Social interaction via MMORPGs

Social interaction via MMORPGs

Massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) is a genre of computer role-playing game in which users can communicate with one another (via computer-mediated communication), as well as virtually interact with other players. Many of these online games actually encourage users to interact with others. Thus, players can (and often do) form relationships online, be it a simple friendship, a cohesive team, or even a romance. However, despite the social features of MMORPGs, research has found that these virtual worlds can isolate users from the real world.

Currently, there is an ongoing debate on whether online role-playing games connect users (such as forming relationships) or fragment players (while online, users spend less time interacting with other people in real life).


While a number of MMORPGs exist, ranging from the incredibly popular World of Warcraft (commonly referred to as WoW) to Second Life, all afford several common features discussed below.


An integral characteristic of the virtual environment in general--and of MMORPGs specifically--is the anonymity of users. It is one of the primary behavior-driving factors of users in games such as Everquest and World of Warcraft (WoW). When the true identities of gamers remain unknown, how do they act differently in their virtual settings? And to what extent do users embrace or reject the anonymous nature of MMORPGs? Does the leanness of the medium affect players' face-to-face interactions? These are all questions of interest to researchers, and they can help gauge the benefits and detriments of MMORPGs.

Communication research in the field of social computing has indicated that people do, in fact, tend to behave differently when their identities are anonymous to others. In MMORPGs, you start from scratch. Players are presented with the opportunity to erase socioeconomic, racial, and gender lines. You can choose what type of character you want to play with and what you want him/her to look like; consequently your virtual identity is likely to be remarkedly different from your real one. As one researcher put it: "All players have equality of choice at character generation." It is an escape from the physical limitations of your true self in real life, and one potentially positive side effect of that is difficulty in stereotyping. When the lines are blurred to the extent that they are in MMORPGs, it is impossible to distinguish real identity from virtual identity, creating an equalizing effect. Capitalizing on the convenience of complete identity modification, many users are drawn to these games primarily because of its "identity tourism". The choice to enact oneself as an Asian samurai, say, could allow a white player to appropriate an Asian racial identity without any of the risks associated with being a racial minority in real life.

A related phenomenon is that, under anonymity, players have a tendency to open up to each other quicker and more often than in face-to-face interactions, despite the knowledge that they are interacting with complete strangers. Advice can be easily requested and dispensed, and there is typically a communal attitude among characters that arises partially out of anonymity and partially from the exploring/problem-solving environment of the games--a kind of "we-are-all-in-the-same-boat" mentality. Of course, moments could arise when the level of disclosure becomes "too" high, but excluding discriminatory and slanderous remarks, the anonymous communication present in MMORPGs is generally constructive.

ynchronous Communication


Reminiscent of its predecessors, multi-user dungeons (MUDs) and computer role-playing games (CRPGs), Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) combine the timeless concepts of pen-paper Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) and single/multi player computer role-playing games to allow group based game play in the midst of a thriving, online community. In general, MMORPGs are characterized for its involved character development process and game play that is driven by group-oriented activities that remain in its own select, cosmic universe—otherwise known as a server.

In order to truly understand the array of unique features MMORPGs are associated with, we must first explore its fundamental interior. MMORPGs are primarily developed around two systems; one that is class-based, and the other that is skill-points based. With a class-based system, one's chosen division determines his or her character’s strengths and weaknesses. This forces the player to interact with others and form teams to balance out strengths and weaknesses. On the other hand, in a skill points-based system, the player accumulates points as he or she progresses through the game. These skill points can then be distributed according to the player’s preferences. Depending on how the points are allocated and which area receives the most, characters have their inherent strengths and weaknesses. Thus, both systems are heavily dependent on the formation of a group-based community.

