A History of MMORPG: The Dungeons & Dragons Legacy

By Dan Hope
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In early 1997, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers published an article in their magazine, IEEE Spectrum, claiming that in the future people would connect into distributed virtual environments to interact, work and play together (for more information, click here). Their prediction came true much sooner than they expected when, in September of that same year, Ultima Online became the first MMORPG to gain mainstream attention and start the demand for Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games.

Ultima Online wasn’t the first MMORPG on the Internet, but it was the first to gain the type of user base that was envisioned by the writers in the IEEE Spectrum. The real history of MMORPG gaming dates back to the original role playing game: Dungeons & Dragons.

Dungeons & Dragons was created in 1974 as a way for people to interact and use their imaginations in a setting that couldn’t be found in real life. Many attribute the fantastical creatures and various character classes to the fantasy world inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien’s books. Dungeons & Dragons allowed people to explore strange lands and go on important quests with characters that they could continually nurture and improve. This scenario sounds so familiar because it is the basic premise of every MMORPG. Even if an MMORPG is set in a science fiction or real-life scenario, the game still owes its roots to the classic table-top RPG, Dungeons & Dragons. Even academic sources have acknowledged this connection.

One of the first versions of an online RPG was the MUD or Multi-User Dungeon (or sometimes Multi-User Dimension). These were text based adventures where people could interact in an environment with a Dungeons & Dragons atmosphere. These became extremely popular on networks and eventually on the Internet itself.

These MMORPG progenitors remained largely text based until the release of Neverwinter Nights on AOL in 1991. This particular MMORPG had a graphical interface that let people see the world they were playing in. The new graphical interface started a steady flow of MMORPGs that have become increasingly popular. To see rankings of MMORPGs including Overall Critic Score and full expert reviews, visit TopTenREVIEWS’ MMORPG site.

World of Warcraft is currently the most popular MMORPG, counting its members in the millions. While the world has a unique style and storyline, many of the character classes, races, quests and playing styles in World of Warcraft are very similar to Dungeons & Dragons. While MMORPGs have become more popular than pen-and-paper RPGs, the MMORPGs ultimately owe their success to Dungeons & Dragons. And now, Dungeons & Dragons Online is available, bringing fantasy full circle, from tabletop to desktop.

 
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