Online role-playing games have become extremely popular among children and adults. This paper provides a brief insight into the history of online games and role playing. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is used as an example of an online role-playing game. The paper provides a detailed analysis of the game and its communities. The impacts of the game on users and the effects of technology on role-playing are discussed. The intended and unintended messages of role-playing in games are analyzed. Recommendations for the future research are provided.
Keywords: online role-playing game, RPG, technology, action, violence.
Online Media and Role-Playing Games
With the rapid advancement of communication technologies, children and adults quickly learn the benefits of online role-playing games (RPG). The latter have become part of many children and adults’ everyday realities. Millions of people in all parts of the world spend their days and nights in virtual role-playing environments. One of the main reasons why so many people engage in online RPGs is because they seek to expand their roles and experiment with those activities, which are either limited or prohibited in reality. Unfortunately, the impacts of online RPGs are mixed and, very often, negative. Technologies further contribute to the development of online gaming addictions. The main task of future researchers is to identify the factors, which make online RPGs so attractive to humans, and learn how to ensure a reasonable balance of virtual and non-virtual realities.
History of Video Role-Playing Games
Role-playing games (RPG) are often described as a complex subcultural phenomenon, whose history can be traced back to the beginning of the 1970s (Bowman, 2010). Many gaming historians suggest that 1974 became the turning point in the evolution of video and, later, online RPGs (Bowman, 2010). That was the time when the first coherent game system was released, and its popularity gave rise to the subsequent evolution of other role-playing games and models, including virtual gaming (Bowman, 2010). Today, RPGs come in a variety of formats and genres to suit every setting and mood of players (Bowman, 2010). The term RPGs is used to describe a wide array of practices and arrangements, whose chief goal is to engage players in a virtual gaming environment and enable them to assume an unusual role that brings satisfaction and pleasure.
It should be noted, that role-playing games involve three essential elements. First, RPGs always rely on the commonality and sharedness of the storytelling experiences among players (Bowman, 2010). That is, any RPG establishes and helps to maintain some sense of community among players. Second, any RPG has an explicit, although complex, game system that allows players to realize their scenarios and solve the problems posed within them (Bowman, 2010). Third, and most important, to become part of the role-playing community, players must agree to give up or at least change their sense of identity and develop a so-called “secondary self”; the latter will allow them to act freely and productively in the virtual environment (Bowman, 2010). Actually, it is due to the development of this “secondary self” that the theme of RPGs and their implications for individual psychology and relations remains so popular among scholars. Simultaneously, the growing popularity of online RPGs is justified by the inner psychological and emotional needs of humans, who constantly seek to realize their hidden desires without breaking the fundamental social norms.
Contemporary researchers recognize that role-playing games have become an essential element of people’s daily lives. “These games allow players to interact with each other and explore a world in real-time 3-D graphics” (Yee, 2006, p.68). Role-playing is popular among online users, as it has always been a foundational element of all human interactions (Bowman, 2010). Role-playing is a unique and extremely sophisticated form of cultural expression, which allows humans to exercise their multiple identities. RPGs provide unique opportunities for the development of new narratives and understanding the narratives of other players (Bowman, 2010). RPGs help users to create new worlds and construct their own narratives, which reflect the deepest concerns and involve the most sacred human experiences (Bowman, 2010). Based on these assumptions, it is hardly possible that RPGs will lose their popularity in the nearest future.
Of all RPGs currently available to users, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is, probably, one of the most popular. Even the basic online search reveals dozens of communities and forums, where players discuss their latest achievements and seek recommendations to improve their results. According to Thompson and Haninger (2001), this game can be classified as adventure, action, and role-playing. One of the most interesting aspects of the game is that each new version involves less violence but makes the process of character development more complex (Thompson & Haninger, 2001). Therefore, players need to spend more time and engage in more activities in order to achieve the desired goal.
The exact impacts of the game on players are, probably, the same as with other RPGs. It is clear that new technologies facilitate communities’ access to online role-playing games and, consequently, can lead to addiction (Ng & Wiemer-Hastings, 2005). Apparently, the discussed game helps players to focus their attention on essential visual cues and develop better perceptual skills (Buckley & Anderson, 2006). However, the potential contribution of online video games to aggressiveness should not be disregarded. Moreover, with time, the boundary between real and virtual worlds becomes increasingly blurred. The central intended message of the game is that anyone can achieve success and realize oneself through role-playing. The unintended message is that, with time, role-playing ceases being entertainment and turns into an obligation (Yee, 2006). Players cannot simply give up their participation in the discussed RPG. Eventually, they also face the risks of losing their identity and self. The game further encourages players to give up their identity for the sake of other, more advanced and sophisticated roles. Future researchers will need to focus on the relationship between participation in RPGs and changes in real-life human behaviors and learn how to achieve a reasonable balance of virtual and non-virtual realities.
Online role-playing games (RPGs) have become part of many people’s everyday routines. The popularity of RPGs is justified by the natural human striving to fantasize and try new roles and identities. The current state of research suggests that role-playing has positive and negative impacts on individual behaviors. However, one of the most serious unintended messages sent by these games is that of obligation: users cannot give up their participation in RPGs, until they achieve the desired goal. Most RPGs have led to the creation of numerous communities and forums, and their popularity is likely to increase. Therefore, future researchers will need to focus on the analysis of RPGs and their effects on human behaviors.