Role playing is a game where you take on the identity of a character, and act as that person, reacting to the world, and other characters, in as natural a way as possible. The purpose is to tell a story. This is a new, and only vaguely explored method of storytelling however, which adds a whole new dimension to the idea of first and third person literary styles. It is only in online form that these games are now starting to be seen as methods of narrative and literature, rather than just self indulgent games of fantasy.The most common, and least literary, form of online role playing is single person games, where the player interacts with a computer generated world. In these games there is a single voice telling the story, that of the programmers who wrote the script for the game. Even the most complex of these games tends to be linear in nature, with the player simply going through the motions in order to reveal the story as it unfolds.
Once you get beyond single person incarnations, you can find a wide variety of social role playing platforms, where players are set in a world where they interact with other characters, controlled not by programming, but by real people around the world.The oldest form of social online role playing is a type of game known as a MUD, short for multi user dungeons. These are largely text based games, where players interact through chat room style commands, combined with a variety of actions which can be accessed through textual commands. In some cases the MUD’s have certain graphical interfaces, and in more advanced systems you can have customizable character traits such as weapons, inventory, and accessories.In graphical games, the idea is very similar. You have a variety of characters, controlled by people, each with a pictured avatar of varying sophistication, which can be used to interact with others and the environment. These are simply the next generation of MUD’s, using more advanced graphics and programming.The final form of online role playing is far more textual and free form. It doesn’t rely on very much in the way of preconditions or programming. Instead, in this form the game is played across chat rooms, forums, profiles and blogs. Each one can constitute its own separate game, although more advanced sites are combining them into social networks, across which the role playing can be produced.
The great thing about these free form programs is that you do not have to rely on the imagination of the programmers. Instead you can create any scene, situation, or circumstance, simply using the power of written words. This is the form that is closest to a literary art, and the one which has the most potential for the future of storytelling as a whole.