Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Role-playing is hard

I have an admission to make – I can’t play the evil guy in RPGs. I simply cannot. I think I first realized this in Knights of the Old Republic when I tried to do a play-through of the game as sith, see how the storyline works out if I do so, and see an alternate ending. Now it is usually quite obvious what the evil (or “dark side” or “renegade”) options in these games are, making the whole task trivial from an intellectual point of view. Emotionally, however, I just couldn’t bring myself to be such a dick to the NPCs, even knowing that they were just a collection of pixels. (Or, more accurately, bits.) Somehow, Bioware RPGs seem to immerse me so much that I can’t actually – you know – role play. While I’m not thinking about the player character as myself, I will always behave as if it was myself in that situation.
(Warning: The paragraphs below may contain very slight spoilers for Dragon Age: Origins.)

I see, essentially, three ways to make choices in RPGs – deciding based on what you would do, based on what your character would do, or deciding for the most lucrative option. The latter is know as power-gaming from the days of pen and paper RPGs and normally something I’m prone to doing. I enjoy min-maxing and making my character the best of the best and in games like WoW or Diablo that is pretty much all I do. In these games I will torture humans and slaughter animals if it means I’ll get a decent amount of experience out of it. In Dragon Age: Origins on the other hand I have a hard time even asking NPCs for a reward for my good deeds.

There is no good-or-evil meter in the game, the only feedback you get are direct results from your actions, changes in the happiness of your party members, and some text in the epilogue. Asking for a reward doesn’t usually influence either of those, it is almost completely risk free. Yet, I hardly ever do it. “I just saved your son’s life, what do I get for it?” is something I would never say in real life. Sure I might be happy to get a reward nonetheless but I won’t bring it up myself, that just seems greedy. Real role-players don’t seem to have this issue, they play the greedy egoistic dwarven noble or the knight in shining armour and choose their reactions based on what their character is supposed to feel.

When you play the dwarven noble origin in Dragon Age you can choose to be a real dick, with some hilarious dialogue options to boot. You can make your servant address everyone that isn’t a noble for you and order a casual execution within the first few minutes of the game. Playing this way would fit very well into the world that dwarves grow up in in the game and the resulting interactions are quite funny. Yet, my own dwarf was goody two-shoes and didn’t harm a fly if he didn’t have to. That’s not because I chose to make my character that way but simply because I can’t get myself to choose the other options.

Personally, I wish I had the capability to role-play my characters more – if only to see more parts of the game. There’s a section in Dragon Age: Origins where you have to break out of a dungeon – and I’ll likely never see that section because it requires you to either surrender or lose a fight to an NPC beforehand, neither being something I’m likely to do. Even on my second play-through, knowing my options, I chose to fight and defeated the NPC instead of going to prison. I’ve read it’s a very good part of the game – but do you really expect me to go to prison voluntarily?
And yeah, I’ve had the same ending on both of my play-throughs of the game. I knew how to get others, but they didn’t make much sense to me.

Here’s one more example of how much the world of Dragon Age: Origins sucks me in: I usually play female characters in games because I just like looking at them better. (Or maybe because I’m embracing my inner lesbian as someone on some forum put it. Whatever that might exactly mean for a guy.) In the game you get to flirt and eventually have sex with some of your party members if you play your cards right. Two males and two females are open to a relationship (for varying definitions of “relationship”) one each being bisexual. That opens a total of three romantic options for your character (two opposite sex and one same sex relation.) So naturally I started a female character and realized at some point that my choices in romance were quite limited. I can’t get myself to flirt with a guy. That reduced my choices to the bisexual bard Leliana who seemed quite boring at the start. The other girl, Morrigan, was way more interesting but alas completely straight.

This irked me so much that on my second play-through I actually played a male character. (Quite an ugly dwarf in fact.) Romance with Morrigan well under way (and therefore a chance to at least have a slightly different ending to the game), Leliana started talking about her feelings for my character and turned out to be quite a sweet girl indeed. Well, I couldn’t break her heart and therefore had to break up with Morrigan, landing me in the same boat I was in on my previous play-through. I suppose I’m just a gullible fool to be influenced by the “feelings” of an NPC, but I’m loving it.

Is this what real immersion is and is everyone who can think as their character and not as themselves just not immersed enough? Or am I just a bad role-player and playing as the elven bride who hates all humans is the real way to play these games? Is it a good sign for a game that I play it the way I do, or does that mean it doesn’t offer me enough options?

  • I think the 'RP yourself' route tends to be the most immersive (and thus, enjoyable) out of the game experiences, so I've started doing that on my first playthroughs. Especially on Bioware games 🙂 The all out RP characters can wait until I've experienced the game for myself. Weird thing in DA is, that I've been actually torn between doing the good route or making an RP based decision, even though I'm not RPing it through now. Like in the werewolf place, I'm thinking "My character would really flip out and kill them all now… But that's not the proper good route though…" the conversation continues "Now she'd REALLY flip out and kill them all. But it's still not good! Banish the thought."
    Managing to immerse yourself in all kinds of decisions, even evil ones? Yeah, moral of the story is that Bioware rules and I need to go and build a shrine for them.

  • I still dont have the game yet… ordered it in the uk as well though 😉 ill happily provide some evil guy feedback 😉
    I allways end up in the neutral or bad zone in rpgs. If I play based on my own decisions its usually neutral. In Mass effect for example I was never really tempted to either taunt or threaten characters to avoid conflicts. If they want some they get it right away. I usually gather positive points for bringing back sons and such but then negative one when I am not heroic enough to reject the offered rewards or if i really don't want to rescue this cat that is perfectly happy in the tree. In ME I also had quite a problem with authority which gathered renegade points fast.
    Then there is also the powergaming part of me. in many rpgs evil is just simplistic and it is so much faster to kill the guards then to lure them away. Just ask yourself when you rescued the lost sister the last time and killed blood raven 😉 If you powergame properly and do the minmaxing right you are often stronger then the rest of the world anyway. especially in rpgs that are not balanced for these things.
    maybe with better balance and a more complicated evil side of the game this might change. I already quite excited how dragon age will turn out.