Computer RPG's are Ego Masturbation


Without true individual drama the increasingly popular computer games that mimic roleplaying are patterning the minds of good role-players to be rigid and selfish. The quality of role-playing that I have seen with those players in my gaming group who engage in this pursuit has diminished greatly. These games present a repetitive structure that focuses on self-aggrandizement and the ability to conquer by whatever means necessary.


Air is required to breathe. In short: you're stating the obvious. The technology just isn't there yet, but games like Oblivion are certainly getting there (though, certainly, not to the extent I'm assuming you want). Likewise, computer RPG engines, such as Neverwinter Nights 2, allow GMing using their toolset - it then becomes an issue of fighting the engine vs. the shipped/imposed single-player storyline. You can read our review of the initial Neverwinter Nights engine.

You may also wish to experiment with Façade, which is attempting to bring "interactive drama" to games.

Sounds like you've had a bad experience with this recently, Gilgamesh. Let me guess, did it go something like this:

Some of your players started playing an MMO("RP")G during their spare time outside tabletop sessions. Then during the sessions they started using leet-speak like 'noob' or 'pwned' ironically, as if in jest, and poked fun at the superficiality of the MMO("RP")G which they were playing on the side 'just for a laugh'.

But after a while the jest was dropped and they started speaking in earnest in the same way as the people they once mocked. This in itself wasn't a problem, except that it seemed their adoption of this new language somehow also blunted their roleplaying faculties, and they became irked by adventures that didn't follow a rather predictable pattern of risks and rewards. They lost the patience to get through a long adventure with a complex plotline where the aims were anything other than personal acquisition. They become more self-centred and less cooperative with the human referee of their tabletop sessions.

Does this sound familiar? I've heard this story so many times before.

I wouldn't go so far as to say that the above describes an inevitable process with all 'media crossover' gamers. I think some players are able to switch between gaming dynamics with more ease than others.

I wouldn't go so far as to purely blame the medium either - it's more of a social/cultural problem, I think.

Like me you've experienced the player who thinks his character is the endall and be all hero stemming from multiple single player games where he beat up on AIs all day and always got the girl at the end. Some symptoms of the ego mastubating player are; a character that is usually "half" something. The half usually has to do with an epic race such as half-celestial, dragon, demon, and drow. The character will also buck authority every chance he gets because 1. he's a dick 2. that means he is not the center of attention.

I don't know if social games like WoW or DnD would change someone like this. They might learn to compromise and coexist within a party or group of other living breathing humans. However, we have all encountered the people in MMO's and message boards who seem to beome more rude and anti-social then they normally would be. Also, MMO's seem antithetical to roleplaying as players increasingly twink out their characters stats and repetively go on the level tread mill.

My point is that the ego masturbation doesn't come just from single player games. The MMO's are just as repetive and encourage even more power gaming.

IMO, there are several different problems here:
1) Single player computer games (FPS, RTS, RPG, adventure...) all put the player in their center, usually granting him increasing power and importance over time and thus, an ego trip.
2) The difficulty of creating a world that allows the wide variety of actions and reactions to the participating characters as those in a GM-ed tabletop RPG, as well as that of personalizing the story, has made RPG designers rely on the superficial trappings of RPGs to create the computer versions. Thus, every game that has character stats is touted as "having RPG elements", characters all "develop" by increasing their stats and gaining increasingly better (potentially magical) equipment and most of what you get to do is fight.
3) MMOGs, by their nature, do not suffer from 1). In fact, they suffer from the opposite and usually also from lack of story. This lack of immersion in the game world, combined with 2) makes for the obnoxious behavior I'm told runs wild in WoW and other such games.

Now, since the rewards (and punishments, usually meaning death) in CRPGs are immediate, they create a short and strong feedback loop for the players, which might cause problems in the standard P&P game, but this is just conjecture on my part.

I have a feeling I got this link from zip, but it seems relevant here:

Haha. Some of my friends use leet-speak in real life. "pwnd" is the most common offender, being used, as gherkin has said, in jest. But we've never allowed it to cross into regualar vocabulary, on the basis of how stupid it sounds.

Interestingly enough, the friends of mine that are involved in MMOGs actually play a non-mainstream game that's very focused on role-playing and community, known as Nexus ( Those that don't role-play in this game are not allowed into the more elite groups of gamers, which turns off a lot of the more standardized MMOGers.

My opinion is this: Don't blame the CRPGs. Computer games are not P&P roleplaying games, they are computer games. You can't expect either one to be like the other. Playing D&D and playing, say, WoW are as different as playing D&D and reading LotR.
Goodness, that's a lot of acronyms.
But my point is, if your players are having problems keeping the two seperate, that's their fault - not the games' fault. It isn't fair to say that there is something wrong with the structure of computer games because they aren't like paper and pencil games, because they CAN'T be paper and pencil games. Single player games are bound to focus on that single player, and probably wouldn't be much fun if they didn't. MMOs on the scale of WoW are simply too big to offer much in the way of roleplaying. For every good RPer in WoW, there are probably at least 10 idiots running around, not to mention the folks that aren't idiots but just don't care about roleplaying. Those things are only problems if you go into CRPGs expecting them to be like P&P RPGS. They aren't "ego masturbation" any more than any other game in which progress of some sort is made.

Gaming with these types is called following the yellow brick road if you know what I mean.

"MMO"RP"G" Good call