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News & articles about play-by-post games, for roleplayers & writers

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11 Reasons Why Play-by-Post Games are better than MMORPGs

Star Trek Online away team

I realize that this statement may be controversial, if not heretical. Many fans cling to their MMOs with great pride, whether it’s Star Trek Online, the Old Republic, World of Warcraft, or Elder Scrolls Online’s Beta. However, as cool as it is to have that level 60 Paladin/Jedi Knight/Klingon Captain/Battlemage, there are a few downsides you should be aware of.

Why 11? Because I watch too many Nostalgia Critic reviews.

1. Hell is Other People.

So you like the story. You want to find out if the Sith will take the Holocron, but as you and your team of co-operating Jedi draw your lightsabers…

Star wars old republicOut comes the army of Sith with their lightsabers, jumping up and down and running in circles. Through their microphones you can hear calls of ‘lol’ and ‘n00b!’

You were immersed in the story, but no matter how you try, there will always be hundreds of people in an MMO who are not. Admittedly it’s not as perilous as playing a Call of Duty game on Xbox Live, but the fact remains that for a story-driven player, it can be damned annoying.

Luckily you have a tool at your fingertips. Your brain. Star Wars was created long before these internet games could even be conceived of, and it was done through writing, through raw creativity.

2. No One Appreciates a Little Culture.

Bards are woefully unappreciated, you may proclaim to me with an artistic sweep of the hand. “No one appreciates the skill.”

With dismay, you might reveal to me that your rendition of ‘The Ballad of Leeroy Jenkins’ resulted in the whole of Azeroth muting your lovely song. Certainly no one appreciated the witty lyrics you’d devised. While you may enjoy the visuals or wandering about, you want your creativity to be appreciated.

MMO games are not the best place to be appreciated. Your ideas shine best in a place where characters are created by mental process, where biographies and backstories come in detailed text. If you have artistic skills you may have already tried sketching your character. Making a sketch with words is the next step.

3. Confound Your Moral Dilemmas.

Another crisis unfolds before you. You are a Jedi, and you need entry to a seedy cantina where your contact awaits. Without much time, you threaten the bouncer to pass by, or perhaps you use the Force. A screen pops up and tells you that you have fallen towards the Dark Side.

Tired of being misunderstood? After all, you were hardly malicious with that threat, it was just empty words.

Free from the confines of a computerized morality system, you will find a lot more becomes grey. You can find the exact line you wish to follow, and do so. Further, with the beauty of writing, you can make it clear that the threat was idle. In short, this is your ticket to be understood.

4. The Future is Expensive

Star trek Online shipIt’s hundreds of years in the future, and you are the Andorian Captain of a Federation Starship. Fearless, you stand ready to battle the warlike Klingon Empire. You raise shields and enter the warzone, only to find your frigate is outgunned by a fleet of luxurious ships.

You might be able to stand the wounded pride of being outnumbered, but where did such a fleet come from? Then you realize it. That Dominion Battlecruiser firing on you was purchased, and your problem is not a lack of talent, but a lack of funding.

Wasn’t the Federation a society without money?

Well yes, but unfortunately game developers are looking for money by selling in add-ons, which often help circumvent actual talent as a way to get ahead. Maybe you’re not interested in spending all your life savings on the internet. If you are, I happen to be Nigerian Royalty…

In play-by-post, you’ll focus on character dynamic, stories, action sequences, and essentially craft your own stories with others, all devoid of any special ways to blow money. The worst you can do is pay someone to draw your character, and that art will probably last longer than Star Trek Online anyway.

5. I Reject Your Reality and Substitute my Own!

After playing The Old Republic for a while, you finally set down your mouse and rub your eyes in exasperation. Behind you hangs a signed autograph from your favorite Jedi, perched next to a screen-accurate helmet.

You tried TOR. Maybe you enjoyed it a bit, but the canon makes you cringe. They brought Revan back? They crafted this ridiculous story?

Despair.

And much like you, the Trekkie in Klingon attire sharpens his bat’leth as he mutters curses in Klingon against the petaQ who replaced Martok in canon! Such disgrace and dishonor!

For whatever your reason, the stories and settings in these games bother you. What you demand is something more authentic, and luckily for you, most play by post set-ups are in the realm of movies or tv we most love as fans.

6. Oddly Specific Troubles.

Character creation in mmorpgNo, no, no! You say in consternation. “My Draenei Hunter is periwinkle blue, with lime green eyes that sparkle like diamonds in moonlight!” Try as you might, the character creator fails to capture what you see. And this beginner equipment? Truly shameful for one of such a birth.

You have a story in mind, an appearance in mind. And because this game has such a fantastic setting, you’re excited about it. Unfortunately, the game is less… In depth than you had hoped. Your own dedication to detail extends more beyond earning loot from dead enemies and selling it.

Play by post is what you need. You can customize even the tiniest details of your character, and envision even such subtle traits as speech patterns or the way they walk. When you are your own character creator, the creation becomes much better.

7. Console Envy.

I hear you crying, and when I politely ask why, you point to your desk. There I see the ancient symbols of our ancestors: Windows 98.

