1st Person vs. 3rd Person in Role-Playing Games

I had a chance to check out the open demo of Guild Wars that ran during E3 last week. The initial download consisted of a small executable that downloaded and installed the rest of the game content as needed. I didn’t mind the particularly long downloads, which were typically between 2 and 10MB. It is, after all, my own fault that I still connect to the internet using a dial-up ISP. What I did mind was the forced 3rd-person perspective.

Guild Wars is billed as a “Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game,” or MMORPG, for short. The word “role-playing” indicates that players will be assuming the roles of a fictional characters – characters whose personality traits are created by their players. Role-playing is a difficult thing to describe without writing an essay, and since there are many out there who possess a greater command of language than I, a quick Google search for “roleplaying” turns up the following article: What Is Roleplaying?

[Edit (24-May-2010): That page is gone since Geocities fell off the face of the planet. Check out the definition for role-playing in Wikipedia, instead! -KM]role_playing

In order to understand who your character is, you must essentially walk in his or her shoes and experience the game world through his or her eyes. Successful games such as EverQuest place players into a 1st-person perspective, thereby helping to maintain the suspension of disbelief that the player truly is that character (an important aspect of role-playing games, which are intended to provide a diversion from harsh reality). A 3rd-person perspective game discourages the players’ attachment to their characters by forcing them to see their characters from the outside in.

This is why I doubt Guild Wars will be a long term success, and why I won’t be playing it.