Role Playing MUDs: The Fallacy of "It's Just A Text Game"

MUD Game Light Elf

By Lisa Ohanian

Something I've heard a lot in my years of playing online text RPGs is the phrase, "it's only a game." Granted, it's usually used in an attempt to calm down a raging player on the other team, and it's usually intended as half-insult, as if to imply that the other player has nothing better to do with his life except sit around and yell about a text game. But it's a phrase you do hear often.

It's also a phrase, frankly, that never made much sense to me. Yes, it may be a text game, but why does that mean a person isn't allowed to emotionally invest in it at all? Why do people try to look down on others for, well, caring?

I'm writing today to argue that developing emotional attachments to characters in a text game is not a bad thing (as long as it's done in moderation, which holds true for anything). It's normal, in fact, and it has the potential to enhance the gaming experience more than any other factor.

Think about your hobby. Why do you do it? Because, hopefully, you love it. If you're a professional football player and someone accuses you of loving football, your reaction really should be, "Well, of course I do!"

Now picture a person who hates their job. The normal reaction to this isn't one of being impressed with how jaded and 'above this' the person is. The normal reaction here is to feel empathy for that person for having to spend mass amounts of time on something that he isn't invested in.

This is how we should look at text games; or any hobby, really. You should enjoy it and you should be emotionally invested, or else you shouldn't be doing it. In the example from my first paragraph, I would feel more sorry for the accuser (who spends copious amounts of time on text games and claims not to care about them at all) than the person who was accused of caring too much (who can at least admit to caring about his hobby). And there is no reason why adopting text games as your hobby should be any less worthy than, say, writing or drawing or board games.

Since the dawn of time, people have been invested in fictional stories and characters; everyone has at least a friend or two who yells at the screen when the 'wrong' couple gets together on a television show. It's why movies, plays and other forms of story-centric entertainment have been so popular for so long, and why people spend billions upon billions of dollars annually on entertainment. There is no shame in caring about the fate of imaginary character and their stories, as long as it brings you (primarily) happiness.

There's nothing wrong with becoming passionate about your own characters, either. Nobody has ever taken issue with someone having a 'favorite character' from a movie or video game, and it would be absurdity for someone to tell an author that she shouldn't emotionally invest in the characters in her books. Role playing a character in a text game is a hybrid of these two things, really, and to be any good at role playing in the first place requires emotionally investing in your character and the text game itself. In fact, if you do place such value upon your character and his or her fate, your successes are just that much more rewarding - and in the end, that's what keeps you playing.
I know it might be 'cool' to pretend to be untouchable, but don't let yourself be lured in by this defense mechanism. It's much more admirable to admit that you actually care about the things you spend time on, get mad, and then move on with your life. Text games are a valid source of happiness, reward and entertainment. Don't let anyone belittle you by saying that they're, "just text games."

Start a text affair of your own with some fantastic online role playing text games.

Lisa Ohanian is a text game enthusiast and currently plays games from

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Very good article!

You should for sure care about your character, but it shouldnt effect your out of game life.

affect, actually.

Or it shouldn't have an effect!

good point!


Good points. I do think that even if you spend money on a game, flipping out more than an initial outburst might be overboard. Life happens..even in a game. :P  (also, YAY new articles!)

Indeed. Having a strong emotional response is understandable, but you really should try to avoid it.


Having an emotional attachment to your "character" is normal. Having a little blowout when said character dies is also normal but it shouldn't be taken too far.

This is what the QQ button is for.

It's one thing to have a kneejerk reaction, but if you become too emotionally invested, then you open yourself up to a whole lot of negative emotions when things don't go how you planned.

maybe so, but that happens everyday in real life anyway. you can't avoid it.

You can certainly try, though, and cut down on those reactions at least a little.

True! I think there's definitely some emotional investment in these games to some extent. The point is to not get -too- invested into it.

We spend a lot of time and energy on our characters, not to mention some people spend a lot of money.

Ad if there's somethign that angers us, in the real world or in a text game, sometimes there's a reason for it. People roll their eyes when someone gets mad about having been cheated out of something they deserve, lied to, manipulated or somehow mistreated, but I have always considered that justafiable. It's not in how upset you become, but in what you do with that. Use it to fuel the character's motivations, or indeed even your own (I've often said, Ais has no machinaions, I, on the other hand, have no end of them). But a market call insulting and challenging every force from Congregants to whole guilds, city-staes to the Divine themselves? That just makes you look petty.


There's a balance. Always a balance, sure. But in the end, I think  some things you'd be pissy about too, if they happened to you in real life. Why should any good person simply lay down and let them happen to anyone just cause it's in a game? Don't fool yourself. If you think there's not people pulling off prick moves in the game just because they can exploit something, then you're probably part of the problem.

i could not agree with you more

There's also the point of caring too much, though. The point of a hobby's to have fun, and when you're invested in something, it might be natural to get a little upset when things don't go your way, but if it's genuinely unfun more often than not, then maybe you need to re-evaluate your hobbies.

This is a very good point.

good read

All fun and games until someone punches their monitor. And even then its preh fun..neh

huh. I'm pretty good at separating the in-game from out of game emotions.  Did not realize that "just a game" was a fallacy.

such a dumb argument to make


I wish I was not so attached to my character sometimes >.>

I am invinceeble

Something with which I still struggle. 

The whole reason I keep playing Achaea and stop playing other games after some time is BECAUSE of the emotional connection I get.  Achaea provides a different experience that makes me want to play because I want my character to be able to experience the world in some form.  

People become emotionally invested in the fate of fictional characters whom they did not create. I think the line is between seeing your RP character as a -character- with which you empathize and seeing it as a virtual projection of yourself.


If you can't rage about it, it isn't worth doing.


It's just a game. 


Well that's true I suppose but it is a game like no other. All good points listed above. Almost everything can be bad for you if moderation is not applied.

Being text based allows for more imagination and a better roleplay experience. Things that computers and graphics just can't do.

Exactly to the author, people invest in characters of epic fantasy, text games are a branch in my eyes of epic fantasy.... then yeah, you can invest in them emotionally, if you wish.