Monday, December 13, 2010

Will old-school gaming and MMORPGs ever cross paths?

Will old-school gaming and MMORPGs ever cross paths?

Yesterday's brief rant has me pondering whether the things I like about "old-school" pen & paper, tabletop gaming could ever really be experienced in an immersive, multi-user computer environment. I should say up front that I played WoW for about a year (2008-2009), running my sneaky, backstabbing rogue Qoi through most of what the game had to offer. But ultimately, I got bored with it. Some things I missed in relation to "traditional" gaming:

1. Infinite setting customization. The designers of WoW have come up with a fantastic array of environments, territories, and places to explore. But the game simply can't instantly introduce elements of whatever you happen to be into at the time. For instance, if I'm reading Vance and loving it, and one of the players is reading Lovecraft and loving it, I can, with very little prep or even forethought, introduce elements that bring those influences into my setting.

2. Infinite rules customization. If I or a player ever feel one class or another needs a tweak or a new feature to "fit" better with our playstyle or setting, I can, again, introduce them on a whim with little planning or forethought. No call to tech support needed.

3. Character development drives the game. There's something that happens around level 3 or 4 in an old-school tabletop game. You've survived the "easy kill" levels and your character is changing from a series of numbers into an actual "character". You start to think a bit more about his or her place in the world of the setting, goals you want him or her to achieve and so on. WoW has done a wonderful job of adding elements like guild memberships and craftsmanship and so on, and there are some "RP servers" where socialization-oriented roleplay is the focus. But there is still a strong element of gaining levels, matching sets of magic items, the trendiest accoutrement and so on. And those guilds and craftsmanship sidebars are mostly inflexible.

Now, I'm using WoW as my MMORPG example because it is, in my opinion at least (and 10 million or so other players' apparently), the best of the lot. But it still falls short of achieving the full range of imaginative possibilities of the classic tabletop rpg.

If i may be permitted to gaze into the future, its not unlikely that the three elements I listed above will become more accessible in an immersive online game. Money drives the development of technology and MMORPGs generate big bucks. Really F'n big. And that means lots of money for research and development. So yes, there may come a day when you plug your iRing into the access port at the base of your skull and you're whisked off into Fantasy Matrix, where powerful AI's detect your every whim and interest and change the game environment to keep pace with you and your friends.

But will it put you into a room with real people able to share the latest microbrew, throw dice when you're pissed off, and shoo the cat away from your box of miniature orcs? Will it recall those less stressful days in the ever-increasingly distant past hanging out with your buddies after school? Because those things, perhaps, even more so than the three very cool things about old-school tabletop RPGs I listed above, may be what we really keep coming back for.

What do you think?


  1. Easily put, computer games will never replace face to face interaction and a live DM/PCs. Well, at least not in any appreciable time frame. It's a simple matter of the limitations of a computer AI versus the human brain.

    Of course, that is not to say that some DMs are bad enough that you would rather be playing a computer game :D

  2. MMORPGS can't alter time flow like a tabletop game can. Walking to a castle that is 15 miles away will take as long as it takes to walk 15 game miles, in a tabletop RPG it could takes sessions or simply a moment for a sentence to pass based on the desires and playing styles of the people at the table.

  3. " games will never replace face to face interaction and a live DM/PCs."

    I agree, but I fast coming to the opinion that people DON'T want "face to face interaction" with people.

  4. I agree with all you've said here, and have not in fact ventured into the realm of MMORPGs because I suspect I would get bored with them somewhat quickly. But this is because I put a particularly high premium on #3 above, as well as the face-to-face "shoo the cat away from the miniatures" element.

  5. I think you forgot junk food, beer and the satisfaction of create terrific adventures.

  6. I've never been a big computer gamer, and I've never played a MMORPG like WoW. I've just had no interest.

    I do, however, see the value of VTT programs that let you simulate tabletop play online like MapTools and Fantasy Grounds. The key word being "simulate" - that includes a social interaction experience.

  7. I've played Neverwinter Nights for a couple of years back in the early decade but I found it lacking in the anything can go department even when I played in a game run by DMs. It made me miss the face to face interaction at the tabletop and lead me back into real life gaming. I was also tired of sitting in front of a computer screen for hours on end.

  8. I started to write a comment but realised it might be a bit epic so I stuck it on my own blog:

    Suffice to say I totally agree with your conclusion. I spend far too much time sat at my PC, but nothing I do there can beat my regular tabletop sessions (which I'm missing like crazy atm)

  9. Well said,Al. I've come to suspect that the people who love WOW type computer driven games arn't looking for the same things we want from TT games. I don't think it's the same audience really.
    Sure, there is some overlap. Some play MMORPGs because they can't get a TT game together, But I think a lot of them wouldn't play TT instead if the MMORPG wasn't available.
    I think the space between the games is more like the differance between chess and football.
    Both games, differant audiences.

  10. I have some thoughts on this here since I fail at trackbacking for whatever reason.

    Essentially, they can do everything except character development. The best MMO's can hope to do is character advancement.. along with the other circles people play MMO's.. social and entertainment.

  11. Arguably Fantasy Grounds and the like are attempts to do that (or will be when they get 3-D graphics engines).



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