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    What is idle status?

    Idle in the context of online roleplaying games (RPGs) refers to a state where a player is logged into a game but is not actively participating or performing any actions.

    This can occur for various reasons, such as the player being away from their keyboard (AFK), attending to real-life matters, or simply taking a break without logging out.

    During this time, the player’s character may stand still, appear disconnected from interactions, or perform automatic, minimal activities if the game supports such mechanisms.

    A brief history of the term

    The term “idle” in the context of online roleplaying games emerged with the advent of multiplayer games. It originally described a state where a player was logged in but not actively engaging with the game.

    Over time, the concept of idleness evolved. Games started to include features that indicated a player’s idle status. These mechanisms helped manage in-game activities and improve the overall experience.

    Modern usage

    Today, “idle” is a common term in various gaming communities. It signifies when a player is present in the game but not interacting with it. Players may be idle for numerous reasons, such as handling real-life tasks or taking a short break without logging out.

    Types of games that use the term idle include but are not limited to:
    MUD, MUSH, MMORPG, RPMUD, Chat RPG, Social media RPG, PvE, PvP, RPI, RPE, and their respective communities.

    Examples of being idle

    • In a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG), a player’s character stands motionless in a city square for several hours while the player is AFK.
    • During a multiplayer strategy game, a player stops issuing commands and remains on the game screen without taking any action, causing their army to remain inactive.
    • In a text-based roleplaying game, a player stops responding to the ongoing story and actions, leaving their character effectively frozen in the narrative until they return.
    • A player in an online card game remains logged in but does not make any moves or decisions, causing the game to automatically pass their turn after a certain time.
    Online characters in a MUSH with different activity status, including away, indicated.
    Example wholist for an AresMUSH game, Concordia MU. Legend below. Green means active, whereas beige indicates idle.
    Legend for interpreting whether someone is present or AFK.

    Myths about idle status

    One common myth is that being idle in a game has no impact on the player or the game environment. However, excessive idleness can disrupt gameplay, especially in team-based or competitive settings.

    Another misconception is that idle players are always away from their computer. In fact, some may be present but simply not engaging with the game. For example, they may be logged in while at work and multitasking.

    Idle status FAQs

    What happens when you are idle in a game?

    When you are idle in a game, your character may remain stationary or perform basic, automated actions depending on the game’s mechanics.

    In many games, being idle for too long can lead to being automatically logged out or moved to a safe area to prevent harm to your character and to maintain the flow of the game for active players.

    Can being idle affect your game progress?

    Yes, being idle can affect your game progress in games that rely on active participation and time management. Prolonged idleness can result in missed opportunities, resource depletion, or falling behind in competitive aspects of the game.

    However, in many games, the player can just pick up where they left off without any permanent consequences.

    How do games detect if a player is idle?

    Games detect if a player is idle through inactivity timers and monitoring player input. If the game detects no input (like movement, chat, or menu navigation) from the player within a set period, it assumes the player is idle. The specific duration and criteria for idleness can vary from game to game.

    How can I detect if someone else is idle?

    If another player is idle, they may have a status indicator beside their name, such as [Idle] or [AFK]. However, not all games support these indicators.

    What are some common reasons players go idle?

    Players may go idle for various reasons, including real-life interruptions, needing a break, multitasking, or experiencing technical issues. Sometimes players intentionally stay idle in a game to maintain online presence or achieve time-based objectives without active participation.

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    About the author

    Andruid is a writer, roleplayer, storyteller, and nerd who tries to live by Bill and Ted wisdom, i.e. "Be excellent to each other."