You're Doing What On-Line?by
RPGs have earned a strong following in the computer market. The appeal for that market began with the text adventure, or interactive fiction. From there it was only a small step to add stats into the game, creating a virtual on-line character for the fiction. As computers became more powerful, graphics and sound were added, and computer-based RPGs have simply evolved from there.
With the advent of networks, and from there, internet connections, people have been able to converse and interact easily through long distance, with multiple people at once. And where there is a type of communication of multiple people, gamers will show up there soon enough as well.
I speak of the phenomenon known as "On-Line Gaming". Which, like it's predecessor of CRPGs, began in text-adventure style formats. Evolution began and the gaming formats known as MUDs, MUSHs, and MOOs, were born. Of course, on the local BBS, gaming was going on via ANSI-based programs, and through on-line chat. Not that programs and on-line chat weren't being developed for networks and Internet as well.
Today, there are numerous ways of gaming on-line. Text-based gaming, on-line chat, and through graphically-based on-line RPGs. All of which are closer to role-playing than standard CRPGs (remember last year's column?), but is it role-playing?
On-line gaming, no matter the format, allows people to game with people they don't even know, and that is a good thing. People who don't know the other players personally are less likely to see them as the players and more likely to see them as characters they are portraying. However, on-line gaming also allows people to game with people they don't know, and that is a bad thing. First, allow me to point out that most gamers are seen as introverts, and on-line gaming is the next step to simply locking yourself away and eating the key. But more importantly, there are a number of people who are jerks and idiots in real life, who will become even more annoying due to the anonymity of the Internet. If a GM or player doesn't like the munchkins and power-gamers in their current group, allow me to point out that those types of people are ten times as worse on-line. And they're more numerous, as well. Fortunately, the only On-Line RPGs that are really affected by munchkins and power-gamers are primarily chat rooms (IRC, AOL, whatever) and MUSHs, as most games have a rule system, often patterned after existing RPGs, but jerks and idiots can still thrive. I could be being a bit harsh. Maybe only their characters are jerks and idiots.
On-line gaming tends to swing like a pendulum between hack-fests and character interaction, and unlike CRPGs, since the interaction is being done via humans it is often more rich and flavored. That's not to say that it's better. It is simply seems lifelike due to slang, flightiness, and colorful metaphors. Hack-fests will always be hack-fests, computer-based or otherwise. The nice thing about computers is that the GM can't fudge in combat, slaying your characters off too easily. The bad thing about computers is that the GM can't fudge in combat, protecting your characters from a stupid die roll.
Character creation in on-line gaming varies from the limited amount of choices, to a simple text write-up, to a shugreth of GURPS complexities. However, no matter what the creation style is, the player is free at all times to act as their character would act, and say what their character might say, and that is the meat of role-playing.
Yes, on-line gaming is really role-playing. Is it better? I certainly don't think so, for the simple fact that human interaction is an integral part of human life. If one's life is sucked away by a computer game are they really living their life here, or on-line?
-Roll saving throw versus Bad Gaming!