I think the general discussion, triggered by Zubon’s original post has covered most of the bases, but my basic thought is thus: computer RPGs are to pen and paper RPGs as movies are to books; it’s about having your world defined, as opposed to having it outlined. It’s much harder to bring one’s imagination into play in the former. Not impossible, but the odds are stacked against it.
Of course, when technology advances sufficiently enough, we will all be living in the Metaverse of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash.
At which point we will find that, given the freedom, most people’s imagination stretches only so far as 10 foot tall flying penises who fight with ginormous vagina monsters with gaping teeth-filled maws.
Don’t forget that having some boundaries defined can have a freeing affect. Rather than having to imagine a whole world as well as a character, it can sometimes be easier to fit a character in to a known world.
I think, for me, it’s possibly more to do with the customisation of the world to one’s own specific tastes. When everything is clearly defined, as in a computer game, it’s very hard to interact with it in a role-playing manner if it doesn’t suit my own tastes. As such I find the definitions to be restrictive. Whereas, in a game where the world is merely outlined, I can easily tailor it to meet my expectations; not only that, but any other players can tailor the world to meet their expectations at the same time. I think that’s the joy of pen and paper role-playing: many people can be playing in the same world at the same time, and yet that world is slightly different for each of them according to their experiences and imagination.
Indeed, Melmoth, and your last point is why the “massive” in the MMO moniker is yet another limiting factor. The world *can’t* be such a crazy quilt multiverse because it needs to be largely standardized (and static), so we’re giving up a lot of customizability for the option of playing online with random idiots. To me, that’s not a good trade.