Persistent world RPGs: Where real and role collide

This is a story about identity, about how a game can come to define a person or offer sharp relief from mediocrity. How a world made by fans becomes an on-going soap opera that bleeds between two worlds – the real and the fictional. It’s also my story…

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When Bioware were promoting their forthcoming 2004 RPG Neverwinter Nights, they talked about their DM Client, a powerful tool that they said would enable players to recreate the DungeonsC2040-920and Dragons Pen-and-Paper experience on their PC. Along with the Toolset – a map creation tool – they envisaged people creating and running full PnP campaigns for their friends in the game.


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part of me wonders if they ever thought people would be crazy enough to create whole worlds, to be lived in and logged onto every single day. Because they were crazy enough. Both Neverwinter Nights 1 & 2 still have dedicated players who log on every single day to talk, slay monsters and liveA00-260 their lives, in worlds designed and administered by passionate volunteers.

I’m going to restate that point, because it’s important – there are people living inside these worlds, and I don’t mean basic ciphers or visual avatars. These people may not breathe, but they have personalities, strengths, weaknesses, goals and aspirations. They live, they love and they kill a heck of a lot of monsters.

Roleplaying is kind of the ugly step-child of acting, something that is routinely mocked and locked in the basement of disdain. From the outsider perspective, it’s seen as a way for people to live out their fantasies – you get to be Conan the Barbarian cleaving heads with a gigantic sword, or Elvina the sexy sorceress, handy with a spell and rocking that skimpy robe.

The thing is, when you spend over 4 hours a day roleplaying the same character in a world filled with other sentient entities, you need to be more than that. “Burly guy with a sword” can only sustain itself as a concept for so long, unless you’re really fond of long silences or typing “*He polishes his giant sword*” over and over again throughout the course of a day (and don’t get me wrong, there are certainly people who do that).

I spoke with Troy, admin and creator of the Persistent World ‘Legacy: Dark Age of Britain’, and he puts it like this: “My goal as a player is to, as much as possible, play and understand the “role” of the character, and understand what it must be like to live in the world he”s living. How his motivations, morality, fears, faith, etc. viagra how it works are different from my own given the circumstances he”s in and what actions should he take and what goals would he have based on those factors.”

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When I first stumbled into the Neverwinter Nights viagranorx-canadianpharma persistent world scene, it was almost by accident and I hadn”t quite thought it through to that degree.

Occupation: Worshipping Fire

I was driven to the PW scene primarily by disappointment, as Neverwinter Nights 2 had not lived up to my lofty expectations. While searching in vain for any quickly released single player modules that might spark my interest, I stumbled across the website for a server called ‘The Frontier’, a Forgotten Realms Persistent World set on a remote island which required players to submit a biography before they could play.

I created a hilariously stereotypical biography for a ‘fire priest’ (a cleric dedicated to the Forgotten Realms fire god Kossuth). He had a bad temper (some might say ‘fiery’) and ginger hair (because it’s, like, the colour of fire). Then I logged into the world and found myself seriously out of my depth.

I quickly realised that my ginger priest guy was probably the most bland person there (bar the elves, but elves are always rubbish). There were rowdy-yet-soulful dwarves, reminiscing about their far away homelands, a mysterious wizard, hell-bent on becoming a politician to expose the corruption of the ruling Paladin order, and there was a magic school, where applicants must prove their credentials by writing an academic study on an aspect of magic. I was a priest with ginger hair who worshipped fire. Oh.

I tried alcoholism to make me stand out from the crowd (I”ve learned since that this is a

pretty standard attention seeking “look a me” tactic among new players trying to be edgy – I”ve seen a player roleplay projectile vomit for over an hour). I casino online tried running around the more hostile mob-filled areas and approaching strangers, but we barely got beyond ‘well met’ before I ran out of things to say -turns out “Fire is awesome!” isn”t the greatest conversation starter, and would often kill any interaction stone dead.

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At this point, I felt like I could see the potential of this format and of the interactions and stories that can come from putting so many detailed and well-rounded characters in the same space.

But so far I”d been stuck on the outside, looking in at something that seemed totally out of my grasp.

When I ask Troy why he continues in his role, creating worlds in a game seven years old, he tells me: “It is a rare and thrilling experience to create an entire world and see it brought to life by other people bringing their own role-playing creativity and energy to the table. The end result is collaboratively created piece of communal fiction, something which every player has contributed to and can take ownership over.”

Persistent Worlds at their best are precisely this. They’re a shared fiction, a story which dozens of people have contributed to, influenced and swung in different directions. There’s no single author controlling the narrative, which means they are full of outrageous twists, betrayals, secrets, lies and misunderstandings, as well as moments of passion or compassion – ad-libbed dialogue that can twist the knife or send the spirits soaring.

It can be a fine thing to see your character’s convoluted scheme infect a server like a disease, as more and more people get caught up in it. You might hear in passing a conversation that recounts your actions, filtered through the motivations and bias of others, twisted almost beyond recognition. Sometimes Persistent Worlds can be like a fantasy soap opera, with cringeworthy dialogue and a focus on the mundane with the faint tang of repetition tainting every conversation. But at other times it can really transcend best online casino that, as different backgrounds, faiths, personalities and methodologies come into conflict (or harmony) to create something altogether unique.