The First Generation

To further our knowledge about MMORPGs, we must also be cognizant of its timeline in the video game industry. The history of MMORPGs can be conveniently dissected as two distinct generations, each with its own merits and flaws. In its first generation, MMORPGs introduced game play that is simultaneous and real-time in a seemingly, graphically representative world. Primarily influenced by single and multiplayer RPGs, first generation MMORPGs sport a new, user-friendly interface without the presence of text commands. There are several, keystone MMORPGs that have defined the first generation movement:

# Meridian 59
#* First coined the term “massively multiplayer”
#* Established a monthly charging system, as opposed to hourly rates
#* Had a communication system, albeit an unrealistic one, that helped foster a strong community
#* Possessed elements that still remain popular in the genre today
#** Mini map (radar system)
#** Dialog box, which provided the central means of communication and detailed information
# Ultima Online
#* First commercially successful MMORPG
#* Regarded for making the genre popular and well-received
#* Mostly built around the Player Vs. Player (PVP) model, which entailed players combating against other players to reap rewards that had previously belonged to the vanquished
#* Developed a crafting system that enabled players to build their own weapons, armor, and other objects
# EverQuest
#* Credited for bringing MMORPGs into the mainstream
#* Gameplay consisted of combat, exploration, and character development
#* Made popular the idea of expansion packs
#* Introduced the Player Vs. Environment (PVE) model; instead of PVP, players battle against virtual creatures that already exist in its natural environment to advance and obtain rewards
#* Pioneered the idea of raids — formation of a large group to overcome difficult encounters
# Asheron's Call
#* Known for its acceptance towards 3rd party software that allowed interface enhancements

The Second Generation

The second generation of MMORPGs, although as innovative as the first and still quite formulaic in execution, has made significant improvements upon the graphical content and user interface. A number of MMORPGs have made imperative contributions to this generation:
# Dark Age of Camelot (Realm vs. Realm Combat)
#* Conceptualized the idea of epic battles between human-controlled players and three different kinds of beings
#** Inspired by the besiegement of castles in medieval times
# Anarchy Online (Instances)
#* Placements of regenerative, special zones that are entirely randomized to give every user a chance to experience the content fully and on their own time
#** Eliminated the issue of ‘camping,’ wherein other users may maliciously intrude to kill a particular monster or deliberately steal a rare object at the expense of those who were legitimately involved
# Final Fantasy XI (Multiplatform Support)
#* Successfully orchestrated an MMORPG effort on a console system
#* Reformed the quest and mission model:
#** Quests are more akin to ordinary jobs, which contain rewards and in-game currency
#** Missions are interwoven to the storyline. It also allows the player to gain access to new areas and to increase his/her own ranking in the game
#* Expanded upon the generic character development system
#** Players are readily able to change his or her own job, another word for class, anytime during the game at will
# Eve Online (One Server for All)
#* Gameplay was focused on exploration, trading, and, undoubtedly, space combat
#* Players were able to coexist on one server, thanks to the game’s less, graphic-intensive engine
# Star Wars Galaxies (Player Economy and Crafting)
#* A MMORPG based in the Star Wars galaxy, it offers a wide range of emotes, moods, and creative animations
#* Its most unique feature lies in the fact that the in-game economy is powered by item crafting [refer to an earlier section about Ultima Online for specifics] .
# City of Heroes (Highly Customizable Characters)
#* Incredibly dynamic character system that allows for nuanced alterations: Everything from facial features to the superhero’s outfit can be changed
#* Players are more easily distinguishable
# EverQuest II (Refining the MMORPG)
#* Designed to retain the best features and remove the flaws that had plagued previous games in the genre
#* The ability to become tradesmen, a merchant of some sort, throughout the duration of the game.
#* Contained high production values, such as having voice-overs by Hollywood talents
# World of Warcraft (WoW)
#* With a lower system requirement for the graphics engine, an intuitive interface, and an easy learning curve, WoW is accessible to almost anyone, and opened the genre to a much wider audience
# Guild Wars (Free of Charge Subscription)
#* Subscribers only have to purchase their own copy of the game, which serves as the one-time subscription fee
#* Recognized as one of the few games that has continued to offer a no-fee subscription, Guild Wars also retains the addictive elements of any MMORPG with "instanced" game play and impressive graphics.

