Role playing games have a long history as a fringe geek occupation, yet throughout that history they have been gradually gaining mainstream acceptance. Back in what I would like to call the dark ages, role playing games were enjoyed in basements by socially awkward adolescent males almost exclusively. The most classic role playing game, of course, is Dungeons & Dragons. In Dungeons & Dragons, the players would wander around a mythical world while the dungeon Master narrated a story. They would battle goblins, ghouls, and all kinds of other monsters while trying to accomplish various quests or tasks. The point of the role playing game – at least in theory – was not just to kill the most enemies and advance to the highest level. It was about more than that. It was about imagining yourself as a character and truly immersing yourself in that role.
With the invention of computer role playing video games, however, things moved closer to mainstream acceptance. Games like Zork, the legend of Zelda, and other computerized adventure games advanced role playing by allowing people to play on their own. These role playing games were addictive! I had a friend who used to spend literally weeks at a time solving every Final Fantasy game that came out. He would do nothing but sit down in front of my TV, switch on the Nintendo, and play ceaselessly.
With online role playing games, gaming has become a completely mainstream occupation. Unfortunately, in many ways online role playing games fall into the some very bad traps. Rather than focusing on stories, they focus on graphics and what is called hack and slash game playing. This means that the main point is to kill as many people as possible while amassing as much treasure and as many special powers as you can. Although this role playing gaming is pretty flashy, involving some of the most sophisticated graphics that have yet been designed, it is also pretty flat and monotonous. It sucks up time without truly exercising your imagination.
Nonetheless, although this is true for games like World of Warcraft, it is not universally true for online role playing. In some of these role playing games, the emphasis is on intrigue. Twisted plots suck the plays into conspiracies, making phenomena such as betrayals and double crosses a standard part of gameplay. In many ways, this is much truer to the original spirit of the role playing games.