Role of human-computer interaction
A new generation of interactive computing tools is rapidly emerging that changes the way we live and work. Such tools will employ principles of social computing, offer a range of new interaction devices, and be supported by a new generation of highly capable yet easy to use interfaces. As these tools interactively incorporate our media content, physical context, social discourse, and affective states they will provide us with unprecedented opportunities for communication and collaboration across boundaries of time, distance, culture, language, location as well as expertise.
-R.M. Baecker et al., Interactive Technologies for Collaborative Learning
Roleplaying games are an organic part of the history of human-computer interaction (HCI). The first roleplaying game was published in 1954 by Tactical Studies Rules Inc.(TSR), the company founded by Gary Gygax which now goes under the name Wizards of the Coast – RPG publishers par excellence! This means that the first roleplaying games were published about half a year before Sketchpad (the foundation of modern computer-aided design) and three years before Ivan Sutherland’s ground-breaking Sketchpad paper. The other predecessor, Spacewar!, was developed at MIT and it is historically accepted as the first entertainment game.
Today we can look back to an enormous development of computerised games and play: From Pong onward through Quake and The Sims – just think of your average teenage room or look into their shopping carts on amazon.com – you’ll find out how much fun they have with computers! Computers are considered as wonderful toys, as extensions of human capabilities and as tools for creation, but also as evil machines taking over our minds. Computers are not only part of the life-style but also shaping our cultures and mindsets. It is actually about time to realise that there is no human without computation any more! We all live in cyborg societies.
There were several phases in roleplaying games’ history that can be seen as formative for the great success of today’s computerised games.
The first roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons (1974) was created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, using dice and paper around table, or so called face-to-face or live roleplay. Each player uses a pencil to write down his data during play on note cards, making it very much like interactive fiction, though still asynchronous.
The second phase is characterised by a second generation of roleplaying games, for example The Call of Cthulhu from Chaosium Inc. (1981) or MERP from Iron Crown Enterprises (1982). Games were systematised and the text was written to be accessible without knowledge of medieval Latin. In fact it became possible to find out more about the background story even outside the gaming sessions. This introduced a novel dimension: Roleplaying as a cultural activity that goes beyond playing itself! Campaigns-series like Middle Earth Quest or RuneQuest described worlds where players could explore not only through hours and hours of play but also through books and modules, i.e., less interactive fiction but still asynchronous textual material.
Thirdly, computerisation of roleplaying games began. Some of the first computer-assisted roleplaying systems were published in Germany, for example Das Schwarze Auge (The Dark Eye) by Feest Game Design (1989) which is still very successful. There are many more like Drakar och Demoner (Dragons and Demons), published by Target Games Sweden – today Paradox Interactive, who also develop Victoria among others. All these games are non-commercial freeware! Roleplaying became part of exchanging information on electronic networks that can be characterised as Cybertexts/Cybermedias. The Internet has become a virtual place where people meet to chat, talk and play with each other, i.e., it has become more real than real life actually…
Fourthly, with the introduction of computers roleplaying games became more accessible. For example examples are MUDs (multi-user dungeons) like Island of Kesmai (1985) or graphical virtual worlds like Star Wars Galaxies (2003). They introduced the textual chat interface based on typed communication which gave way to new genres like online RPGs (Role-Playing Games), Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games (MMORPGs), Massive Multi-Player Online Role-Playing Game(MMMORPGs) etc. All in all this was a great step forward in computerisation of roleplaying! It made it possible for people not only to play but also to communicate via computers and it brought roleplay even closer to everyday life. Of course the Internet is once again a very special example, as it becomes an everyday tool and people create communities through it which play roleplaying games in all different shapes and forms.
Fifthly, computerised roleplaying games became widespread not only on desktop or laptop computers but also on mobile devices like smart phones and other small hand-held devices. This creates new opportunities for playing with the social setting of our daily lives: While we can communicate and chat with each other (yes even do business) almost everywhere and anytime these days, we also use current media like Facebook to write diary entries: A new form of Cybertexts/Cybermedias emerged. New genres came about too: Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games (MMORPGs) have been around for a while – but new forms emerge all the time. For example, there are Massively Multiplayer Online Real-Time Strategy Games (MMORTSGs) like Tribal Wars from InnoGames GmbH or Mobile Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games (MMORPGs) like Order & Chaos from Gameloft…
And so on and so forth – according to this principle: To DM is divine! These six phases of roleplaying represent an ever-increasing level of technological sophistication and they lead us straight into virtual worlds and reality coming closer and closer together in cyberspace. Also roleplay communities emerged that play their games in worldwide networks with no geographical confinements whatsoever. Thus, computerised roleplaying games must be regarded as an important aspect of playing games in general which should be analysed in more detail.
Here the ground is cleared for merging roleplaying into everyday life, i.e., to use computers and other media like mobile devices to play with our daily lives like economists change their dreams about money all day long (Luhmann 1995). Roleplay communities do not only play their games for entertainment, they do it because roleplaying is not a mere form of diversion or leisure activity. It enables them to set up and re-enact new social systems – without breaks in continuity (Bartle 2004). For example, computerised roleplaying game communities create highly individualised settings with real-world elements like time, money and location (Egenfeldt-Nielsen 2008).
The following case studies shall illustrate the point in more detail; they focus on simulation games like “Animal Crossing”, “FarmVille” or “Second Life”. Case study one deals with roleplay communities in online games like World of Warcraft (WoW) who create