQuest. You can’t change anything, you can’t create anything of your own.

In a sandbox world, you can change things, and players can sometimes even provide content. Roleplaying is easier in a sandbox environment, I think. The ultimate example of a sandbox is Second Life, while EVE Online also has strong elements of it.

There were many interesting cases presented. I won’t go into the Gor roleplayers of Second Life, mostly because I do not know much about them and I feel I will be happier the less I know about anything associated with John Norman’s writings in general.

Another case presented was that of the Guiding Hand Social Club, the famous and awesome event in EVE Online when a mercenary corporation infiltrated another corporation over the course of ten months, real time, with numerous agents, including the so-called “Valentine Operative” whose purpose was to get in very close with the corporation’s leader. Then, at the go-code “Nicole”, they stole everything the corporation had, shot up the corp leader’s ship and vacuumed her frozen corpse into a cargo hangar. They stole about $16,500 worth of assets and really ruined someone’s day. I can only stand in awe. While it was also a horrible thing to do to someone, it’s also EVE, and that’s the name of the game. According to the article linked, both corporations are also roleplaying corporations, so it can be said that the entire thing happened in-character, but in an online RPG the line between the character and the player can be thin, especially over such a long period of time.

The second really interesting case presented is another classic – Twixt, a social experiment in City of Heroes, where the player, in playing the game as it was designed to be played instead of how it actually was played, became the most hated person in the game. It’s an interesting case, but I get this nagging feeling there’s more to it than presented. I doubt a man could arouse such animosity just by how he plays. I suspect, but cannot confirm, that he also acted like a dick on the discussion channels. The article only presents Myers’ version of the story. Apparently, there’s also been a complaint to the ethics committee about his research methods.

The fifth lecture was last Thursday. Its topic was the history of roleplaying games.

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