Is the MMORPG genre dead

MMORPGs as virtual worlds - immersion and representation

Table of Contents


Part I: Historical and game theory foundations of virtual worlds
1. The mechanics of virtual worlds based on World of Warcraft
2. Multi User Dungeons (MUDs) - The first online worlds
3. What are MMORPGs?
3.1 MMORPGs as role-playing games
3.2 MMORPGs as (computer) games
3.3 Action as Part of Video Games
3.4 Productivity and work in MMORPGs
3.5 Rules and Results

Part II: Immersion in virtual worlds
4. Four levels of immersion in virtual worlds
5. Narrative immersion
5.1 Text as a world
5.2 The Possible Worlds Theory
5.2.1 Textual Actual Worlds
5.2.2 Re-centering in fictional texts
5.2.3 Re-centering in non-fictional texts
6. Ludic immersion
6.1 Motivation and gratuity
7. Spatial immersion
7.1 The identification of the avatar
7.2 The acceptance of the space
8. Social immersion
8.1 Social Richness and Body Language
8.2 Text as basic communication
8.3 The user of virtual worlds
8.4 Richard Bartles "Player Types"
8.5 Guilds: Fixed social associations in virtual worlds
8.6 Loose social associations in virtual worlds

III. Part: Summary and Outlook
9. Summary of the theses
10. Outlook: Socio-cultural backgrounds of the success of virtual worlds
11. List of sources

"Reality’s a bitch and I heard that she bites."

Common: Be.

“The fact that all of this took place in an artificial space was completely irrelevant. Being artificially shot with an artificial laser weapon in an artificial space is just as effective as being shot in real life because you're always as dead as you feel. "

Douglas Adams: To Rupert and back.


Immersion and representation in massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) - why did I choose these two terms to approach virtual worlds? Because virtual worlds offer a new quality of immersion and we can best approach the cultural phenomenon if we understand its structures and their effect on the user. The user of virtual worlds is immersed in a social simulation that, depending on his preference, has been placed in one of the genres typical of MMORPGs: science fiction, the Middle Ages, superheroes and, above all, fantasy. Virtual worlds have the typical properties that we ascribe to a world in general. They are full of places made by us with the help of an avatar1 (a virtual alter ego that represents the user in the virtual environment) can be visited. Cities and villages, mountains and seas, forests and steppes can be experienced visually and aurally. In these places there are people (also represented by avatars) who we can ask for directions, talk to them about the weather or current political events. We can call some of these people friends or acquaintances, others perhaps as opponents, competitors or even enemies. Virtual worlds allow us to own things, keep animals, and make financial transactions. We can pursue a profession of our own choosing and sell the items made in this way on a free market. The economist Edward Castronova describes virtual worlds as arbitrarily designed, alternative realities that can be experienced by means of a graphic representation.

“This other place (another planet, another historical domain, or any other plane of existence) can have mountains, stars, and fire in it; it can have gravity, or no gravity, or reverse gravity; it might have trees and grass, but also chickens and dragons, or chicken-headed dragons or dragon-headed chickens; it might have houses and taverns and castles, or spaceships, or tiki bars; and it might have people. Some of the people you would see might be software-controlled, but others would be controlled by real humans, such as yourself. In fact, there might be a mirror there, and if you press the right buttons and maneuver our viewscreen in the right way, you would see yourself, present, in that place. The window by which the computer is depicting the world is, in fact, the surface of somebody’s eye, and that somebody is you. "2

There are fundamental differences to the physical world in which we live when we are not sitting in front of a computer, reading a book or watching a film - that virtual worlds cannot be haptically experienced, or olfactory, and thus two sense organs are (still) off excluded from the virtual world experience apparatus. But they still allow us to reach for things and smell things. It is just presented differently and communicated to us differently than in physical reality. Attributes such as immediate, real or authentic are therefore not directly linked to a material representation, but to the code of communication and its understanding. The first part of this thesis will deal with the basic assumption that MMORPGs are virtual worlds, and therefore not games, as often claimed. They are places that we enter and leave again when we feel like it, and in which there are buildings that are made up of pixels, but which we refer to and understand as buildings. "We experience what is made of information as being material"3.

Computer games are differentiated by comparing them with them. I would like to approach the virtual worlds by using classic game theories (Huizinga, Caillois, Juul) as well as more modern scientific discussions with computer games (Wolf). A historical classification will refer to the text-based ancestors of the graphic virtual worlds, the multi-user dungeons / domains (MUDs).