Future Predictions

The first generation of MMORPGs can be characterized for remarkable and groundbreaking changes. Essentially an experimental phase, the first generation sought to revolutionize by creating new a genre that originated from tried and true concepts. Presently, we are still living in the second generation of MMORPGs. Researchers looking into the current generation of MMORPGs have not witnessed any startling changes, as mentioned before, and most of the major experimentation deals with aesthetics. At this rate, the gaming industry will start to see an influx of new MMORPGs taking full advantage of graphical capabilities afforded by contemporary computers.



According to [ the results] of researcher Nick Yee's Daedalus Project, an investigation of the psychology of MMORPGs, their players are a highly diverse group with an average age of around 26.

According to the study:
*85% of MMORPG players are male.
*About 25% of gamers are teenagers.
*50% of MMORPG players work full time.
*36% of players are married.
*22% have children.
*Player usage is not correlated with age (thus older players play the same amount of time as younger players).



Everyone has different reasons for playing a game, and many of these motivations determine what and how long one plays. For example, while power gamers only make up 11% of the gaming population, they spend much more than one would expect. They are far more driven to play than any other category of gamers. The table below lists all of the types of gamers, along with their percentage of the population and a brief description.

[ 1]


Once in a game, everyone fulfills a particular role. According to one's behavioral profile, one would be more inclined to take different roles in a game. Those who like to satisfy their curiosity are likely to be wanderers, exploring the expansive world of the game. Others who may want to unwind and perhaps boost their ego a bit like to dominate their games, thus often taking the title of juggernaut. The table below lists the different behavioral types of gamers.

[ 1]



Virtual Relationships

While most users simply collaborate with others to complete a mission, some users have taken their relationships even further. According to Nicholas Yee, 15.7% of males and 5.1% of females physically dated someone they met in an MMORPG [] . This conforms with Walther’s Hyperpersonal Model, in which the communication channel, in this case computer-mediated communication, determines the intensity, intimacy and significance of social interactions [] . According to Joseph Walther, the “model specifies several concurrent dynamics in sender, receiver, channel, and feedback systems that are affected by CMC attributes, which promote the development and potential exaggeration of impressions and relationships online: As receivers, CMC users idealize partners based on the circumstances or message elements that suggest minimal similarity or desirability. As senders, CMC users selectively self-present, revealing attitudes and aspects of the self in a controlled and socially desirable fashion” [] .

Applying this to MMORPGs, users can choose a specific avatar (a virtual representation of oneself), which may or may not characterize their actual appearance. In some cases, users may select an avatar that represents their ideal self, that is, what an individual aspires to look like. Nicholas Yee classifies an avatar into two categories, namely a projection or idealization of one’s identity and an experiment with new identities. Thus, the receiver may perceive attractiveness through the appearance of one’s avatar. While these perceptions are often inaccurate, this conforms to Walther’s Hyperpersonal Model, as the lack of cues (bearing in mind that avatars are often not representative of the user’s appearance) offered by CMC lead to exaggerated impressions. Additionally, In Walther’s article, the “CMC channel facilitates editing, discretion, and convenience, and the ability to tune out environmental distractions and re-allocate cognitive resources in order to further enhance one’s message composition.” Therefore, CMC allows users to think about what they want to say and take time to edit the structure of their sentences, thereby presenting an “improved self.” All of these aspects lead to exaggerated expectancies and, often times, intensely romantic relationships [] .

ocial Network

According to a study by Nicholas Yee, 39.4% of males and 53.3% of females felt that their MMORPG companions were comparable or even better than their real world friends.

Hyperpersonal effects of CMC (finish this)...


