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Play Your Role—Role Playing and the Added Layers it Provides to Gaming

Like Actors On A Stage

Role Play is something that many have heard of in the world, but not many have experienced. When you say ‘role play,’ you’re often met with people thinking of great battle reenactments, cosplayers getting into character at conventions, live action role players in their various roles at various theme festivals, and of course just thinking it shorthand for a Role Playing Game. Maybe you even get a few raised eyebrows as people consider the more behind-closed-doors types of role play for adventurous couples.

Yes, those are all correct answers (with a little tongue-in-cheek comedy sprinkled on). But, role play when it comes to gaming is something special as it has the ability to add an extra layer to the game, and it can manifest itself more easily than you may first realize.


It’s likely you’ve already found yourself in minor role play before, and didn’t even realize it.

I want you to think to games that really draw you into the moment. What jumps out at you? Perhaps it’s being the last man standing on your team in one of the many Search and Destroy game types across the FPS genre–your heart racing as you go against the odds, your entire focus honed in on observing and listening for enemy movements. You have found yourself lost in the moment; you have found yourself in the boots of that digital soldier you’ve been playing, even for a brief amount of time.

Adrenaline and immersion both are ways that can pull you into the immediacy of the moment. I kind of think of it as an ‘RP-Lite.’ You’re going through the motions, you’re controlling your character, but your mindset, to quote a familiar phrase, “it’s in the game.”

This isn’t something that’s limited to the FPS genre either, it’s likely you have been pulled in by either the adrenaline or the immersion–an intense race in Forza, a game-changing field goal in Madden, traversing the towns and wildernesses of any number of adventure games and RPGs. The more drawn into a game you become, the more likely you are to become engrossed in that setting until your play session is up. In its own way, it’s a small dip into some of the aspects of role play.

The places I’ve most commonly seen this ‘RP-Lite’ appear however, are in titles that are high in intensity, and rely heavily on team communication, unit cohesion, and keep your blood pumping constantly with little room for calm. Unsurprisingly, this commonly shows up in the more hardcore first person shooters and simulators.

Perhaps one of the most in-depth instances of this is in 2018’s Insurgency: Sandstorm.

Insurgency’s take on warfare in the Middle East brings out a variety of gamers in the FPS genre, but the emphasis on every shot potentially being fatal and every movement being the difference between life and death makes teamwork a necessity. Combining that with the varying types of ballistics, and the rather impressive sound design (particularly with the radio-chatter filter built into the game) and very quickly these gamers are dropped into the roles not as lone-wolf soldiers, but comrades in arms. Many matches start out with the typical pre-game banter. You have your trash talk, your random noises; and as soon as the match begins, most (if not all) of your team is suddenly so focused they sound like soldiers moving on the battlefield. Calling out locations of enemies, organizing suppressing fire, shouting out when explosives are in play. If that wasn’t enough, the game also utilizes a proximity chat so in a certain distance you can hear the enemy.

Nothing sends chills up your spine like hearing an enemy commander and their observers on the other side of a wall trying to organize a fire mission.

What better way to handle it then by falling back enough to grab a few squadmates just out of earshot of the enemies during the chaos and putting a stack maneuver on the door? “GO GO GO!” calls out the Breacher, kicking in the door before tossing a flashbang through. Then, as three people pour through the door and take out the hostile before they could react, one of them yells, “FROM THE BACK!” before being cut down. We finish clearing the room, and report it in over the radio “Enemy Overwatch down, get into the objective and watch the corners.”

Even though all the banter is specifically about the match and what’s transpiring in it, everything going on puts most people into an ‘RP-Lite’ mindset that you don’t even notice. It’s just adrenaline and high intensity problem solving through trials by combat.

The Full Package

Where role play in gaming becomes more notable, is in the worlds of tabletop RPGS and MMORPGs. From Dungeons and Dragons and Shadowrun, to World of Warcraft and Everquest, these multiplayer experiences were already built around a combination of lore, and encouraging people to adventure together. It was in one of these settings where I first experienced a role play community, and it set me on a course to finding an even deeper level of enjoyment in the games I played going forward. In 2006, I had my first MMORPG experience with The Realm Online. Somehow standing the test of time, it was a relic of a game where advancement was almost entirely centered around a grind of killing monsters and less about questing.

One day while exploring the main hub village, I came across a gathering place of people talking. It was apparent quickly they weren’t talking about the game itself, or about things out of the game, but they were playing characters.

