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Role-playing practices in massively multi-player online worlds


Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) are currently the most popular type of 3D virtual worlds. They evolved from paper-and-pencil role playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons. It has been observed that, although the paper-and-pencil games are called "role playing games," participating in them rarely involves actual "role playing" or improvisational acting (Fine ,1983). Rather it is more like group storytelling. Building on Fine's study of paper-and-pencil role-playing games, we ask, "What is the nature of social participation in computer-based MMORPGs?" We find that, as Fine (1983) describes, the majority of players engage in "game playing"; however, we discovered a minority of players who engage in actual "role playing." While game playing is oriented to achieving game-defined goals, role playing is oriented to achieving a shared experience of immersion in the fictitious world. Role-playing events include activities such as parties, dances, weddings, funerals and more. Role-playing activities may range from improvised acting between two players to large-scale preplanned public dramas. At times role-playing and game-playing collide: role players tend to avoid places that are dominated by game playing and sometimes express contempt for "power gamers." The cardinal rule of role playing is to avoid or minimize talk and action that is "out of character," or orients to the game itself as a frame of reference or to the real world of the player. Role-playing practice is m The cardinal rule of role playing is to say and do (as much as possible) only things that are "in character," that is, things the one's character might say or do in the fictional world in question. "Out of character" actions, such as references to the game itself or to the real world, are avoided as much as possible. Role-playing practice is recognizable through a variety of interactional devices. First, role players use the fictional setting of the world (e.g., Middle-Earth-type fantasy or the Star Wars universe) as an interactional resource, e.g., by making references to fictional races and historical events. Second, unlike game players who tend to neglect gesture and emote commands, role players use them frequently if not excessively and often use them for purely dramatic effects rather than instrumental purposes. Third, when they must make out-of-character comments, role players mark them as such in a variety of ways including "OOC," double parentheses or switches to private chat channels. Using data collected through a video ethnography of several massively multiplayer online games, we analyze role-playing interactions and focus on how players manage their in-character and out-of-character talk and actions.


Moore, R. J. ; Gathman, C. Role-playing practices in massively multi-player online worlds. Pacific Sociological Association Annual Meeting; 2007 March 29 - April 1; Oakland; CA; USA.