Singing and dancing may look like useless fluff, but it keeps online worlds thriving.

Admitting that you play on a roleplaying server in an MMORPG often seems to carry the same stigma as confessing that you make designer purses out of kitten fur or dance around in women’s lingerie in courthouse lobbies. This is true even among my fellow game journalists — my colleagues might play games for 10 hours a day and speak of Ezio Auditore with the same reverence that other writers speak of Shakespeare, but should I mention how my guild once prohibited anything aside from in-character conversations in guild chat, eyes invariably shift and heads lower in embarrassment.

It’s a shame, because such an attitude ignores the benefits that roleplaying elements in an MMOPRG extend to all players — roleplayers or not — and lately I’ve started to wonder if this negative perception infects the developers themselves. For all of the advances in storytelling, combat, and dynamic events we’ve seen over the last couple of years, developers increasingly ignore little touches that enhance the gameplay experience for roleplayers in the apparent belief that nothing matters so much as combat and progression. Everything else, developers seem to say, is mere fluff. That’s true to some extent, but if you focus on combat and progression to the exclusion of making your world an immersive place to live in beyond the immediate storyline, you take away meaningful reasons for all players to stick around once the raids, the instances, and the PvP combat are done.

All the World’s a Stage

For the sake of this column, let’s ignore the roleplaying elements that all but the most dedicated players avoid — things like character biographies and in-character chat rules. These are almost always player-made and player-enforced creations anyway. I’m more interested in the immersive environmental features that make taking such things seriously easier — features that non-roleplaying players could participate in or enjoy without consciously thinking that they’re roleplaying. At their simplest, these roleplaying elements include weather, fishing, transitions between night and day, and cosmetic clothing; at their most complex, they include player and guild housing, player-created music, interactive furniture and “fun” items, player-built cities, and occasionally even player-made missions as in Star Trek Online. More than just “fluff,” such elements highlight the appeal MMORPGs have over other video game genres.

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via by Leif Johnson