What Is a MMORPG?

Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games

A MMORPG is a “Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game”. MMORPGs like “World of Warcraft”, “Everquest”, and “City of Heroes” are played by hundreds of thousands, if not millions of online gamers every month.

Real-time online role-playing games require a player to have a good graphical interface and highspeed connection on their home computer. These games usually require a monthly subscription to the game site, which is how the MMORPG makes a profit and continues to develop the product.

Leveling Up in MMORPGs

Ongoing membership of a MMORPG community is encouraged through the game mechanic called “progression”, where the player develops the skills and powers of their character, advancing to the upward limit of their character’s potential (often 50th level or 70th level, or a similarly arbitrary level number). Like in tabletop role-playing games, a 1st level character is relatively weak, but faces relatively weak challenges, and progresses to an epic level of skill and power.

Social Interaction in MMORPGs

Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games

One major different in an MMORPG and other online fighting games is that players are almost always encouraged to interact on a social level. Using instant messaging, gamers have their characters “talk” to other characters inside their setting. Games are meant to be immersive to one degree or another, much like the virtual world known as Second Life. The combination of virtual world experiences and battle simulation makes the MMORPG a hybrid between a game like Diablo and a game like Second Life.

One way social interaction is encouraged is through the forming of player organizations, usually called “guilds” in World of Warcraft or “teams” in City of Heroes. These organizations organize gaming events, so players can log-in at prearranged times to game with their online friends, leveling up together as they face the same challenges at the same character levels.

MMORPG Role-Playing

This social interaction varies from one player to the next. The decision whether to role-play or “stay in-character” is a decision MMORPGers must decide. Role-playing means a player doesn’t not break the fourth wall, and instead speaks only on behalf of their character and only comments on the scene and the conversation in the gaming world. Certain player groups meet with the specific intention of role-playing the night’s scenario, and have a dim view of players (who interact with their group) who refuse to do otherwise.

Other MMORPG players have no interest in role-playing, and are more interested in tactics, the challenge of fighting monsters or villains, and reaching another level. These players might find RPG gaming “geeky” or pointless, or they might not want to keep up with a running dialogue and type their responses. Players prone to net speak or who aren’t particularly good at role-playing might want to role-play, but might spoil the mood for their gaming group anyway.

Player Versus Player

MMORPG gamers like World of Warcraft have special sections where called “PVP” or “player versus player” areas, where their characters actually face simulated mortality in battle with other players in the setting. “Dying” in these zero-sum environments might cause the end of the character, or a severe in-game penalty to that character’s development. This is opposed to player verses environment or “PvE” gaming against pre-generated computer opponents, where the point is to join a group in a non-zero sum environment, and defeating the challenge means advancement for all the characters involved.

Some games have unregulated PvP, preferring to regulate player actions through a “frontier justice” mentality. Player killing or “ganking” in these environments might be regulated by revenge killings, or more likely, ostracism from gaming groups. In many games, a character who initiates a PvP situation recently glows a certain color, letting other players know this is a dangerous gamer. In other games, anti-PK vigilantes hunt and eliminate player killers and griefers. Some games prefer to deduct advancement points from gankers.

Virtual Economy in MMORPGs

Table and dice role-playing like AD&D early on made acquisition a major part of the game. In sword-and-sorcery tabletop RPGs, killing monsters and taking their possessions is a major part of the game. This acquisitiveness transferred to massively multiplayer online roleplaying games, so most MMORPGs have their own virtual economy. Players collect objects and can trade them for advancement, other objects they covet, or other advantages.

In games where players can exchange objects among themselves, a simulated economy has sprung up, where certain successful gamers actually have more wealth than others. These economies are handled in a myriad of different ways (respect ratings, for instance), but in some cases, people have converted simulated wealth into real-world financial gains, though nothing on the level of the Second Life virtual economy, where the Feds once looked into shutting down virtual gambling on Second Life, because they thought it might break U.S. gambling laws.

As you can see, the successful MMORPG immerses a player into a distinct fictional world, where they pretend to be someone living in that world. They interact with other people inside the MMORPG, gain a reputation, gain wealth and experience, and otherwise live out a proxy life inside a simulated environment. The MMORPG world tends to be violent and exotic by modern standards, which many gamers find particularly stimulating–stimulating enough to pay a monthly fee to continue the experience.

More MMORPG Games

Below is a list of some of the MMORPGs you might have heard about or might gain a following. As you can see, many of the popular fantasy and fiction universes are candidates to become a massively multiplayer online role-playing game, because these fictional worlds have shown they can attract fans and spark the imagination of people.

The most popular MMORPGs traditionally have not come from established fictional settings, but began as a relatively generic fictional setting or one familiar, yet slightly different, than the ones players know. For instance, World of Warcraft bears a striking resemblance to the fantasy worlds in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons tabletop role-playing games, which themselves borrow a lot of conventions from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings novels, but WoW added enough new racial character types to give gamers a slightly different experience.