March 09, 2010

RP is the Sandbox

Tobold posted about how WoW has lots of sandbox elements, which caused a proper stir in the comments. I am pretty much on the fence about whether the examples he made really are good examples or not, but I won't go into that, because I believe Tobold didn't take it far enough. Why? Larisa at the Pink Pigtail Inn posted about her experiences on a roleplay server and while reading that post something struck me. RP is the ultimate sandbox. It is entirely player created (apart from the world it's set in), and to many degrees it allows players to have an impact on the world. Sadly, in WoW at least, it will never have any physical impact on the world, but it can sure change other players to a certain degree, and players are part of the world.

I have only been RPing for a little more than a year, and in that time I have had many fun experiences, and lots of memorable moments. After I started raiding in WoW I never truly felt part of the world, but on my RP characters I do. My little orc is actually living in the world, and what she says and does causes other players to react, and since they are players, it's not according to a script. Therefore any time you encounter another player in-character the exchange will be different. It's like PvP, other players being the content and the world just being a backdrop, only you aren't out to kill each other by default. RP is player created content as well, since it's about stories created by, well, the players themselves. The story of the world itself is again a backdrop on which player created stories can be told.

Because of this I find it strange that nobody ever seems to considering roleplaying elements of games when they talk about the buzzwords "user created content" and "sandbox world". Any world out there is a sandbox by definition, it's once the developers of said world start putting arbitrary goals that are being rewarded by the game that we get the so-called "theme park" which supposedly is the opposite of "sandbox".

So why is the "theme park" part of WoW so much more popular? My guess is that it is because it comes with pre-defined goals that are easy to latch onto. RP has no set goals. You have to make your own, just like in a "sandbox" game. Because of this I don't believe that "theme park" and "sandbox" are antonyms. A theme park is what you get when you put goals into a sandbox. My point is that even though there are "theme park elements" on top of the sandbox it doesn't mean the sandbox is gone.

RP in a sandbox with a theme park built on top often runs into limitations though, but this isn't something that makes RP impossible. The playerbase will find workarounds for it, like emote fights instead of proper /duel requests. A fight played out entirely in emotes might look boring to a random bystander since the characters involved aren't moving, but once said bystander reads the emotes and starts imagining them playing out in his head it gets much more epic than any raid boss could be, depending on the emotes. It's like the saying "radio has the best pictures". The best pictures are the ones you make up in your head. Which is why I got sucked into RP. It has the best fights.

And the best of all? No farming for consambles or repair bills needed. RP is much less of a goldsink simply because it ignores the rules being set in place by the goal system.

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