When we have developed an understanding of how much virtual worlds actually are worlds by approaching them on a descriptive-comparative level, we have to go one step further, again away from the world and towards its inhabitants. In the following I will refer to the inhabitants of virtual worlds as users. On the one hand, the term user has established itself in the area of ​​the Internet, and the virtual worlds I have described are always accessed via the Internet. On the other hand, due to its imprecise character, the term includes all forms of use that are possible in virtual worlds, and this lack of precision should not be understood here as a shortcoming, but as a tool to do justice to the far-reaching possibilities for action and interaction in virtual worlds . But how does immersion in virtual worlds take place? And what is meant by the term immersion? This is what the second part of this thesis deals with. The feeling of presence in a world and the mental fading out of the medial communication play a role here, as does the cognitive level of perception of the user. After all, a virtual world must first be accepted as a world and thus stand out from a purely ludic-oriented playing area. First of all, it must be said that the concept of immersion in computer games (despite the differences to be described, they are the medial starting point for viewing virtual worlds) is controversial. Because complete immersion in virtual reality, as predicted by the postulates of cyberpunk in the 1990s, hardly takes place here. "The ultimate goal of VR interface design is nothing less than the full immersion of the human sensorimotor channels into a vivid computer-generated experience."4 There is indeed hardware tailored to individual computer game genres as a technical extension of perception, such as gloves and glasses or steering wheels for racing games or joystick rods for fishing games. However, they do not force the player to immerse, or are even connected to his central nervous system with diodes. They only serve as a hardware-based support for the immersion offered by software products by the user. So there is a big difference between the virtual reality devices of the cyberpunk, the diode-strewn VR suits, and the current possibilities for creating immersion. Immersion will only take place with the inclusion of the player or user on the basis of the experience in media generated spaces. This is why one speaks of a “willing suspension of disbelieve” - the name goes back to the English writer Samuel Taylor Coleridge5. The willingness to embark on an adventure in a virtual world created on the monitor, with which one interacts via an interface, and that only in the form of a representative, the avatar, has to take place on a voluntary basis. Immersion does not take place as an entry into another world, as an esoteric transition, as it sometimes appears in the theories that deal with the topic. In fact, immersion, as it occurs in computer games and thus also in virtual worlds, is a process that is as psychological as it is perceptive; after all, it is a media staging. This media content, especially in virtual worlds, is designed with regard to its immersive potential. Immersion is a shift in attention and occurs on four different levels: the spatial level, the gameplay level (it could also be referred to as the ludic level), the narrative level and the social level.6 The fascinating thing about immersion in virtual worlds is that it takes place on all levels, and almost regardless of the orientation and preferences of the user, all four levels inevitably find a strong weighting. Immersion on a spatial level means that presented places and spaces in virtual worlds are perceived as places, and not just as a graphic representation of buildings in a piece of software. Here, a photo-realistic representation of the environment does not necessarily create more immersion than a comic-like exaggeration. Viewing events from the first-person perspective, as we often know from first-person shooters such as Doom (1997) or Halo (2003), is not necessarily more immersive than camera work that integrates the character into a clear, spatial perspective. More important is the ability to manipulate objects and, related to this, the question of how present the user feels in such a depicted space and to what extent his ability to identify with the figure he controls.

The ludic component that makes immersion possible is strongly interwoven with the actual design of the gameplay. The questions that arise here are: What destinations does the world offer me? How does my avatar develop? Are the mechanics of the world or the game geared towards human interaction? How is the representation of events such as fight, flight or breaks? How is the user's motivation going, especially with regard to the continuous development of avatars in virtual worlds?

A narrative immersion has already been the subject of theoretical explanations in literary studies. These are well applicable to computer games and virtual worlds, because in addition to the ludic level as a basic element, they often also have a narrative level, whereby the narration in virtual worlds is certainly more pronounced than in games of skill such as Tetris or in sports and racing games. This raises the question of the construction of narrative worlds, the fundamental understanding of texts as worlds and the cognitive processes observed here, which induce readers of epic novels as well as users of virtual worlds to enter a story that constructs a world, to immerse. Because a virtual world is not only experienced directly through the graphic spaces, which can be perceived visually and aurally, but also through the narrative constructs that spin around this world and weave it into its own history, its past, its present variations and theirs Visions of the future. In addition, narration is used to introduce gameplay elements or to breathe more life into places through pre-scripted scenes (and thus in turn to create a sense of presence). Here I will particularly refer to Marie-Laure Ryan. She not only differentiated between temporal and emotional narrative immersion, i.e. immersion in the course of the story and the simultaneous development of empathy with the characters played (which is an act of course in virtual worlds, since the development of empathy with one's own avatar is more important The process of identification and finding one's identity is considered to be the development of feelings for a third party), but also deals with texts as a world and the Possible World Theory.

