Rampant Games - Advancing the Role of Role-Playing
Jay Barnson writes a lengthy piece on the "role" in roleplaying, the difficulty of translating an meaningful persona into a CRPG and some possible steps towards providing that expression:
But those frustrations aside, that’s a big part of the fun of role-playing games. Whether it’s trying on an idealized persona, experimenting with a role, or acting as an interactive author of your character’s story, role-playing for its own sake can be an extra layer of fun on top of the hacking and slashing and looting and coming up with bad puns to make your friends groan.
It is also something that is extremely difficult to translate into computer games. It’s often very difficult to maintain in tabletop games or even LARPS, as well. But once you have the computer acting as both medium and (in multiplayer games) an intermediary between players, it gets even harder to keep that aspect of RPGs going. After all, the game world itself is completely immune to all but the most coarse of interactions – very little more beyond “destroy,” “loot,” and “trade” – so aside from some canned dialog or story options, there’s really no way to express the subtleties of character. You can’t wink at a barmaid to try and catch her attention, or bribe some of the street urchins to tip you with information when they catch site of your rival, sneer at the mayor as he welcomes you to the town, or treat your horse to an extra bit of oats and an apple and a good brushing to reward it for its courage and the hard run it made to bring you back to the town in safety. These are things that might not make much impact in a human-moderated world either, but might at least gain some acknowledgement from the other humans around the table. They’d at least make a mark on their collective history of the game world to register what kind of person your character is.
Computerized game worlds don’t do that. Yet. And probably at no time in the near future. Computers aren’t any good at that.