Lois Griffin: [Lois and Peter wait for a pregnancy test] God, I can’t believe we weren’t more careful. This probably happened that night we tried role playing.
Lois Griffin:[flashback] Oh, I need a spankin’. I’m a bad, bad girl.
Peter Griffin: I’m a Paladin with 18 charisma and 97 hit points. I can use my helm of disintegration and do one D4 damage as my half-elf mage wields his plus-five holy avenger.
Lois Griffin: Paladins can’t use the helm of disintegration.
Peter Griffin: Oh. Then, I’m a black guuuuy.

In the EVE blogosphere, the topic of roleplaying seems to have been propelled to the fore in recent weeks. Perhaps in part due to the public attention that EVE’s largest roleplaying alliance, the Curatores Veratatis Alliance (CVA), has been getting during their war in Providence versus Against All Authorities and Ushra’khan.

Akura Kawanaka at Eve Monkey blogged about the idea that roleplaying has been detrimental to the CVA and could be a contributing factor to their recent run of defeats.

Kirith Kodachi’s To Be or Not to Be blog post really got me thinking. He makes mention of the “static group” of roleplayers in the days of odd-shaped dice and real paper character sheets. He also discusses the idea that the concept of roleplaying has become diluted or changed by the modern Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) concept. Which prompted me to leave this comment:

I have fond memories of the pen-and-paper roleplaying games I played during my school years. Games like Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and Cyberpunk were the common ground that brought me together with many of my friends back in the late eighties, and it’s some of those same friends that I’m in an EVE corporation with today, over two decades later.

One of the things that we learned during that transition from sitting in the same room with familiar faces, to digitally generated online worlds is that MMORPGs are not really roleplaying games. At least not in the same sense. They may use the same IP and some of the same mechanics but it just doesn’t recreate that intimate, personal environment of creativity and comedy that the old pen-and-paper games did.

I know that was basically a “it weren’t like that in my day” statement, but please don’t misunderstand me. We really wanted online games to provide us with the same environment and spent frustrating years trying to make it happen as a ‘replacement service’ once we’d all grown up and moved to different towns. Eventually we came to realise that they weren’t the same kind of entertainment, in the same way that a film adaption isn’t the same as the original book. Bigger, flashier, but ultimately shallower and less interactive.

So we’ve adapted. We sometimes indulge in a bit of in-character stuff in game (it was one of the things that attracted us to living in CVA territory), but it’s secondary to game events and the win scenario will always be chosen over the roleplay. Every once in a while we talk about getting together and picking up a d20 again, but it’s unlikely to happen.

When it comes to EVE, I don’t believe it’s original creators ever considered it to be a roleplaying game. It’s a MMOG, certainly, but I dug out my original CD-ROM version and emblazoned across the top of the case art are the words “A Massively Multiplayer Online Game”. No mention of roleplay.

However, at the risk of contradicting myself, I believe EVE does achieve a level of immersion that many other MMOGs fail to attain. In some respects, it could be said CCP cheated the system by choosing a setting in space; in order to achieve immersion the player simply needs to feel isolated with unseen dangers lurking in the void. EVE is unsurpassed in providing those moments, and there is no denying the stark and stunning visuals. But then convincing and immersive deep space is probably easier to do than convincing jungles. Especially since none of us have actually been there to disprove CCP’s interpretation.

EVE doesn’t say that it’s a roleplaying game, but neither does it say that it’s not. The clever thing is in the fact that the universe of New Eden doesn’t force itself upon you. The beauty in the design is that it conveys the spirit and essence of it’s environment without demanding that you utilise it and interact with it in any particular way, it’s all just there for you to interact with or ignore.

There have been many times when I have stopped chasing the “winning move” for a while just to ponder a particular planet or celestial object, allowing myself to wonder on it’s purpose or the lives of the inhabitants. I know I am not alone in that, Mynxee recently blogged on the subject in A Sense of Scale and Mark726 has dedicated his blog to enjoying the detail over at EVE Travel (essentially A Rough Guide to New Eden – either Mark is actually Michael Palin in real life or he works for Lonely Planet).

In the end it’s all just pixels and, as Kirith highlighted, there are many barriers preventing roleplaying in the traditional sense. But before computer games it was just words on a page, yet somehow in our minds we managed to translate that into far more. The essence of roleplaying is the nebulous ideas within our imaginations being brought into focus by a form of media that allows interaction. EVE is a tool that encourages you to enjoy those parts of the experience that we know are there without ever seeing them, that we fill in for ourselves. In the same way that books, early computer games, tabletop war-games and our old role-playing games stimulated our minds, providing an outline for our imaginations to colour, EVE doesn’t attempt to do it all for us.

It takes us part of the way, inspires us and then invites us to believe.