The final type of immersion takes place in a room that computer games in this form and quality have not previously explored as much as virtual worlds now. The social space, the interaction with other users, the building of interpersonal relationships of varying intensity and the formation of differently strong social associations is a specialty in virtual worlds. Chat friendships existed long before the appearance of the first graphic virtual world known as MMORPG, thanks to the use of the Internet, and the formation of guilds and clans can be found in almost all computer game genres, especially in shooters and games in e-sports -Area can be found. In virtual worlds, however, these associations to form user communities are an integral part of virtual existence and friend lists integrated into the user interface are an important management tool, because without the interaction in groups and fixed associations, you can successfully master the demanding endgame, i.e. the content after the upper level limit has been reached , not possible. The interaction takes place through various chat channels as well as through the avatar, which can reproduce basic emotional expressions verbally or gesturally. These emotional expressions are called "emotes". In general, the question arises to what extent the design of the world is geared towards strengthening social contacts and promoting team play, which communication strategies have been adopted in the cultural and linguistic space of virtual worlds and which set of rules besides the End User License Agreement (EULA ) was created by the community itself. Finally, in the context of social immersion, there is also a blurring of the boundaries between the virtual world and social reality. The following chapters are intended to explicitly show how immersion can take place on the four levels described. At the same time, it will become clear to the reader how little a clear line of demarcation is recognizable between reality and the virtual world. World blurring begins when the virtual world gains in importance compared to social reality or even becomes actual social reality, and reality as we understand it only has a distinguishing feature in the haptics of its objects and subjects.

Part I: Historical and game theory foundations of virtual worlds

1. The mechanics of virtual worlds using the example of World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft (2005) by Blizzard Entertainment is the largest and most financially successful virtual world with over 8 million subscribers. It is an example that MMORPGs have arrived in the mainstream, and no longer just a “geeky” pastime for computer geeks and role-play aficionados. In the list of the most populous countries in the world, WoW would currently occupy a place in the top 100, ahead of Hong Kong or Switzerland.7 Virtual worlds (or synthetic worlds, as Edward Castronova calls them) owe this surge in popularity to a technical and a cultural precondition. The technical prerequisite is to be seen in the high availability of broadband internet connections. These must be fast enough to ensure data exchange between client and server and to process a large number of simultaneous actions and movements almost in real time, which in turn are visually displayed by the graphics card on the computers of all users who are currently moving attend. A remarkable achievement when you consider that several thousand users can populate a server at the same time. The cultural prerequisite is, on the one hand, the genre preparation through single and multiplayer text adventures, i.e. computer games that open up a world for the individual player or several players at the same time, in which they can survive an adventure with their hero characters, their avatars . Going deeper than that, the unbroken popularity of J.R.R. Tolkien's ring epic, which also forms part of the foundation on which the MMORPG success is based. What makes WoW so successful in particular can be seen in the large fan base that Blizzard Entertainment has created with its previously released software products from the Warcraft series. The narrative world of Azeroth, introduced by several computer games, was known to a large number of potential buyers even before WoW was released. It was therefore easy to identify with the new world of the art of war, after all, purely in terms of content, you were on familiar territory.At the same time, Blizzard was able to learn from the design errors of the virtual worlds produced before WoW. Easy to learn the basic functions of the combat system and an integrative social component made it easy to get started, even for absolute genre beginners and even for people who have not played on the computer before.

Figure 1: The world of Azeroth consists of two large continents. An avatar walk from the north to the south end would cost a user several hours. Source: World of Warcraft

Figure not included in this excerpt

Before logging into the world, an avatar must be created. The typical races of mythological high fantasy such as dwarves, elves, orcs or undead are available, which are divided into two different factions, the "Alliance" and the "Horde". In addition to the gender of the avatar, external attributes such as skin and hair color, hairstyle, facial features and race-specific attributes such as piercings, tattoos or the length of the horns and tusks can be determined. Furthermore, the user can decide whether he would rather go into hand-to-hand combat and defeat the enemy with bare steel, or cast spells from a distance that either aim at the enemy or heal fellow combatants. Last but not least, the avatar is given a name. The selection of names is sometimes subject to strict rules. Avatar names such as "HillaryClinton" or "Death cone soup" will not be permitted on pure role-playing servers, but must fit into the overall picture of high fantasy.8 The use of a title or military grade in the name and the naming of a religious figure are also not permitted.

