Role Playing and Warcraft

I chose to read the essay “Role Play vs. Gameplay: The Difficulties of Playing a Role in World of Warcraft” by Esther MacCallum-Stewart and Justin Parsler to analyze for this assignment. In the essay, they discuss how role-playing is present (or not) in Warcraft. Role-playing is loosely defined in any medium, but could be summarized as when players of a game act as the characters would act in an in-game situation. In the World of Warcraft this manifests in different ways, from speaking only in the character’s native language, dressing for practicality and not with the best gear, and only using the /say command. These examples and many others lead to a feeling of immersion, which is what role-players are looking for in their activities.

Role-playing is difficult even in its original settings of tabletop games where in-person interaction enables one to more truly be their character, and it is even more difficult in Warcraft. Due to the barriers inherent in an MMORPG, such as interacting through a computer and being limited to what actions are programmed in the game, the immersion necessary for a role-playing experience is sparse. To help facilitate players who want this experience, Blizzard hosts a small amount of servers dedicated to role-playing, with specific rules that must be followed. Rules are necessary in a role-playing scenario as it defines how the interactions between players and other players or the world setting are to be had, or the experience would not be as rewarding.

The essay also focuses on the rewards of role-playing, which in this game are only personal reward. The exhilaration of living in someone else’s shoes is the only benefit, as the game itself offers no reward for following the role-playing rules. I think this is an important point the essay makes, as gamers are often focused only on the in-game reward, the next level or the best piece of gear. Those who choose to role-play do so for reasons outside the mechanics of the game. They may seek a further narrative then what is provided by the game itself, as many games offer only one story or have limited outcomes in the development. Warcraft with its vast community of players can have many unique stories evolve out of the player-player interactions, perhaps more so than with the player-environment. Role-players may also seek to escape from the real world and lose themselves in a new persona. Being able to imagine the world in whatever way one chooses is a powerful tool to relax and enjoy new experiences with friends both online and in the real world.

The immersion in a game is an important aspect, for being too aware while role-playing or gaming can ruin the experience. This is easily seen when playing simple or older games in comparison to modern games. When playing a game such as Tetris or Angry Birds, it is easy to be aware of the game as a game and not a world to experience. A game such as Skyrim allows the player to experience the game in much more varied ways and can let them role-play more effectively. One player of Skyrim and its predecessor Oblivion used the game to role-play as Nordrick the NPC, subverting the usual role of hero and protagonist for an existence as a background character. Following a set of rules, as both role-players and programmed NPCs do, he lived his life in a village, eating, working, and sleeping on a regular schedule, never killing a monster or completing a quest. Is this the incorrect way to play a game such as Skyrim, with so much to explore and experience? Not to a role-player, who wishes to be a character as much as possible, even if that character is just a normal person in a fantasy village just trying to live life. Another role-player who takes immersion seriously is a Warcraft character by the name of Noor the Pacifist. He leveled from 1 to 70 (the cap at the time) without ever killing anything. In a game as heavily combat based as Warcraft, this seems an almost impossible task, but sticking to a set of rules allowed Noor to live in the game as he chose, immersed in a pacifistic culture opposed to the violent tendencies of Warcraft. These role-players used the self-appointed rules to immerse themselves in a game on their terms, to make their own experiences and rewards.


Esther MacCallum-Stewart, Justin Parsler. “Role Play vs. Gameplay: The Difficulties of Playing a Role in World of Warcraft.

Satu Heito. Role-Playing: A Narrative Experience and Mindset.

Nordrick –

Noor –

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One Response to Role Playing and Warcraft

  1. shhairah says:

    I really enjoyed reading what you had to say about role-playing, however what I found most intriguing was your statement: “role-playing is difficult even in its original settings of tabletop games where in-person interaction enables one to more truly be their character, and it is even more difficult in Warcraft.” While I do not deny what you had to say here was valid, I find it very interesting that you found tabletop, in-person games to allow for more “true” characters, while the MMORPG seemed less “real.” For me, I have found that MMORPG are more “real” specifically because they do not allow for “real” humans to be seen. When I am playing World of Warcraft I see the various creatures that the game has created, while when I play Munchkin I cannot see the characters that are being played, I can only see the players in which I am playing with. I am not here to say that what you feel/see is wrong, I just personally would have to say that I see the opposite. This, in and of itself, I think is interesting, because it shows how people who are playing seemingly similar games, can experience the games in such different ways.


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