Is World of Warfare a Multi-mass Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG)?

In Esther MacCallum-Stewart and Justin Parsler’s essay Role-play vs. Gameplay: Difficulties of Playing a Role in World of Warcraft this question is explored. The authors conclude that World of Warcraft (WoW) is a MMORPG. They reach this conclusion mostly by pointing out the lack of a uniform definition for a role-playing game. Stewart and Parsler explain that WoW, while offering no incentives for role-playing, is still a role-playing game because the players themselves choose to role-play.

But I don’t agree with their assessment. Players choosing to participate in role-play while playing WoW may make them role-players, but it does not make WoW a RPG. The reason that WoW cannot be classified as a RPG is because all role-playing takes place outside of the workings of the game.

Alexander Galloway in Gamic Action, Four Moments breaks down a game into four sections. First is diegetic machines acts which is simply the gaming environment. In Wow, roleplaying cannot affect this quadrant, even if my character were to slay a non-player character (NPC), the NPC would regenerate so that another player can kill it again. Second is non-diegetic operator acts which are acts that happen outside of the gaming world. This is fundamentally against the entire idea of roleplaying, since a role-player is trying to manifest as their character at all times. The third section is non-diegetic machine acts, this section controls the coding behind the game such as what clicking on a specific item will do. In WoW roleplaying will not affect this section at all. No matter what backstory a character has, clicking on a piece of food in your bag will cause your character to sit down and eat.

The last section is diegetic operator acts, this section refers to the actual play of a game such as attacking or walking. This section would make most sense for where roleplaying would fit into WoW, however it does not fit into this section either. Stewart and Parsler use the excellent example of Abercrombie the necromancer. In WoW, Abercrombie enlists your character’s help to gather resources that will eventually allow him to attack the village. The entire quest line is highly suspicious and if this were a true RPG many players would choose a different course of action then simply blindly assisting the necromancer. However, the game does not allow any other course of action if you wish to finish the quest line. Therefore, even if you chose to role play at that moment, you really could not make any type of decision on how to precede.

Since role-playing in WoW does not fit into any of Galloway’s categories of ‘gamic action’, I feel that WoW cannot be viewed a RPG. The definition that I choose to apply to a role-play game is rather strict and requires that the game itself be affected in some way by the role-playing. Stewart and Parsler chose not to use such a strict definition and were able to conclude that WoW is a RPG.

Some may wonder if my evaluation allows for such a thing as MMORPGs, I think that it does. I believe that so long as the roleplaying of characters has an impact on the game, then it is a RPG. An example of one such game is The Star Wars Combine. It is a browser based game with approximately 2500 members. When one person makes a change to the environment, i.e. builds a space station, then that alteration is there for everybody to see and will remain there.

This type of ability to alter the game is, in my opinion, the true standard of a RPG.

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5 Responses to Is World of Warfare a Multi-mass Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG)?

  1. Dandy Mott says:

    I had some trouble following your assertion that “all role-playing takes place outside of the workings of the game.” I did not read the essay that you are writing about, so I am not sure what definition of MMORPG or “role-play” they use, but when I play Warcraft, I would think that every action that I do in the game, whether it be moving around or killing a wolf, involves role-playing. When killing a wolf, I control my character to kill the wolf; I do not kill the wolf myself. I am acting as my character in this situation because I am not killing a wolf in real life. When I enter a dungeon, my character takes on the role of a tank. I fulfill this role by controlling my character, and making him soak up damage, protecting the others. I am not a tank and I do not kill things in real life, but while playing Warcraft I can act like my character and do these things, fulfilling his role. I guess if I read the essay you are writing about, it could clear some things up with regard to your argument, but I would definitely consider Warcraft a role-playing game personally.

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  2. KAK249 says:

    I can see where you are coming from when you say RP requires that the game itself be affected in some way, but I think that is a limited way of looking at WoW. Each character does affect the game in some way. I am not extremely familiar with the game myself, but through research, I believe the characters have the choice to RP or to not RP. Different blogs have suggested that people who enjoy to RP together will form a RP guild together. Also, many blogs have said, for some reason, that the role-playing aspect of WoW has died down a bit. This could be due to the fact that certain RP guilds are just not recruiting any more characters. Also, I am aware that the game gets updated frequently. Overtime, the game must have transformed from being role-play heavy to being less of a role-play oriented game.

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  3. spelunkingseahorse says:

    Prior to reading your entry, I definitely would had considered WoW a role-playing game along the same lines that @dandymott has used. However, I really liked your relation to Galloway’s Four Moments and I can see how you came up with your argument. I will have to reconsider whether WoW is an RPG after all.

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  4. Your agreement is interesting, but I still considered WoW as a role playing game. Although you claim that “In WoW role playing cannot affect this quadrant, even if my character were to slay a non-player character (NPC), the NPC would regenerates so that another player can kill it again”, this activity might not have a narrative function but to different character in WoW it will have different development, and especially the awards after the kills may be usefully according to different characters. From this angle, I still think that character’s development is still valuable and critical to WoW’s gamic action.

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  5. I want to echo some of the thoughts here, and urge you to go read the MacCallum-Stewart and Parsler essay more carefully. They seem principally interested in the servers devoted specifically to role-playing. As someone else mentioned above, this aspect of the game has certainly faded, but it might be in your interest, if you are thinking about pursuing this topic, to make a character on an RP server and see if it’s different, if people actually do role-play, how it changes gamic action (i.e., I’ve heard of people who don’t use guild chat, b/c it takes people out of the immediacy of the diegesis, they only “say,” etc.), etc.

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