Once arrived in the world of Azeroth, the actual goal of the user is to make his own avatar more powerful and to arm it for the challenges ahead. The avatar becomes more powerful by killing opponents (mobs, for moving objects, moving obstacles or mobile bots) or by completing tasks (quests) set by computer-controlled characters (NPCs, for non-player characters). The avatar receives experience points for one as well as the other. Often times, a quest also includes killing a certain number of mobs. When a certain number of experience points has been reached, the avatar's level automatically increases, which increases its basic values ​​such as the number of hitpoints, its strength or its magic power. The avatar accumulates experience points until it has reached the absolute upper level limit, which is currently level 70 at WoW. The higher the level, the more experience points have to be collected to reach the next level. The jump from level 10 to level 11, for example, requires 7600 experience points, from level 30 to 31 already 47000 experience points, and from level 59 to 60 a total of 209800 experience points. The number of experience points received per successfully completed quest increases over time, but not proportionally to the amount required for a level up. Accordingly, each level up takes more time than the previous one. The avatar draws his actual skills from class skills that can be learned from special trainer NPCs at every straight level up (2, 4, 6 etc.), and from his equipment. Almost all killed mobs leave items of varying value, known as loot, in their carcasses.9 This loot is collected and then sold by the user to a computer-controlled dealer, placed in the auction house or used himself if necessary. In addition, professions can be learned to process the raw materials available in the world and to add them to a global value chain. All avatar skills, from combat to professional systems, proceed on a similar progressive basis. The users gradually discover large parts of the landscapes that are spread over two continents at WoW. Some computer opponents, mostly in instanced dungeons10 are too powerful to be fought by one avatar alone and must therefore be defeated with a group of users. These instances are considered the highlight of the gameplay because it requires a lot of coordination to put the skills of each individual avatar at the service of the group and to dedicate oneself to certain areas of responsibility. The healers are responsible for the health of those classes that are supposed to harm the mobs or keep them away from the group. The breaker classes have to attract the attention of the mobs and at the same time keep an eye on that all other classes can do their work undisturbed. The damage classes have to find the right amount of damage output If they make too much damage ad hoc, it becomes difficult for the breaker and healer classes to continue to protect them. In later instances, which are “straightened” with up to 40 users at the same time, the specialization of the individual classes and the need for coordination are even greater, and the loots are accordingly sought-after and rare. By playing in a group, the user forms social contacts. A friends list shows the user who of his acquaintances is currently online. At the same time, many users are members of a guild. This term is based on the cooperative associations of craftsmen or merchants, as they were to be found in Europe in the Middle Ages and early modern times. however, represent associations of users in a virtual world or a computer game.

The success of World of Warcraft was an initial for the entire genre. Never before has a virtual world outside of Asia had a membership of over two million users. EverQuest (1999), Ultima Online (1997), Dark Age of Camelot (2001), Lineage (1998) and Star Wars Galaxies (2003) held the top marks of the world's most successful virtual worlds. Due to the sudden increase in the number of subscribers who pay Blizzard a fee in the form of a monthly “entry fee” of approx. 12-15 euros, media interest in this form of software entertainment also grew. The reporting looked particularly fascinated at the development of social and economic systems within the worlds. But the high potential for addiction also became an issue, as there were more and more users who shifted the focus of their lives to the virtual world, had their circle of friends there and spent more time online than offline every day. From this point in time at the latest, many leading game manufacturers developed their own concepts for a virtual world. The new worlds dealt with here are only those with a graphic display mode, also called MMOGs or MMORPGs. Virtual worlds based on text have existed for over 25 years and are rightly considered the archetype of the genre that is so successful today.

