The biggest selling point for the MMORPGs is the “massively multiplayer” part of the acronym. At the time that many small Dungeons & Dragons groups were gathering 3-8 players around the dining room table, folks at Essex University in the UK were creating the first text-based “MUDs” or multi-user dungeons that could have as many users all playing in a shared virtual world.
While on the surface it would seem that there is a lot in common between these two scenarios, they are actually quite different – the former has a small group of players sitting face-to-face and working through a roleplaying scenario using the standard rules of conduct of any public social interaction. Sure, they may be playing in character, but because the person is sitting directly across the table, all the power of verbal and non-verbal communication is at the group’s disposal, making for an infinitely complex and memorable session. In an MUD, the number of players was greatly increased, but there comes with that a great deal more anonymity, and none of the non-verbal methods of communication one can have in-person. Communication was by text only. It’s the difference between a small town where you know all the neighbors and a big city where thousands of strangers walk by without ever speaking to each other. Ironically, while it became much easier to gather large groups of gamers in a MUD, it’s was still very difficult to produce the quality of interaction you’d get in a small tabletop roleplaying session.
Three years ago I found I had a little more time on my hands than I had for the past five, and decided to get back to my gaming roots. Back in my high school days we had done lots of tabletop gaming, but had also jumped into the computer gaming pretty heavily with Wizardry and Ultima for the Apple II. College hit, and then work, and then things got really busy. Fast forward to 2009, and I log into World of Warcraft (or “WoW” as it is universally called) for the first time, and if I am not addicted, I am certainly damn intrigued.
So three years ago, I realized I had lost touch with my gaming roots. That is, somewhere after many days of Dungeons & Dragons in high school (we started the original “blue box” D&D basic set back in 1977 and played the original Ultima and Wizardry series for the Apple II), I had graduated college, started working and actually making a decent living. Somewhere in there I opened a bookstore and ran it well for 5 good years. My brother, who I had gamed with many times back in our high school days had kept up with his gaming, but had turned over to computer gaming as his main hobby – mostly due to the fact that our friends were now spread across the country, and all of us were strapped for time. I listened in envy as he described playing Ultima Online, Dark Age of Camelot, EverQuest and ultimately of course World of Warcraft. In there were mixed any number of “first person shooters” – Doom, Half Life, Thief, Call of Duty, and so on…