Militant Rants

Role Playing Online vs. Off

by Aaron Turpen, KillerGuides

For most of us, online role playing games (RPGs) have largely or entirely replaced face-to-face “dice off” games like Dungeons & Dragons and Palladium Fantasy.  Busy lives and the fact that playing online is just easier and can be done more often has taken its toll on the old group gathering games.

It’s another story of technology replacing something personal to many of our lives.

But is it better?

The Up-side to Offline Gaming

Playing face-to-face, offline, has a lot going for it.  It’s more personal, as you’re meeting friends personally and talking and hanging out before, after and sometimes during the game.

Real life games also tend to be more fantastic in terms of actual role playing and character development.  Since the visualization is entirely in the players’ heads, these characters can be anything.

The game play is generally more fast-and-loose since the rules are subjective to the game lead (usually called a Dungeon Master or Game Master), who is generally free to alter or temporarily suspend rules in order to make for a better story or more interesting adventure.

Players too can do things that a DM might not expect, thus throwing the rules back into his/her face and changing the story being told in unexpected (and usually fun) ways.

The Up-side to Online Gaming

Online game play, too, has its advantages.  The first is that it’s easier to get into the game whenever you’d like (just log in) and play can last for a small amount of time or all day, depending on your schedule.  There are almost no logistics involved in getting into the game to play as no meeting place, announcements to players, etc. really need to be done.

Online play is also faster to get involved in, since you don’t have to meet someone or get invited somewhere, you can just buy or download the title and start playing.  This has meant that a lot of gamers who might not otherwise have ever gotten into RPG are now doing it.

The Down-sides

What has been said so far should have given you an idea of what the downers are to each of these game types.  To summarize: in-person play has a lot of logistical problems involved and requires regular scheduling and getting together, making it harder to play more regularly.

Online gaming has issues with the amount of role playing that’s actually possible, the rigidity of the game rules and structure, as well as its content.

So each choice has its ups and downs.

So which is better then?

The answer to this will depend on who you ask.  Personally, I think that in-person gaming is a lot more fun.  You get to hang out with people – some of my oldest friends are those I played RPG with, in fact – and spend time in each other’s imaginations.

Every character I remember fondly was a product of in-person RPG.  My frist character ever was AiDok the Elf from the original D&D pamphlet edition when I was in college.  There was Ombi, a Fighter-Thief Dwarf from 1st edition Dungeons & Dragons who was basically a walking curse, covered in blue fur and with a lot of attitude.  Of course, I can’t forget Groont from Palladium Fantasy, an Ogre Gladiator who pined for being something more thanks to his relatively high intelligence (an Ogre with an IQ of 150 is a real oddity).  Plus, as a fighting class, he was mostly just a meat shield since he couldn’t hit a barn door with a pointy stick at two feet of distance..

Those are the characters I remember fondly.  I have a little attachment to Glowvrn, my Dwarf Guardian in Lord of the Rings Online, and perhaps to one or two others from online gaming.  Oddly enough, I also have a fondness for my School Bus in World of Tanks.*

Still, these are nowhere near as powerful as my offline RPG characters have been to me.  So, to me at least, playing face-to-face is a much more rewarding and fun experience.  I’ve played all four editions of Dungeons & Dragons, Palladium Fantasy, and a few made-up games like Ganglands and 6-sided MadeThisUpCuzItsAllWeHave RPG.  Don’t look for those last two in stores.. you won’t find them in the way I played and GM’d them.

Turning the other way, however, my younger sister is all about online gaming.  She plays EverQuest 2 now, played EQ1 originally, and has played other games as well.  Other friends I used to RPG with face-to-face have also gone online to play WOW, LOTRO, and others.  In fact, I got into LOTRO because my friend Niel, who I met playing face-to-face, was playing it and told me I should try it out.

Truthfully, I haven’t played a face-to-face RPG in a very long time.  Years.  I can’t name very many people who have, honestly.  The old troupe I used to get together with back in the day is all split up and spread out around the U.S.  Which is probably why most of them are online now too.

I sincerely miss those old days of getting together in the living room of my friend Dan’s house and playing 1st edition with lawyer-turned-DM Steven while friends like Rob and Kevin came up with engineering feats to throw dice* or use their PDAs to enhance the game for themselves.

I really miss sitting in a smoke-filled garage, drinking beer with friends while we played Palladium and people like Taka and Zach argued game rules as the rest of us looked at Neil to play “Guess this week’s injury.”

*For those who don’t know, I no longer have an active account in LOTRO and a “school bus” in WoT refers to a Russian SU-14 SPG.  Kevin actually used a Lego Robotics set to build an “automated” dice thrower.

Wait.. that didn’t answer the question.

Of course not.  Saying definitively one way or the other would just start a  flame war as religious zealots from every online and offline gaming system imaginable show up to claim their game is the best and then shout “n00b” at everyone else.

Besides, the answer is personal to each and every gamer, whether online or not, and so it can’t be delivered here.  Both types of games have their good and bad points and players know this.

While I personally prefer offline, face-to-face play, I haven’t done so in years and am actively playing online games currently and have been for some time.  I still pine after the “good old days” of RPG, but realize that things move on and lives change.  I’m no longer in a position to play them.

Luckily, I’ve kept all my 2ed D&D and Palladium books.. so when my kids get old enough..