2. Multi User Dungeons (MUDs) - The first online worlds

The first virtual worlds were the Multi User Dungeons (MUDs), which were used by a small group of those who had access to networked computers at the end of the 1970s. Roy Trubshaw and Richard Bartle, students at the University of Essex in England, programmed the forefather of all online worlds, MUD1, from 1978-1980, which individual users could access through an Internet predecessor called EPSS (Experimental Packet Switching Service). Because EPSS was linked to the American ARPA (Advanced Research Project Alpha), all universities in the Anglo-Saxon region had access to MUD1. The use of MUD1 was non-commercial, as the entire basic idea of ​​the Internet was based on the principle of free access. On university mainframes at the beginning of the eighties of the 20th century, several dozen users were able to go on a real-time text adventure journey in a medieval fantasy world. Other MUDs that differed from MUD1 by a different thematic setting but used the same engine for programming (such as ROCK, MIST or BLUD) or that used a different software code than MUD1, but the setting, quickly became popular on a small scale left in the fantasy world. The textual representation level of the MUDs was loosened up in the mid-1980s with the addition of small still images. They are in great contrast to today's virtual worlds, which show a scene in a three-dimensional environment at a glance - MUDs for this purpose several lines of text. The opening sequence for the German-speaking Avalon-MUD11 something like this:

“You stand in the hallowed halls of Dhungar. In the faint light of the torches that hang on the wall here, you can see an inscription carved into the rock. As a dwarf you can read the inscription with . The floor is covered with marble. Here and there a pillar supports the ceiling. To the north it goes steeply uphill. Exits: East and North. "

All living beings, all rooms and actions, all items of equipment collected in the course of an avatar's life exist only in the text descriptions on the computer screen. Some worlds allow their users to generate new content themselves and add it to be visible and tangible for everyone else. When users have gained enough experience in dealing with a world, they can move up the user hierarchy - administrative tasks and the creation of new content or the coordination of new content then belong to the fields of activity of a "wizard".12 The function of a wizard can only be assumed by someone who acts for the benefit of all users and at the same time can select between suitable and non-suitable content to be added. Programming and adding narrative strands, including the rooms and objects described there, is hardly practicable in the principle of open game design for 3D worlds. The relatively small number of MUD users and the resulting intimacy and social closeness were in themselves a control function which, however, would not work in the anonymity of worlds like WoW or EverQuest with their millions of users. Above all, programming errors in commercial worlds would lead to dissatisfaction among all users. The risk of granting the authoring privilege to selected users so that they can actively change the original program code is simply too great here. MUDs were also commercially exploited in both England and the USA from the mid-1980s. Users could dial into the virtual worlds MUD1, Federation II, Shades or Gods via Telnet access from CompuServe (USA) or CompuNet (UK). You paid for access by the hour.13 After differentiating the MUDs into different systems (such as AberMUD for Unix) and different classes (combat-based worlds such as DikuMUDs and AberMUDs or social worlds such as TinyMUDs), the text worlds still subsumed as MUDs differed on the basis of two gameplay components:

a) the presence of a reset. All killed monsters and felled trees are back in their place after a reset and can be included in an adventure again. However, not everything has to be reset. There are changes that are constant and those that are only temporary.
b) the scope of building powers. Are only a few, experienced users from the wizard's layer allowed to add content, program their own dungeons with monsters and traps, set up a living room with a carpet and television, can all or none? And will these changes in the world's code be affected by a reset or not?

On the basis of these two points, the following graphic can clarify where the most popular MUDs were to be classified.

Figure 2: Resets and building rights in the most popular forms of MUDs. Source:

Figure not included in this excerpt

The vertical axis denotes the type of reset, with Groundhog Day denoting the complete resetting of all values ​​in the respective world.

The horizontal axis describes the allocation of building rights and divides them gradually. It can be seen that the constant accumulation of new content is not a problem in social worlds, since it is not of a competitive nature. There are hardly any resets because there is no competition for resources and powerful pieces of armor such as swords are snatched from the monsters that have been killed. Conversely, it serves to balance a combat-oriented world like DikuMUD if only a few building authorities exist, so that not every user can make his own avatar more powerful than that of the others. At the same time, certain resources have to be renewed again and again: trees to fell, deer to hunt and dragons to fight. Anything that does not disappear after the reset can be viewed by a user as his or her virtual property. Compliance with such a simple balancing act between building and reset is also the basis for modern virtual worlds. And here, too, the social worlds are those that give their users the most building rights. Property is only valuable if it lasts. A virtual house in EverQuest is only worth several hundred dollars on Ebay if its owner can live in it until he sells it again or the world goes offline. Possession binds users, just like success. Possession is an immersive element because it increases the avatar's social value. One can therefore also speak of Avatar capital.

Each of the MUD types listed in the graphic above had many similar copycats, commercial as well as non-commercial. At the beginning of the nineties there were so many MUDs that a no small part of the data exchange consisted of access to MUDs.

