EverQuest was, as I’ve described before, really just a bunch of chat rooms with this mini-game of fighting monsters strapped to it. In each room, or zone, there were several chat channels. Local or say was distance limited, get too far from someone, twenty or thirty virtual feet, and you wouldn’t see their chat messages. Then you had shout which was zone wide, and ooc (out of character) which was also zone wide, and auction which again was zone wide. You might wonder why they had three channels that were essentially functionally the same. The answer is in the second channel, out of character. Shout was intended to be for things you wanted to say to the whole zone which was in character, or role playing. OOC was for talking about min/maxing and last night’s baseball game. Auction was for trade chat, selling items or offering to buy items.
The best thing about EQ was that the players did a fairly good job (on my server anyway) of policing that. People talking about baseball in shout were asked to move to ooc, and they usually did. This let players have control over how they interacted with the game. If you wanted to role play, you simply turned off ooc and all the other players could chat about baseball and you’d never see it.
In recent years, as the MMO genre has grown, with millions of people playing games like WoW, and games dropping the in character/out of character conventions, the boundaries of chat are gone. Every channel in most games is full of every kind of chat (except role play, which is getting pretty well crushed under the boot of “fun” which an ever growing segment of game populations appear to equate entirely with playing whack-a-mole and collecting loot). Take Fallen Earth for example. I love playing the game, but only after I filtered out both the New Player and Region chats to tabs I could hide because it was non-stop streams of spoilers and data and whining.
Of course, I’m not just lamenting lack of channel etiquette, but the loss of the RP in the MMORPG. Many people these days appear to approach MMORPGs like they are just another way to spend some time. They log in, they fight some monsters, they complete some quests, they level, and they log out. Somewhere in there, perhaps, they chat with some other people. Though with the increasing emphasis on solo game play in modern MMOs, playing or chatting with other people isn’t something most people are doing. For me, at least, I’d love to see the return of the “out of character” channel, if only as an acknowledgment by the developers that there is a dividing line between in and out of character.