A study by Nicholas Yee, titled "The Psychology of Massively Multi-User Online Role-Playing Games: Motivations, Emotional Investment, Relationships and Problematic Usage," found that combat-oriented collaborations can become very complex. Typical battle scenarios involve groups of four to eight users facing sophisticated artificial intelligence. In such battles, users must communicate with one another, as well as develop group strategies and goals. An excerpt from Yee's research provides an exceptional view into a typical battle situation:

----"Certain enemy agents will runaway and elicit help from allied agents when they are badly wounded. In a dungeon setting, these enemyagents typically run towards deeper, more dangerous locations. If the agent succeeds, he will return withseveral stronger agents. But if one user chases the agent, while the others decide not to, then thatjeopardizes the group as well. This situation typically occurs while the group is still engaged with otherhalf-wounded agents. Also remember that different users have different personalities (risk-takingpropensities, assertiveness, and so on) and different stakes at this point of their adventure, and differ intheir loyalty to the group and each other. In the span of 5 to 10 seconds, the risk-analysis, opinions anddecisions of the group communicated over typed chat, or the solitary actions of a particular user, willdetermine the life or death of all members of the group."---- [ 2]

By requiring collective goals and strategies, MMORPGs undoubtedly connect many users. Unlike many real world situations, MMORPG users can choose team members and find like-minded others. Humans have a natural tendency to conform and desire to be a member of a cohesive group (Wallace, 1999). Thus, MMORPG game play can contribute to harmonious group interactions and identities. While some individuals may be outcasts in the real world, they can become who ever they want in these virtual worlds, and can find other players with similar interests and personalities. For some, MMORPGs can provide valuable lessons that then can be applied to the outside world.



According to "The Psychology of the Internet," anonymity is a "potent ingredient in the Internet mixture as it applies to aggression" (Wallace, 1999, p.124). While anonymous communication in MMORPGs is typically constructive, not all players chose to participate fairly. Knowing that personal actions will not be identified (unless of course the player is a frequent user and has established a social network), some players become less inhibited and consequently become aggressive. In a study of online social interaction, groups were compared in terms of aggression; a few with identifiable members and others completely anonymous. Not surprisingly, the number of hostile remarks in the anonymous groups "made more than six times as many uninhibited remarks as the non-anonymous groups" (Wallace, 1999, p.125). However, despite the individual's identity being traceable, the feel of anonymity afforded on the Internet can lead players to promote disinhibited behavior regardless of social identifiability. This hostile behavior is only intensified by the fact that most MMORPG players feel safe and immune to physical attack as most users span the globe (Wallace, 1999). All of these aspects combine to fragment MMORPG users, as the focus transitions from connecting with other players to using the anonymity afforded by the Internet to attack other users.

Online Addiction

It’s a Friday night and a group of teenagers have gathered together to play a massively multiplayer online role-playing game. The group walks into a house one by one, personal computer in hand, ready for another night of fun. After the computers are set around a table and the players have logged on to the game, the group’s attention quickly transitions from the physical world to the wonders of the virtual environment displayed on their monitors (Dretzin & Maggio, 2008). This is the beginning of FRONTLINE’s documentary, "Growing Up Online", which shows that humans seek not only mental and emotional connections, but also physical presence. This scene in particular raises another important issue of MMORPGs, i.e., their addictive nature.

To view this documentary, simply follow this link:

Defined as “an individual’s inability to control their Internet use, which in turn leads to feelings of distress and functional impairment in daily activities,” problematic internet use, commonly known as computer addiction, affects an estimated 4 to 10% of Internet users (Shapira et al., 2003, p.208; Parsons, 2005). According to "An Examination of Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games as a Facilitator of Internet Addiction" by Jeffrey Parsons:

Key Attributes of PIU

• A preoccupation with Internet use
• Mood Modification
• Need for increasing amounts of Internet use
• Withdrawal
• Conflict
• Relapse


• Loss of sleep
• Strained relationships
• Reduced productivity


Evidence for Connectedness

MMORPGS, Their Motivational Implications for Learning, and the People Who Play Them By Kimberly Fitz

• In this blog by Kimberly Fitz, Fitz analyzes several scholarly articles delving into the educational and psychological ramifications of video game use.

