MMORPGs – Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games

As we look at the various ways in which we can characterize computer games, an interesting trend emerges. Online games are generally more engaging and interesting than standalone games; multiplayer games more than single player games; and role playing more than real player games. So what do you get when you move the sliders to the most interesting end of each axis? The worst acronym in high tech: MMORPGs.

MMORPG stands for “massively multiplayer online role-playing game.” Your kids may sometimes split the acronym and refer to MMOs separate from RPGs. An MMO is a massively multiplayer online that doesn’t involve role playing, while an RPG is a role-playing game that isn’t massively multiplayer or online.

MMORPGs are typically set in a fantasy world in which quests must be accomplished in order to advance within the game (sometimes referred to as “leveling up”). In many MMORPGs, certain quests require the formation of guilds or teams that work together.

Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) are immersive 3D environments that enable large numbers of users to interact with one another via the Internet. This genre of games, which includes World of Warcraft, Lineage, and EverQuest, has spawned a multi-billion dollar global market. Today, there are over 16 million subscribers worldwide playing in a persistent game world.1


For certain individuals, MMORPGs can be powerfully addictive. The following is not an exhaustive list, but identifies some of the reasons:

  • They fill a significant social role in the life of the player. For some individuals, such social interaction may be sorely lacking in the real world, but readily accessible in a virtual world.
  • They reward actual skill rather than the often arbitrary social reward structure of high school. MMORPGs are a meritocracy—you rise within the world according to your ability and your work ethic. A smart kid who is unpopular at school can get well-deserved recognition and a sense of satisfaction through online gaming. In cyberspace, nobody knows you’re an unpopular 16-year-old.
  • They provide an endless source of goals and objectives. You really can’t win the game per se, so the game always continues.
  • The time required to level up rises with each accomplishment, creating a steadily increasing time commitment with an equivalent emotional commitment to the level of play represented by prior effort. Some players are very reluctant to walk away from a game where they’ve invested so much.
  • The game never stops, so when the user isn’t playing, virtual life is still going on. That creates a sense that whenever you are not logged in, you’re missing out.
  • The necessity of peer groups for collective quests creates a potentially strong form of peer pressure. Even if a player feels they need time away from the game, their sense of importance to the team can draw them back to the game. I have heard more than one story of a young man who bypassed his mission plans, stating, “My guild needs me. I can’t abandon them for two years.”

While all forms of online gaming can be addictive, MMORPGs are particularly troublesome. Not every player of an MMORPG (or any computer game, for that matter) is going to lose it all trying to become Lord of the Cave, but some will. As your kids start playing online games, you need to be aware of the risks. Most players don’t have significant problems, but for those who do, the effects can be devastating.

Although video game addiction is not a new phenomenon, the introduction of an online component in the current generation of games has probably increased the size and scope of the problem […] Both Korean and western researchers report specifically that Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) are the main culprits in cases of online video game addiction.2


Suggested Listening:
Internet Safety Podcast Interview with Tom Boellstorff, Professor of Anthropology at UC Irvine

1 Shang Hwa Hsu, Ming-Hui Wen, and Muh-Cherng Wu, “Exploring User Experiences as Predictors of MMORPG Addiction,” Computers & Education 53, no. 3 (2009): 990-99.
2 Antonius J. Van Rooij, Tim M. Schoenmakers, Ad A. Vermulst, Regina J.J.M. Van Den Eijnden, and Dike Van De Mheen, “Online Video Game Addiction: Identification of Addicted Adolescent Gamers,” Addiction 106, no. 1 (2010).

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