"Indeed, a study of traffic on the NSFnet backbone in 1993 showed that just over 10% of the bits belonged to MUDs;" in other words, before the advent of the World Wide Web (WWW), MUDs constituted some 10% of the Internet! "14

Then the Internet boom set in and the MUDs lost a large part of their cultural dominance in the network, which was now reaching ever broader sections of the population. The textual representation of content had become an anachronism in the future-oriented supramedium of the Internet.

3. What are MMORPGs?

In order to find out what MMORPGs or virtual worlds are, you can determine what defines them and use a process of elimination to record what they are not. An MMORPG can be subsumed under the umbrella term MMOG (Massively Multiplayer Online Game). Almost all computer games in which many people can participate simultaneously via the Internet belong to this category. Some games are browser games and are played via an interface displayed in the web browser, while others are client-based, i.e. access is via software installed on your own computer that saves graphics, sound files and animation sequences on the hard drive. The user can then log into one (or more) central server via the software, from which scores and personal profiles can be called up. Some of these games are free, others are offered commercially, for example by paying a monthly access fee. There are also different genres. In addition to the oldest genre, the MMORPG, there are football manager games such as Hattrick15, Building and strategy games like Starcraft16who have favourited Warcraft17 -Series, the German-speaking Galaxy Wars18 or "MMOFPSs" (Massively Multiplayer Online First Person Shooter), also known as "XORGs" (Xtreme Online Role-Playing Game). Successful representatives of this latter subgenre, a mixture of first person shooter and MMORPG, whereby the overlap is largely limited to communication possibilities and the possession of an individual avatar, are Battleground Europe19 or Neocron20.

The main focus of the multiplayer games lies in the communication with each other and in the game with each other. Game goals are formulated in such a way that only a coordinated approach in the group can lead to success. The organization within the game takes place through the amalgamation of fixed player associations, which are called clans, guilds or alliances and which help or fight each other. Sometimes these clans are tightly hierarchical and quasi-military. Multiplayer games have meanwhile become disciplines of computer game competitions in Korea, but also in the USA and Europe, which also take on the status of major sporting events outside the gaming community and whose best players are revered like stars. These so-called ProGamers are professional computer gamers who compete against each other in sponsored teams in leagues and official tournaments.21

If you take the acronym MMORPG literally, it stands for an online computer game that is played by many thousands of people at the same time, and in which a role-playing game corresponding to the thematic genre is used as a standardized communication filter. This abbreviation therefore consists of a) purely technical information indicating the number of users (massive numbers) and access (via the Internet, i.e. online), and b) a genre classification with reference to role-playing and computer games.

3.1 MMORPGs as role-playing games

But for many of these online games, even those listed as MMORPG, the designation only partially or in no way applies. This should be clarified here using WoW. The subject of consideration here should be point b), i.e. the classification of the genre under role play and classification as a computer game.Because even if of the 192 MMORPGs available on the market or still under development, 138 take place in a fantasy world22, and the traditional pen & paper role-playing game as well as tabletops such as Dungeons & Dragons or Warhammer also use Tolkien-based fantasy, a conclusion fantasy = role-playing game seems too general.

The cultural influences of the fictional world “Middle-earth” on the role-playing game are immense, regardless of whether it is an analog form with dice and playing figures or a digital implementation in the style of a computer game. The influence of the above-mentioned forms of role-playing games on virtual worlds is correspondingly strong, because they contain many functions that were continued with the help of computer technology. Due to the high popularity of MMORPGs, especially those of WoW, a large number of non-role-players have been addressed who do not adhere to the sometimes strict conventions of role-playing and the separation of communication between IC (in-character) and OOC ( Out of Character). This means that during the role play, certain expressions of modern colloquial language and references to social reality should be avoided or specific chat channels should be used or they should be identified with the abbreviation OOC. Accordingly, a majority of users in MMORPGs do not or only rarely play role-playing games.

Figure 3: Users who have already played role play. Source:

Figure not included in this excerpt

The graphic shows the percentage of MMORPG users who have generally played role play before. At first glance, my assertion that a majority of users do not engage in any role play does not seem to match the statements made by the statistics. But just because the game in roles is generally possible and this opportunity is sometimes used by a little more than half of the users, MMORPGs are far from being role-playing games. If you ask about the regularity, how often the users think of roles for their characters and then slip into them, you get completely different results, as can be seen in Figure 2.

