I just got done with my BA recently and, in a fit of premature nostalgia, was taking a look back at all the essays and assignments I wrote for all manner of courses and modules over the past three and a half years. And how I laughed when this came up: the final piece for Feature Writing, my attempt at casting a tiny spotlight on LoTRO's brilliant roleplaying community.
Decided to share it here, in the RP forum, just for the heck of it; there were also a few screenshots with captions in my original submission, but as half of those shots were pillaged from the intraweb, I have here reproduced only the text. Any errors are my own, since writing for an academic, non-gamer audience necessitated the taking of some liberties with the material at hand. Sadly I never found out just what I scored for this as my university's grades review system was (and still is) sufficiently bugged to make LoTRO's "Everbeta" forums look futuristic by comparison.
This was written in March '11, about five months into my arrival on a low pop server largely devoid of RP, and of course, before the EU merge which took me at long last to Laurelin.
Any resemblance to players living or dead, I mean defeated, is not only not coincidental but likely very intentional...The Lord of the... Roles?
There’s more to an MMO than the mindless grind – in this one at least
As I spurred my steed at a gallop across the vast, desolate expanse of the Lone-lands, on an errand to a town in the west, I was surprised to be accosted by two Elves who hailed me from a makeshift camp by the roadside.
I slowed my horse to a trot and approached their little campfire, making sure to raise a palm outwards to show peaceful intention. The Fair Folk, one a splendidly armoured warrior and the other an Elf-maid in an ornate robe, had recognized the armour I wore as that of the military riders of far-off Rohan and thus knew I was no enemy, and so invited me to sit and share supper with them. We exchanged brief introductions as we ate; I declared myself a former soldier of Rohan, now in exile, while they were emissaries from Rivendell, the Elf-haven in the eastern wilds, and were bound west on a diplomatic mission for their lord.
“Then our paths lie together for some leagues,” I typed, “and it would be prudent for us to face the dangers of the road as a group.” They voiced agreement, glad to have another experienced warrior with them, and we set off that evening, safe in each other’s company from the beasts and brigands of the lawless Lone-lands.
This scenario looks like it belongs in a movie, but it took place in a game: The Lord of the Rings Online.
Who hasn’t heard of The Lord of the Rings? It’s been called things like the book of the century (well, the past century) and the greatest work of fantasy fiction ever written. It’s a vast work of one man’s imagination that now has a very well-received MMO to further attest to that man’s creative genius. The game is home to an international community of players who are avid fans of Tolkien’s universe and who treat the game as an opportunity to live out their characters’ virtual lives and adventures in Middle-earth.
Role-playing. That’s what it’s called, and that’s what you saw me doing with those Elves up there. Acting in a game, immersing oneself in the milieu of a fictional world, and bringing life to one’s in-game persona. In the pre-digital era, when gamers celebrated the imagination with old-fashioned table-top pen & paper games, it was the fundamental, the essential; the cornerstone. Now, in this modern age of MMOs, it’s declined, and even become a dirty word in some player communities as the focus of such games skews irrevocably towards repetitive grinding and competitive player-versus-player action.
A game like Turbine, Inc’s faithful envisioning of Tolkien’s Middle-earth is arguably the best to look at when talking about MMO role-play. It’s easy to imagine there would be a huge proportion of Lord of the Rings fans eager to engage in it here – but the reality is that most simply play the game for what it is and disdain any activity that keeps them from making their characters stronger. Some, however, appreciate Tolkien’s lore enough to do it. And organized role-play exists too...
Upon arrival at the western town of Bree, my new travelling companions and I were stopped and questioned by members of ‘The Bree Watch’, a bunch of players role-playing as vigilantes who spend time hanging around Bree’s gates to rough up strangers seeking entry into town. After that slightly unpleasant episode, which left me explaining to two offended Elves that such suspicion toward foreigners was fairly commonplace in human lands, we rode on to the town square where I could stop and listen to, of all things to be found in an MMO, a concert! Another bunch of players styling themselves ‘The Lonely Mountain Band’ role-play as travelling minstrels and stage regular performances, using the game’s music system to entertain passersby with original compositions and covers of popular real-world hits alike.
See where this is going? Whether they are chilling out at the local tavern or fighting tooth and nail in a monster-infested dungeon, players like these collaborate and act out their characters like they were real people, adding a unique flavour to the game experience.
Now, all that having been said, I have to admit that role-playing is, by its very nature, an activity that breeds a sort of elitism. Take this game: bound as it is by such rigidly defined lore, there’s precious little room for role-players to air ideas of their own that clash with the ideas in Tolkien’s writings. Nothing ticks off a role-playing community more than some smart aleck thinking it’s cool to role-play his character as an anachronism, e.g. a vampire Elf à la Edward Cullen or a half-demon Hobbit who is the illegitimate son of Sauron himself. You have to respect the lore and role-play within its boundaries if you don’t fancy being hounded out like a Satanic cultist in St. Andrew’s Cathedral.
Sure, at the end of the day, a game’s a game and it revolves around making your characters stronger so they can slay more monsters and win more shiny prizes. That’s the formula that makes MMO developers rich. But for players weary of the grind who want to reap a game’s potential for the imagination, role-play is the way to go. There’s no reason you can’t inject a little life into your character even as he or she is pig-sticking some nasty beast for the 5,436th time.
“Ye gods! All this blood is rustin’ me blade.” Yeah, I can see it now.