For my part, my rubbish priest was saved by another player. When I was just about ready to give up on him, a chap called Sev17 advertised on the server”s forum that he was giving advice to people on how to play clerics, beyond the annoying preaching that many fall into. I sent him a private message and got an intriguing reply: ‘Kossuth? Yeah, I”ve got some ideas, but I’ll see you about them in-game.’

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The ‘ideas’ Sev had in mind were in fact a complete reinterpretation of the basic lore provided by Wizards of the Coast for the underwritten Forgotten Realms fire god. In the way any religion with a silent deity is free to interpret signs and signals, or second guess intentions, Sev created a character who essentially took the basics ‘fire, hatred of water and rebirth’ and made something completely

new out of them, designing co-operative fortune telling rituals and mass fire-walking events for good measure.

I followed in his wake and I learned. My awful ginger priest enrolled in an adventuring group and the Kossuth “cult” grew to half a dozen strong as we converted players with our rituals. My priest even eventually became Baron of the “morally dubious town” of the server thanks to a political marriage and a brutal murder (which he may have encouraged). And somewhere along the way I was invited to join the staff of the server to become a DM, which turned out to be an eye canadian pharmacy that does not require a prescription opening experience…

Behind the Veil

I”ve talked a little about what a persistent world is at its best. But one thing that I quickly learned when I joined the Frontier”s staff was that not every player was happy to, or even able to, separate the fact from fiction. Reams of logs on “problem players” littered the cluttered server forum, detailing erotic liaisons, threats, abuse and disagreements arising from in-game events.

I asked Troy whether he had experienced players who had difficulty separating their characters from themselves, and his reply was telling: “So many times I can”t remember. So many times that my forum pic on Legacy states a simple motto: “Keep Calm. It”s just a game.” The fact is, persistent worlds give players the chance to anonymously play a character on a daily basis for an extended period of time. This leads players to get too close to their characters frequently, and simultaneously brings out the worst Internet troll and immaturity in players when things don”t go their way.”

He continued: “I”ve had a player threaten canadian online pharmacy generic cialis to commit suicide because I wouldn”t let him on the DM staff. I”ve had players threaten and harass

other players because their character took some adverse action or killed their PC. Given the amount of time people spend playing these characters, the reactions are in some ways understandable. But it can cross the line.”

I also spoke with Autumn Nicole Bradley, a writer (whose blog can be read here), transfeminist and former colleague of mine at the Frontier. She argues that it”s inevitable players will become attached to their characters emotionally: “Players don”t get “fake time” and “fake emotional reserves” to play in a “fake world”. It”s still players” real time, and real emotional investment in their characters and their actions.” She goes on: “We bring those elements of the real world into the virtual world which makes the virtual/real duality a lot blurrier than can be conveniently dismissed

by “it”s just a game.”"

When I knew Autumn, she went by the name Psychictoaster and was, as far as I knew, a

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heterosexual man. I contacted her to ask whether Persistent Worlds, or role-playing in general, had a part to play in her now being transsexual. Her answer was, as you might expect, complicated.

Had Calis – the druid Autumn played on the Frontier – perhaps helped her come to terms with her gender identity? “Well, the character didn”t help in terms of gender identity,” says Autumn. “That was something that was so off my mind at that point in my life that it can”t even properly be called denial. I had accepted it was impossible over a decade earlier, and playing female characters was already pretty well entrenched in my online sense of self that it didn”t merit thought. Of course Calis would be female because all my characters were. If that makes sense?

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“But on the other hand – it is undeniable that playing the character gave me first-hand experience with behaving in that manner, or even thinking in that manner in a directed, purposeful way. “Fake it “til you make it” is not a disposable aphorism: it has real application in personal growth and healing. A character being kind, generous, forgiving, and loving requires a player to be kind, generous, forgiving, and loving.”

Fake it “til you make it

This made me reflect on my own experience. My fiery priest – though latterly buy viagra no prescription considered wise and far from the raving maniac

one might assume of a fanatic devoted to the worship of fire – was not especially kind and loving. So what lessons could I as a player learn from him? From my perspective as an unrepentant atheist, playing someone with deeply held religious values (as fantasy and far-out as they were) helped me get into the

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mindset of a religious person.

That crappy priest helped me to understand what people get from faith and the strength they can draw from it. I understand far better now what it is to put “God” before the self, because every moment I played as him was about considering his actions through the lens of faith and how that might conflict with

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or complement his own desires. That”s not something I”m sure I could have come to fully comprehend without Neverwinter Nights.

Autumn told me how she felt her druid had helped her purchase dreamweaver CC software grow as a person: “I am struck by how much like the character Calis I have become. I”m now very often the only person in the room who patiently listens to people without shouting them down.” For Troy, persistent worlds are about escapism, of being a part of a community that share his hobbies and interests versus his high pressure real life job as a lawyer.

I like to think that what I”ve taken from Persistent Worlds and roleplay is the ability to better empathise with others. When you step into the shoes of someone else – imaginary or not – you”re forced to consider how this person”s background, circumstances and beliefs might affect the way they react to a situation.

For me, Neverwinter Nights was never more than a game, and my characters motivations were always distinctly seperate from my own. But allowing yourself to think like another person and to tap into their thoughts and emotions is an experience I think most people can benefit from. Just be careful not to confuse the line between the real and the role.

Author: Michael Johnson

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