Figure 4: Users who regularly do role play. Source:

Figure not included in this excerpt

The percentage of those who regularly role-play is around 20%. Role play functions here in two variants. The first variant is to be understood as a spontaneous role play. For a dialogue you slip into the role that most closely matches the chosen character (daring warrior, noble paladin, ruthless villain) and become an actor in a short sequence that does not have to rely on the narrative construct given in the world. According to our own observations, this role-play phase is not consistent, is not characterized by a fixed etiquette and can be supplemented by references to the social reality, also known as real life, without interrupting the role-play.

"For some, role-playing is a spontaneous act between two or more players who play out a short scenario on the spot. These players typically do not have background stories and have a low likelihood of interacting again in a role-playing context. "23

Variant 2 is the classic role-play, including the creation of a history of the avatar based on the fictional history of the virtual world, a large number of users who are involved in the role-play, and avoidance of "unrealistic" communication and behavior such as fashionable terms that cannot be reconciled with staying in a role-playing world and the use of language that sometimes appears lyrical (of course not when it comes to role-playing in a science fiction world). The individual story of your own character is regularly continued and expanded so that other users can refer to it.24

"On the other side of the spectrum are elaborate, sustained interactions between a network of players, each of whom has a background story, some personality quirks, and a set of psychological motivations. The stories amongst these players typically develop over time in a combination of planned and spontaneous scenarios. "25

This figure also coincides with the results of censuses made with the help of an additional program called Census in WoW. Accordingly, of more than 4.8 million characters counted on all US and European servers, more than 4.2 million characters can be found on non-role-playing servers. Only 589,000 characters were counted on the role-playing servers set up by Blizzard for pure role-playing games.26 A value of around 12% role players on servers specially set up for this purpose (i.e. role play with every log-in) and a residual value of less than 10% regular role players (at least once a week) allows the conclusion that specifically WoW, but through the strong structural similarity of many MMORPGs per se cannot be classified as role-playing games and cannot be used. They provide a good basis for role play, nothing more.

Virtual worlds using the example of World of Warcraft can be referred to as MMO RPGs. But are virtual worlds also games? There is no doubt that virtual worlds with 3D graphics have a lot in common with video or computer games, from jump'n runs to adventure games and first-person shooters to strategy games and simulations. But is that why they are computer games? To clarify, I would like to refer to the definitions of game and video game based on Johan Huizinga, Roger Caillois, Mark J.P. Wolf and Jesper Juul approach.

3.2 MMORPGs as (computer) games

In his standard work Homo Ludens, Huizinga points to a peculiarity of the game itself, which separates it significantly from everyday life: the "wit of the game"27. Play is a voluntary act and not a serious necessity like work. Therefore, Huizinga regards it as separate and separate from our everyday life, as an independent phenomenon, integrated into the concept of culture and not denied. Huizinga says: "All play is first and foremost free action."28 At the same time, the game has no material incentives for him. So games are always played for yourself. In addition to describing play in society, he also gives his definition a normative interpretation: play is tied to special spatial and temporal conditions as well as a set of rules specific to the respective game. Let us now consider this statement in connection with virtual worlds. Voluntariness is the opposite of necessity or compulsion. Games, including computer games, are by definition played in leisure time. In a voluntary act, one moves in a "temporary sphere of activity with a tendency of its own." Or, in other words, "play is not" ordinary "or" real "life."29 We enter this other sphere because we want to experience the “joke”, because - to put it simply - we want to have fun. Accordingly, computer games are spheres that are created exclusively for pleasure and are outside of “real” life. Furthermore, the game is allowed to have no further consequences for real life. But none of these three basic characteristics of play just mentioned - fun, the position outside of actual life and the lack of consistency - are tenable when looking at virtual worlds. Users have different motivations to be in them. Having fun is definitely one of the main reasons, but not a motive that everyone else can subordinate to. Either the basic characteristics of play (ludus) and play (paidia) have to be redefined in order to correctly grasp their social relevance, as Jesper Juul did30. But you can also see it like Thomas Malaby, who sees the position of video games within Western civilization as so significant that he no longer wants to see them in the classic interpretation of “game” and “play”.31 Like Mark J.P. Wolf, look at video games separately and work out the special elements of the game that can be found there, as the essence of the video game, which does not necessarily have to completely agree with the classic game definition.32 The question then would be whether MMORPGs are perhaps not games, but computer and video games. As a fourth possibility, it could be questioned whether apparent forms of the game such as MMORPGs are even to be subordinated to the game genre.

