Naughty or Nice - choices in gaming

In Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition the alignment system (which decide if your character is good or bad) will be getting smaller. The previous 9 different alignments become 5, but other than that nothing is changed. The mention of alignments stirred something in me that I have felt for a long time, just couldn't identify. Where is the ability to make choices in MMORPGs, to make your character more than just a name?

The basics with alignment is that if your character is chaotic evil, he will kill kittens just for the fun of it, and if his paladin is lawful good he will help innocent and uphold law and order. Even if your real self would not do any of these things. Playing as your character and do what he would do instead of your real self is the basics of roleplaying. And it's really fun.

In recent years we have seen a huge success for Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG, a acronym that make most people slightly dislocate their tongue), mostly thanks to World of Warcraft who is so tuned to the masses that it has 10 million subscribers around the world. Other MMORGPs are Everquest, Lord of the Rings Online, Age of Conan and Dungeons & Dragons Online just to name a few in a fast growing group. What all of these games have in common is that they are just simply massive multiplayer games with roleplaying in them that you play online.

Yet there is a disappointingly small amount of roleplying in them, despite the name. You create your character with customized look and a name, and as he play more he gain more levels, but that's pretty much the end of what the game has in common with role playing.
Now, I'm not saying that all MMORPGs should force people to roleplay, that would make them lose so many subscriptions that they would have to shut down. But the actual roleplaying part of these multiplayer online games has not improved a slightest bit in the recent years, despite all the new titles. Character customization gets better, Age of Conan is a proof of that, but there has been no addition of that thing that shape your character. I'm talking about a alignment system.

A alignment is pretty much a short-short version of your characters history. No human is born evil, or good for that matter. Everyone is shaped in the history of their past, and further shaped in what will come in the future. If you start training as a apprentice to a priest or paladin in your youth your chances of becoming a good guy is pretty big. If you are whipped by your father every week or start out in a bad neighbourhood there is a chance you will turn out to be evil.
Not that it's just black and white; the most evil tyrant who torture people every day can be kind and loving to his dog, and the good priest who heal poor people might have a fantasy for small boys.
Just because it says "lawful good" at your character sheet doesn't limit your options. For someone to be good or evil there must be the option to be the opposite; without choice there can be no good or bad. When you reach the prison chambers in the tyrants dungeons there is choice to let the prisoner out, in which case you would have done a good action and your alignment moved towards good, or you can choose to leave him there, and your alignment moves towards neutral, or you could let him out just to kill him, and your character turns more evil.

The most recent MMORPG Age of Conan have a feature that is obvious in any roleplaying game: conversations. However Age of Conan's conversations serve no purpose other than to tell a story, there is no difference between telling them you will gladly serve or say you will kill them. They will just laugh and send you along anyway. This is of course a step forward if you compare with World of Warcraft's quest dialogues that's nothing more than a pointer where the quest mobs are. But where is the choices that make a difference? What will it take to get a real massive multiplayer online roleplaying game?

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