Fitz, K. (2008) MMORPGS, Their Motivational Implications for Learning, and thePeople Who Play Them. Kimberblog. Posted 9 Apr. 2008.Retrieved 12 May 2008 from:

The Demographics, Motivations and Derived Experiences of Users of Massively-Multiuser Online Graphical Environments. By Nick Yee

• Online survey data were collected from 30,000 users of Massively Multi-User Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) over a three year period to explore users' demographics, motivations, and derived experiences. Not only do MMORPGs appeal to a broad age range (

Yee, N. (2006). The Demographics, Motivations and Derived Experiences of Users ofMassively-Multiuser Online Graphical Environments. PRESENCE: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments, 15, 309-329.

The Daedalus Gateway – The Psychology of MMORPGs: Player Demographics

• This site chronicles the findings of the Daedalus project, which conducted survey’s of MMORPG users.

Evidence for Fragmentation

Growing Up Online: A Frontline Documentary

• In Growing Up Online, FRONTLINE takes viewers inside the very public private worlds that kids are creating online, raising important questions about how the Internet is transforming childhood. "The Internet and the digital world was something that belonged to adults, and now it's something that really is the province of teenagers, " says C.J. Pascoe, a postdoctoral scholar with the University of California, Berkeley's Digital Youth Research project.

• "They're able to have a private space, even while they're still at home. They're able to communicate with their friends and have an entire social life outside of the purview of their parents, without actually having to leave the house."

• "You have a generation faced with a society with fundamentally different properties, thanks to the Internet," says Danah Boyd, a fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society. "It's a question for us of how we teach ourselves and our children to live in a society where these properties are fundamentally a way of life. This is public life today."

"Dretzin, R. (Director), & Maggio, J. (Director). (2008). [ Growing up online] [Film] . Melbourne: PBS Video."

Real Life: The Full Review

"Gamespot. (2008). Real life: The full review. Retrieved April 12, 2008, from"

Identity Shift in Computer-Mediated Environments by Amy Gonzales & Jeffrey Hancock

• The present study uses a public commitment framework to examine how computer-mediated self-presentations can alter identities. Participants were asked to present with one of two traits, extroversion or introversion, in public or private computer-mediatedcommunication. Public presentations were online, whereas private presentations took place in a text document. Only participants that presented themselves publicly internalized the trait presentation, suggesting that identity shift took place. Public self-presentations also contained more certain and definite forms of language than private self-presentations, suggesting that audiences evoke a more committed form of self-presentation. These results imply that being identifiable to online audiences has the capacity to convey a sense of ‘‘publicness’’ that can shape self-concepts through self presentation acts. The findings in this research have important implications for the self-construction of identity online, particularly for individuals that use the Internet as a tool for public self-presentation, such as dating sites, social network sites, or blogs. Also, the findings highlight opportunities for theoretical development on identity construction as a function of computer-mediated communication.

"Gonzales, A., & Hancock, J. T. (in-press). Identity shift in computer-mediated environments. Media Psychology."

Addiction to the Internet and Online Gaming by Brian D. Ng & Peter Wiemer-Hastings

• As computer and Internet use become a staple of everyday life, the potential for overuse is introduced,which may lead to addiction. Research on Internet addiction has shown that userscan become addicted to it. Addiction to the Internet shares some of the negative aspects ofsubstance addiction and has been shown to lead to consequences such as failing school, family,and relationship problems.

"Ng, B.D., & Wiemer-Hastings, P. (2005). Addiction to the internet and online gaming. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 8(2), 110-113."

An Examination of Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games as a Facilitator of Internet Addiction by Jeffrey Michael Parsons

• Internet addiction is a wide-spread problem, impacting the lives of 4-10% of all Internet users. Research has revealed that this addiction has a social component, in which Internet addicts use the Internet to build and maintain social relationships. This study explores Internet addiction in the context of Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games. Results indicate that approximately 15% of MMORPG players can be characterized as Internet addicts. Additionally, this study reveals a lack of mental health counselors treating Internet addiction and proposes recommendations for the future.

"Parsons, J. M. (2005). An examination of massively multiplayer online role-playing games as a facilitator of internet addiction. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Iowa, USA."

Problematic Internet Use: Proposed Classification and Diagnostic Criteria by Nathan A. Shapira et al.

