Navigating the Confusing, Horny World of MMO Roleplay

MMORPGs have always been notorious time-sinks. But no matter how many quests and dungeons these games offer, they all seem to have a sizeable community of roleplayers nonchalantly inhabiting their characters and doing their own thing. It takes a special kind of person to buy into a game this huge, take a look at its impressive breadth of content, and say “actually I’m just going to hang out in a cottage with my friends if that’s cool.” MMO roleplayers have a deserved if exaggerated reputation for being elitist and incorrigibly horny, but roleplaying in MMOs can be absolutely delightful if you find the right people to do it with.

Why Roleplay?

So why would you even want to roleplay in an MMO? For the same reasons you’d want to play Dungeons & Dragons or get involved in community theatre, really. Collaborative storytelling is not just entertaining, but intensely rewarding when everyone’s on the same page. In online spaces like games and forums, roleplay has the added benefit of being more convenient and easier to take at your own pace than its analog counterparts.

For my part, I’ve been playing tabletop roleplaying games for over a decade, but I got my first taste of roleplaying on the Ogre Battle 64 GameFAQs board. I was a shy, scared transgender kid living in the Bible Belt, and telling self-indulgent stories with internet weirdos who liked the same game that I did gave me a direly-needed community and creative outlet. I still do most of my roleplaying in video games and their adjacent online spaces, since that’s dramatically easier than trying to organize a weekly game of Blades in the Dark at my apartment.

But breaking into roleplay communities can be intimidating as hell, so I’m going to give you a few tips on getting started.

Pick Your Poison

First, you’re going to have to decide what game you’re roleplaying in. If you’re already playing an MMO and you like it, try roleplaying in that one! You’ve got almost nothing to lose. But If you haven’t played an MMO in a while or you’re brand new, here are a couple of questions I like to ask myself before settling on a game.

The obvious one is “Do I want to roleplay in this world?” This should be pretty easy to gauge based on your first impressions and gut feelings about a game — trust yourself here. I played my fair share of World of Warcraft as a teenager, but I would never want to dive into Azeroth as a roleplay setting. I don’t care for the way the game looks or sounds, and Tolkien-style fantasy racism — though nearly universal in MMORPGs — feels particularly gross to me in WoW. So that’s an easy pass.

Next, do the systems of this game make roleplaying easy for me? For instance, even though I love all of the bizarre metaphysical fuckery in The Elder Scrolls’ setting, I was never able to enjoy roleplaying in The Elder Scrolls Online. This is mostly a symptom of ESO putting its players on what’s called a megaserver.

Instead of the usual MMO practice of dividing their players between different, mutually exclusive communities, games that use megaservers put everyone in a dynamically shifting stack of smaller instances, giving the illusion of one seamless world. While this is great for grouping up and conquering dungeons with your friends, it’s inconsistent and frequently isolating for roleplayers. Characters phase in and out of existence before you can get a handle on what they want or if they’re trying to talk to you at all, and the lack of familiar names and faces in your usual haunts gives the world a transient feeling.

The technical architecture of The Elder Scrolls Online makes it hard for me to consistently interact with other roleplayers, and the dresses my character can wear aren’t even that pretty, so I’m not playing it. No game is going to have all of the features I want in an MMO, but right now Final Fantasy XIV is checking most of my boxes. I can play in a fixed community as a seven-foot astrologer wearing an absurdly pretty dress, so its world feels like a good fit for me so far.

Now that you’ve picked a game, you have to find the people you want to roleplay with.
While finding the biggest concentration of roleplayers in your game and saying hello might be the easiest way to start roleplaying, it is far from the best. This is a pretty common pitfall, and nothing illustrates it more plainly than the busy taverns that have become emblematic of MMO roleplay communities.

I Put On my Robe and Wizard Hat

In every MMORPG, there is a famous Sexy Tavern. From Goldshire in World of Warcraft to the Quicksand in Final Fantasy XIV, the Sexy Tavern is nearly identical in every game. It’s in or near a big city, it’s crowded as hell, and it always has the frantic sexual tension of a middle school dance with too few chaperones. Upon entering the Sexy Tavern, you will get a private message from someone called Frederick Longmember that just says “hi :)”

A character with a name like “Masochistic Toy” is naked, dancing on a table, and writing paragraphs about how nubile and submissive they are. Lots of the folks there are lonely, desperate to make a human connection, and asking for intimacy in the only way they have the language for. The Sexy Tavern makes my heart ache to think about, and I do not recommend looking for roleplay there.

It’s not just the Sexy Tavern, though. Almost any attempt to find good roleplay in a popular hangout spot is going to suck. Lots of roleplayers complain about their game’s community being cliquish, but those people are missing the necessary function of cliques in spaces this large and unmoderated. The bigger a community is, the more loud dipshits will be in it.

Maybe the Real RP Community was the Friends We Made Along the Way

Roleplaying, like any collaborative pursuit, requires a certain amount of mutual trust to be fun, so it helps to actually like the people you’re playing with. I can’t give a universal guide for making friends online, but I’ve had a lot of success by looking for small groups — in-game and on roleplay forums — that share my values and experiences. I’m a queer woman, so I’ve met a ton of cool people in MMOs through queer-centric or explicitly queer-welcoming guilds.

Once I’ve found people in my game that I actually want to talk to, I ask around to see if anyone of my new pals is a roleplayer. At worst, I’ll have met some rad people that don’t share my specific interests. And even then, my new network can almost certainly point me in the direction of one or two other like-minded folks who do share those interests.

My current MMO community is a meandering but effective example of this approach. I have a fantastic internet friend named Valerie (her Final Fantasy XIV character is pictured above, kicking my character in the face) who I met through my girlfriend in a transgender Discord group a couple years ago. I knew she was big into roleplaying and MMOs, but I was bouncing around other genres at the time and we never ended up playing together.

But when Final Fantasy XIV ran its recent Twitch Prime promotion, I found myself drawn once again into a virtual world. Valerie happened to be playing the same game on a roleplaying server with a small, tight-knit community of mostly-queer shitposters. I asked her whether this group had a specific roleplaying focus, and when she told me they had just been established as the staff of an eldritch pawn shop housing a secret portal to hell, I was immediately sold.

Finding or creating roleplay in your community is slower and more difficult than looking for a community of roleplayers, but I’ve tried it both ways and the roleplaying I’ve done with friends has always been easier, funnier, and more compelling than the stories I’ve tried to tell with ostensibly like-minded strangers. So get out there and give it a shot! And again, beware the Sexy Tavern.

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