World of Warcraft, the Massively Multiplayer onl— Wait, why am I explaining what WoW is? Everyone knows what WoW is, your grandmother probably has a Blood Elf Paladin! In any case I’ve been playing WoW on and off since Vanilla and have had the same character the entire time: A Warrior. He has been a Night Elf for most of that time, though did dabble in being a Tauren at one point. He was a Main Tank against Ragnaros and Nefarian, left the siege of Outland to those who were enjoying it more, returned to take the fight to Arthas, left one day into Deathwing’s world upheaval, saw some Pandas, Time travelled to Draenor and left his Garrison to run itself, and is currently Battling the Burning Legion. He has been through many different changes and seen Azeroth and the worlds beyond do the same but there has been one constant through that time. One thing that has remained unchanged in the 12 years since the world opened and will more than likely remain stalwart: Jokes against RP Servers.
I personally started on a PvP server but migrated to PvE when oceanic became available with free transfers, and in all that time there have always been jokes about Role Playing servers. Quite often the jokes are around how seriously they take the game and their immersion in it (Being in character all the time) though the occasionally delve into the ERP realm (Erotic Role Play) especially around Goldshire and the Deeprun Tram (I actually caught two people ERPing in Deeprun Tram in Vanilla on my PvP server, it was fairly graphic and I am annoyed I lost my screenshot of it because it was also hilarious). I even created an alt on an RP server with some friends but only lasted a couple of hours before I got sick of reading people chatting in character (especially because it was kind of racist against dwarves). I found it very hard to believe at the time that people enjoyed it, though the fact that it’s something Blizzard catered for at the time and continues to do so should have given me a clue.
I think the one thing we need to think about here is how important characters are to the experience of a game. I know for a fact that most of my favourite games and game series are very character driven and that it is very profitable for companies to focus on this whether it’s on the playable character (GTA, Uncharted, Assassin’s Creed) or on the supporting cast with a passive character (Elder Scrolls, Legend of Zelda, Pokémon). Good characters lead to good stories, and good stories add to immersion and re-playability for the majority of games. If we look at what makes a good character in these games people will usually put it down to Animation and Voice Acting, and there’s plenty of great examples of this in the games mentioned above but there is one thing here that makes the difference more than anything else.
If we look at The Order: 1886 as an example, which we can all agree had amazing animation and Voice acting, is that the main character was kind of forgettable. I remember what he looked like but I cannot remember his name because he didn’t affect me. I took him through a blimp, stealthily infiltrated a mansion, and burnt Vampires in their coffins and all of this other fairly cool stuff with him but I always felt it was just going through the motions to get to the climax of the game ( a fairly disappointing quick time event). And the biggest thing that was missing for me, and the one thing I take great character design down to, is motivation. Why is this character doing all of this, going through all of this pain and suffering to get to the end and finish the story? I can tell you the motivations of all the characters in most games I play but I couldn’t tell you what it is in The Order for Sir Galahad (I actually had to Google this, I completely forgot about the Round Table connections)
So this brings us back to why I think people RP whether it’s in WoW or in any other game, though we’ll focus mainly on the former. I have had my character for over 12 years now, and though I have not played him consistently during that time he has still been around for a good portion of my life. I’ve anthropomorphised him like people do with pets or children do with toys, he has his own personality in my mind and though I don’t RP I will make decisions on what I do in game based on that. He does not like PvP because he believes the faction divide is pointless, He will always help anyone asking him a question or if he sees someone struggling with an enemy nearby, and he prefers swords over any other type of weapon and the only reason I know all this is because many years ago I gave him a motivation to do what he does.
And that’s why I have kept the same character for all these years and paid a decent amount of money to change his faction and server multiple times, and why I understand why Role Players do what they do despite the hate they sometimes get, because my Warrior is the most interesting character I’ve ever had the fortune of experiencing in a story. I have shaped him as much as the game has and getting to those moments of success or failure with him has led to some of my best gaming memories. I will probably never take him to an RP server, but I will continue to play him the way I have been for many years. And this experience will always keep me coming back to WoW and looking for opportunities in other games to get to that same level of immersion.