First, a few definitions should be made clear for context. Role playing is the act of taking on the role of a fictional character, and acting as that person in a given situation. An MMORPG is a massively multiplayer online role playing game and it usually refers to some sort of graphical interface, or at the very least an AI interactive world, allowing members to communicate with one another and the system in various ways. A role playing chat room is a type of MMORPG, except there is little to no AI, and in fact almost no environment whatsoever, except for a chat room and an empty text box. The environment is instead imagined by the people participating in the game.
Now that we have that out of the way, we can discuss some of the benefits and drawbacks to these different styles of engaging in imaginative acts.
The most common MMORPG and probably the most popular is World of Warcraft. This is a highly graphical interface that resembles the games played on my popular consoles such as the Xbox or the PlayStation. In the game you create a character based on a number of stats which represent the abilities of that character, such as their strength, health, or intelligence.
The game itself involves having you control an avatar that runs around a graphical world, interacting both with other player characters, and artificial creatures that were added by the programmers, and which can simulate to some extent the interactions of real humans.
The benefit of such a game is that you don’t have to strain your imagination to figure out what’s going on. The world is right there, represented graphically. You can see the different creatures and what they look like, and the computer crunches numbers to tell you what is and is not possible. All you really have to do is balance these numbers to the best of your abilities in order to achieve a successful outcome in every trial.
The drawback to these games is that your creativity is limited to exploring only that which the programmers put into the system. No matter how many actions, or quests, or monsters they come up with, the users themselves will always be able to create more. The programming of such games restricts that creativity however, forcing people to merely hack and slash at the world around them, according to the limitations of the game.
In a role playing chat room, you have the opposite problem. There is no landscape, there are no pictures, and everything that happens in the game takes place within the minds of the people involved. In this way, it’s a much more difficult game to play. You have to read descriptions written by other players, and gleam details about your surroundings from them, much like reading a book. Except that you then also have to write descriptions, interacting with the other characters, and describing your own little place in this world. In this way, it’s really an interactive writing and reading exercise that challenges the contextual thinking of the players involved.
The benefit to this is that it gives you complete freedom to describe the virtual environment in any way that you want. Your character can do anything; there are no limits, save the credulity of the other players involved. The general consensus will reign in gauche attempts to destroy the reality of the situation, but otherwise you have a free hand to do just about anything you like.
Both methods of play have advantages and drawbacks that are fairly readily apparent. It’s important to understand what you are looking for in a game, and then to choose your hobby accordingly.