3.3 Action as Part of Video Games

Mark J.P. In his essay The Video Game as a Medium, Wolf tries to define video games or computer games. He distinguishes video games from other mass media on the basis of their interactivity and presents this point as an important contrast to the "fixed, linear sequences of text, image and sounds [...] which remain unchanged when examined multiple times."33 Another point in his conclusions is the action-heavy nature of video games.

"Due to the almost instantaneous speed at which a computer can progress user input, respond with reactions, and display the action on-screen, video games are often designed to require fast action and reflexes, much like sports or games like pinball or table tennis . Fast action is, for some, so integral to the gaming experience that narrower definitions of “video game” exclude text adventures, adaption of card games and board games, contemplative puzzle-based programs like Riven (1997) and Myst III: Exile (2001 ), or any of the Ultima or Zork series. "34

Zork is a MUD and is therefore in a direct genealogical relationship to modern virtual worlds. Ultima Online is the first MMORPG to reach over a million active users outside of Asia. According to Wolf, both programs are not video games, due to the lack of reflex action. Even if WoW is significantly more action-heavy than Ultima Online, and that can be seen as one of the reasons for its success, it does not just consist of action, but to a similar extent of social contacts, the (initial) discovery of new landscapes or, as above, already addressed, roleplay. In addition, the combat principle in WoW is based heavily on equipping the avatar with good items such as weapons, jewelry and armor, and thus also on the commitment that the individual user shows in the design of his avatar.


1 Avatar (a), from Sanskrit for "descent". This meant the physical manifestation of the Hindu god "Vishnu" on earth.

2 Edward Castronova: Synthetic Worlds. The Business And Culture Of Online Games. Chicago and London 2005, p. 6.

3 Marie Laure Ryan: Can Coherence Be Saved? Selective Interactivity and Narrativity. In: Marie Laure Ryan [Ed.]: Narrative as Virtual Reality. Baltimore and London 2001 (1), pp. 67-68.

4 Frank Biocca and Mark R. Levy: Virtual Reality as a Communication System. S. 17. In: Frank Biocca [Ed.]: Communication in the Age of Virtual Reality. Hillsdale, New Jersey 2005. pp. 15-32.

5 See: Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Biographica Literaria. Volume II. London 1969.

6 The four-part structural model is based on: Jan-Noël Thon: scenes and events. over

Narrative Techniques in Computer Games in the 21st Century. Appears in: Corinna Müller [Hrsg.]: Mediale Ordnungs. Storytelling, archiving, describing. Marburg: Stoking (in preparation).

7 Source: (5.1.2007). 10

8 If you are undecided, you can also use name generators on the Internet, which create name suggestions for individual races especially for virtual worlds. A German-language generator can be found on the guild website, and an English-language counterpart at

9 from engl. "To loot" = plunder.

10 Instance in this case means that a copy of the dungeon is created for each group of users, which is entered separately from the rest of the world. This is to prevent groups from disturbing each other or more users than

11 telnet: // 7777 /.

12 See: Martin Keegan: A Classification of MUDs. (November 25, 2006).

13 Even the early MMORPGs such as UO or EverQuest should initially be billed every hour, and therefore had the goal of keeping the user in front of the screen as long as possible. See: Dave Kosak: Ten Reasons You Don’t Want To Run a Massively Multiplayer Online Game. In:,

7.3.2003. (5.1.2007).

14 Richard Bartle: Designing Virtual Worlds. Berkely 2003, p. 12. 17

15 (January 26, 2007).

16 (January 26, 2007).

17 (January 26, 2007).

18 (January 26, 2007).

19 (January 26, 2007).

20 (January 26, 2007).

21 see also: guys with flying fingers. In: DER SPIEGEL No. 6/2006, pp. 132-134.

22 Source:

23 (January 26, 2007).

24 a helpful explanation of role-playing etiquette in MMORPGs can be found at:, (9/11/2006).

25 (January 26, 2007).

26 all figures from: (11/9/2006).

27 Johan Huizinga: Homo Ludens. From the origin of culture in the game. Hamburg 1956, 11. 22nd

28 Huizinga 1956, p.15.

29 ibid., p.15.

30 Jesper Juul: Half Real. Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds. Cambridge 2005.

31 Thomas M. Malaby: Beyond Play: A New Approach On Games. Games & Culture (in preparation),

32 Mark. J. P Wolf: The Video Game As A Medium. In: Mark. J. P. Wolf [Ed.]: The Medium Of The Video Game. Austin, Texas 2001.

33 ibid., p. 13.

34 ibid., p. 15.

End of the excerpt from 106 pages