There will be no TOR, no STO, and not a trace of WOW in your life, save for the pictures you can load after five minutes of patience. Yet you long for something more than reading the relevant wikis. Well have hope. Take heart. Even if you are graphics challenged or have to borrow a computer, play by post yields special opportunity. Your focus is on images through words, and any actual image is purely secondary.

Here you can be just as awesome and shine as brightly as anyone else. You might have Windows 98 on Gateway from before 9/11, but your mind is already running the next Windows. Or heck, maybe you’re a Mac.

8. Buyer’s Remorse

You’ve been up all night downloading EVE onto your computer, and your reddened eyes look distinctly tired despite the cup of coffee in hand. But you know it’s worth the wait. And then you play, and play, and play.

It’s 3AM, and you shake your head. Is this what I signed up for? You mined the whole asteroid field, and went to a station to sell it all, and that alone took you a day and a half! You forgot to feed the cat! Also, you just lost twenty bucks that could’ve bought a pizza.

Well, with play by post, even if you hate the one you joined, you can move on to another for absolutely free. There’s no money involved, or at least if there is, you’re doing it wrong. Also thanks to the miracles of liquid time, you can write for an hour about how that asteroid field was mined and the ore sold, without forgetting to feed Mr. Whiskers.

Do it for Mister Whisker’s sake.

9. Racists, Racists Everywhere.

You look at me with narrowed eyes, annoyed by the beautiful visuals that you are denied. With a shake of your head, you grimace.

“Racists. A bunch of racists.”

Is it too much to ask that I be allowed to make my Cardassian Gul? My Romulan Subcommander? Yet Star Trek Online makes me pick a boring race! And you can’t even be Klingon until level 399.4. Or perhaps you sigh and rub your temples.

“I want to play a Togruta Jedi Master, I already have her appearance figured out.” It’s annoying, because TOR already has all the character models, but they withhold the ability to use them for your own creations!

Well, in play by post, if it’s sentient, you can probably play it. Heck, if it’s a rock-potato man from rock-potato planet, then some games will still let you play him. If you look, you’ll find a place that caters to all your needs.

10. Hand Eye Co-whatinwhat-what?

Look, you might say, I like the Elder Scrolls. Sometimes I watch my little brother play it, and I admire all the beautiful scenery. But, I can’t handle all the jumping and buttons, and oh wow, I’m dizzy…

Hey, there’s no shame in it. Not everyone is cut out for fast paced action in games, but that’s the way they’re generally structured. However, your brain is still one of the best computers ever built. You can generate your own imagery. I bet you’ve done it with books.

There’s no reason you can’t learn to do it yourself. Somebody has to learn to craft that Skyrim world too, and I can guarantee it’ll be easier for you to use descriptive words than it was for them to code that game.

11. What do I Look Like? George RR Martin?

Well I don’t know. I can’t see you. Maybe you are a short man with a white beard, large glasses, and the fiery eyes of the devil. Even if you’re not, I have some news for you. Come closer…

If you can find a play-by-post game that only accepts GRR Martin-level writing, I’ll buy you a steak dinner. Sure, compared to the MMO we’re asking a lot of you. Carrying your own plots, doing development, writing with others… But it’s not impossible. And you’ll admit after a while it’s a lot more fun than fifty ‘go there, do this’ missions.

SEE ALSO: Mary Sue Deconstructed

We’re not exactly writing classic literature here. We write because it’s fun and a good way to express ourselves. If you’re not a fantastic writer we’re not going to make you wear a scarlet ‘I’ (For inadequate, obviously) on your clothing. We’ll help you improve, because none of us started out perfect. Anyone who says otherwise is lying.

In the end what we’re asking requires more involvement than an MMO. Basically, we’re taking the M out of it. No, the first M. Massive. It’s multiplayer, it’s online, it’s roleplaying. I guess you could say it’s a game. It’s just not massive.

Think of this like college. A 60 seat class won’t let you interact with the professor. He probably won’t know your name unless there’s something catastrophically wrong. You want that 10 seat seminar. Well, this is pretty much the same. Except petty.

This article is written by Akeram Mulvar from the USS Hartington RPHave an opinion on this? Write it in the comments below 🙂

  • Ralazie

    I agree with everything that has just been said!

  • Andy Locke

    A few good points there, but it’s not all roses in the pbem camp either, is it?
    We’ve god modders, griefers and any number of different flavours of Mary-Sue, not to mention the fact that your enjoyment of the pastime is woefully dependent on the vagaries of people you’ve likely never met
    If you’re lucky enough to have a group near you, tabletop RP can mitigate many of these particular issues, but the stories there tend to be plot rather than character centric, so there’s rarely the opportunity, for example, to fully explore a characters emotional response to a given occurrence in the same way as you can with your writing
    MMO’s are different again and, for all their cynical, profit driven objectives, they offer a small slice of visceral and immediate gratification; I’ve felt pleased with several of the pieces I’ve written over the years, but that doesn’t necessarily compare with the exultation you experience when you take down a particularly tricky boss in a blaze of light and colour in an MMO
    Ultimately, there’s no happy balance; if you want dopamine based thrills, play an MMO, if you want social interaction, play tabletop, or if you want to live and feel a character, write in a pbem – Either way, each option has its own positives and negatives and nothing ticks all the boxes all the time