I sat, I watched, I learned off and on for a few weeks. What was strange at first became interesting. Eventually I began planning out my own character, as much as I could, and after a bit of a stiff first session, my character began to grow and evolve. It began to develop more of a personality, the time spent leveling up was useful to think of ideas on how to make the character seem more alive. Time went on, and the stories developed between the group’s adventures. Individual character deeds weaved stories that I still remember to this day, as well as forged friendships that have lasted long since we all parted from the game.

Now in 2019, having long since moved on from The Realm Online to World of Warcraft, if I’m not leveling an alt or raiding on my main character, I’m in Stormwind. I may just be watching the Auction House, or I may be interacting with one of several groups of role players that call the city home. Whether it’s weary Alliance combatants gathering for a drink and a hot meal in Old Town’s ‘Pig and Whistle’ tavern, or watching paladins and priests conduct induction ceremonies to a Light-themed guild at the Cathedral of Light, or just bumping into fellow passerby on the streets; if you’re looking for role play, you need not travel far on any number of World of Warcraft’s servers specifically labeled to encourage role players to gather there. Some of the people you may only ever see in passing, others you may first find your characters becoming acquaintances and then friends, and often it’s the same for the players behind the characters as well.

A Small Glimpse Into The Community

When hopping from game to game, delving deeper into these communities, I of course took the time to stop willing players out-of-character and ask them a few questions for this piece. I wanted to ask them what brought them into role play, what it does for their gameplay experiences, and how their experiences varied from character to character. Names have been withheld as requested except for those comfortable enough to share them, and only first names are used in that instance.

From World of Warcraft: “My first time role playing was actually an accident. It was 2011, I’d come to the game on my own, and didn’t really have anyone to play with. So I found myself looking for a guild to call home, so I could level and experience the end game content. At the first guild meeting, I remember it being incredibly formal. We were all required to have our tabards, and something along a similar styling to wear during the meeting. To say I was confused was an understatement, but my new friends helped me learn the ropes and before I knew it I was spending more time role playing than actually playing the game. Honestly that has helped the game stay fun for me as long as it has, especially during content droughts.

Over the years I’ve only rp’d [role played] on my druid, and I think I’ve read through every bit of lore surrounding the night elves that I could get my hands on to make sure my character is as faithful to the source material druids as possible. She’s my character, but I color inside the lines. I know some people have more fun making their characters lore-breaking for sake of uniqueness, but that’s just not for me. My druid is plenty unique enough.

For anyone trying to come into role play for the first time, on World of Warcraft, I would definitely say any RP server is an option to have on the table, but the two you’re most likely to find people open to newcomers are on Moon Guard and Wyrmrest Accord. Oh, and avoid Goldshire on most servers as a general rule of thumb.” -Night Elf Druid, Wyrmrest Accord

From Dungeons and Dragons: “I first got into role playing when I was younger, around the 4th grade. I wouldn’t say the base gaming experience has changed per se, but I would say it adds an extra layer to the game. You plan and build out a character’s story, meet people with that same goal in mind. You are meeting two personalities, one of the character and one of the player; it’s interesting to build friendships between players who have characters that outright hate each other.

Over time I’ve played characters, both male and female, that offered a wider variety of experiences in the ways these DnD campaigns play out. For example, one character I played was a warlock woman who rather than dark and brooding, was shy and bookish; she wasn’t as feared and distrusted as many warlocks commonly would be because her demeanor was in such contrast to the norm. You can portray a cookie-cutter warrior or rogue, sure, but the ones with the most depth and the most fun to play as are the unorthodox. If you stick to the mold, your character becomes too static. 

If you give them a personality, a set of morals, desires and fears, it helps develop them beyond that. That’s why I’ve enjoyed role play in the tabletop scene for character development, as games like Dungeons and Dragons (they note specifically the fifth edition) offer helpful tools to create incredibly in depth characters.” -Kyle, NY

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  1. Damn am I that old? I remember getting started with D&D, no edition number, just D&D. Also the James Bond Role Playing game. (I should shut up I’m making myself sound older)

    Partly because I’m from the middle of nowhere so “new” stuff to me was actually probably 10 years later than they were released, but that’s what I got started with and I’ve enjoyed ever since. Though I haven’t role played much since moving to Australia. *Sigh*

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