• Since the mid-1990s, there have been frequent reports of individuals whose use of the computer and internet is problematic. Given the recent expansion and the expected increase in internet availability and usage in the coming years, it is important that healthcare professionals be informed about this behavior and its associated problems. Recently, psychological and psychiatric literature has described individuals that exhibit problematic internet use who often suffer from other psychiatric disorders. In the face of this comorbidity, it is essential to evaluate whether these individuals represent a distinct class of disorder, or a manifestation/coping mechanism related to other underlying diagnosis. In either event, problematic internet use negatively impacts social and emotional functioning. Based on the current limited empirical evidence, problematicinternet use may best be classified as an impulse control disorder. It is therefore imperative that problematic internet use be appropriately identified among symptomatic individuals. For these reasons, we propose specific diagnostic criteria that will allow for consistent identification and assist in further study of this behavior.

"Shapira, N.A., Lessig, M. C., Goldsmith, T. D., Szabo, S. T., Lazoritz, M., Gold, M. S., & Stein, D. J. (2003). Problematic internet use: Proposed classification and diagnostic criteria. Depression and Anxiety, 17, 207-216."

Beyond self-selection in video game play: An experimental examination of the consequences of massively multiplayer online role-playing game play by Joshua M. Smyth

• There is burgeoning interest in the study of video games. Existing work is limited by the useof correlational designs and is thus unable to make causal inferences or remove self-selectionbiases from observed results. The recent development of online, socially integrated videogames (massively multiplayer online role-playing games [MMORPGs] ) has created a new experiencefor gamers. This randomized, longitudinal study examined the effects of being assignedto play different video game types on game usage, health, well-being, sleep, socializing,and academics. One hundred 18- to 20-year-old participants (73% male; 68% Caucasian)were randomly assigned to play arcade, console, solo computer, or MMORPG games for 1month. The MMORPG group differed significantly from other groups after 1 month, reportingmore hours spent playing, worse health, worse sleep quality, and greater interference in“real-life” socializing and academic work. In contrast, this group also reported greater enjoymentin playing, greater interest in continuing to play, and greater acquisition of newfriendships. MMORPGs represent a different gaming experience with different consequencesthan other types of video games and appear to pose both unique risks and benefits from theiruse.

"Smyth, J. M. (2007). Beyond self-selection in video game play: An experimental examination of the consequences of massively multiplayer online role-playing game play. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 10(5), 717-720."

Motivations for Play in Online Games by Nick Yee

• An empirical model of player motivations in online games provides the foundation to understand and assess how players differ from one another and how motivations of play relate to age, gender, usage patterns, and in-game behaviors. In the current study, a factor analytic approach was used to create an empirical model of player motivations. The analysis revealed 10 motivation subcomponents that grouped into three overarching components (achievement, social, and immersion). Relationships between motivations and demographic variables (age, gender, and usage patterns) are also presented.

"Yee, N. (2006). Motivations for play in online games. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 9(6), 772-775."

3 Female Teens Charged After Video of Them Beating 13-Year-Old Girl SurfacesNEW YORK — Three female high school students were arrested in New York Tuesday after a video of them verbally and physically attacking a younger girl surfaced on the Web, a Suffolk County police official said.,2933,244058,00.html

Video Game Addiction Linked to Asperger's TraitsBy Eric Bland, Discovery News- April 22, 2008 -- People who spend hours and hours playing video games exhibit the same personality traits as people with Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism.

Many still distrust web sites- Is yours credible enough?By Troy Janisch

• Although the Internet is an integral place of business, the online reality is that many Internet users still distrust even the most credible Web sites.Many Internet surfers often believe they know a good Web site when they see one. Their intuition is based on a number of surface-level factors. For example, surfers are more likely to trust a site when it appears in the natural results of a search engine query than when it appears as a pay-per-click ad.Sites seem intuitively credible when content is frequently updated, the design looks professional, and content includes third-party citations. Sites that contain technical errors, typos and poor organization lose credibility. []

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