I spent the afternoon at the Steamwheedle Faire, a big role-playing event on our World of Warcraft server that I’d really been looking forward too. I’d got a dress for my troll warrior, to make her look festive rather than warlike, since the Faire was a cross-faction event, and in our guild we’d discussed how we’d role-play the event. But when I actually got there, I was overwhelmed, and found myself less participatory than I’d imagined and more interested in how such an event shows what doesn’t work in World of Warcraft.

Alliance story-telling contest at Steamwheedle FaireI think the main problem is that the interface is not at all optimised for role-playing. The visual and gestural interface works well for fighting and exploring, but is very limited for interpersonal communication other than attacking each other. With huge numbers of people present – there must have been more than a hundred – the visuals become close to useless, and you rely almost solely on the text chat for figuring out what’s going on.

World of Warcraft uses basic commands similarly to MUDs and MOOs, so I can type “/say I’m so excited” and other players near me will see the text “Zarastra says “I’m so excited” in chat window and a talk bubble over my head with the words I just said. (That’s a made up character name, I don’t think I want my troll too easily connected to her player.) In a text-only world this works quite well. Either you’re in the room or you’re not, and so /say can work even if there are a lot of people present. In a graphical world, though, proximity matters. I want to stand next to my friends, and I want to remark on how people look or on what they’re doing. At the Faire, everyone lined up for drinks and raffle tickets. I saw a friend from the guild, and so I tried to talk to him – but since the chat window was rolling past so fast with all the conversation, he didn’t notice, or if he did, he didn’t connect my “hi” in text chat with my being right next to him. He couldn’t see the talk bubble over my head because I was just behind him in the line. Roleplaying is supposed to happen in /say and in emotes like /wave or /me taps Nalia on the shoulder, but those things weren’t working because there were too many of us. Add in the lag I was getting as my computer struggled to render a hundred odd humans and dwarves and trolls and it was quite a frustrating experience.

What also worked well were events that play to the visual. The Mithril Guard had a parade, which looked great – a bunch of dwarves wearing blue all in very strict formation. We couldn’t understand them though, and when they seemed to stop very abruptly, just dispersing without taking a bow (you can bow in WoW) we wondered whether we’d offended them somehow, or what had happened. The lining up was sort of confusing but looked good from a distance. There’s also a certain pleasure in the fireworks and dancing.

walking to the Faire, across Shimmering FlatsWhat I enjoyed most, though, was crossing the high level zones in a huge long procession escorted by high level guild masters. I think this worked so well because this is one of the things the interface is designed for: exploring and moving around a varied landscape. We were running along so there was no real need for much conversation. And we were doing something together, with excitement. Looking forward to the event was great fun too. It was a good excuse for talking with other players (“Are you going to the Faire next Sunday?”), and having decided I needed a dress to wear to the Faire gave me nice little self-motivated “quest”.

I love that people organise events like this – Stomina Teacup, the guildmistress of Kaboom! Inc, a gnome guild, is the main mastermind, and along with The Mithril Guard, Kaboom is clearly the most active roleplaying guild on the server. At any rate, they organise most events. Hopefully, in time, we’ll have graphical interfaces where communication and role-playing are as well-supported as fighting and exploring.

[Edit: Esther also posted about the Faire, with some really thoughtful points on roleplaying in WoW.]

3 thoughts on “off to Steamwheedle Faire

  1. Ali

    I found, when I was roleplaying seriously (mostly LARP) that there was always a tension between players who wanted to roleplay and those who simply wanted to be powerful enough to hack things up. As a roleplayer, the second group of people can become quite irritating…The way round this is to have quests/events that do not necessarily centre around combat, and this seems to be what the fair was trying to achieve.

    It strikes me though, that the computer game medium of RPGs probably leads to lessroleplaying and more combat unless players actively engage in playing their character. This is perhaps a question of how you award points – in most RPG/LARP systems points are awarded for roleplaying as well as dealing with killing things, but this is probably impossible to do without human involvement in the points awarding system.

    In all, as a traditional roleplayer I’m a bit torn by MMORPGs – they are fun to play, but the lackof emphasis on roleplaying means that the escapist element isn’t entirely there. However, my opinions may change…..(particularly as I’m starting some research into RPGS with regards to Russia – http://www.aliwilliams.me.uk/blog/?p=42)

  2. Jill

    I think role-playing guilds like The Mithril Guard solve the problem of how to reward role-playing – in this case, the reward is not in XP but in gifts and items – some of their storylines have specific rewards for players who can get certain items – and in social status, both explicit (ranks in the guild, privileges) and implicit (being recognised by more people, being admired, gaining a reputation, having more friends). These are controlled by humans – I agree that it would be hard to automate this.

    So this means a lot depends on finding or creating a good guild.

  3. AKMA?s Random Thoughts

    Follow-Up And Next Random Thought

    Jill and Esther cover a fantastic re-employment of Warcraft, and articulate some of the noteworthy problems relative to using the Warcraft infrastructure for such outlandish merriment. And cheers to Jennifer’s classmate Isaac Everett for his part…

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