MMORPG allow individual humans to behave and act as characters.
Boardgames are the origins of the MMORPG. Older games such as TSR's Dungeons and Dragons served up pen and paper versions of fantasy role playing. During the video game era, more instant gratification was desired. Cardgames such as Pokeman and Wizards of the Coast became popular in the mid-90's. These games involved trading and more personal interaction
In the Personal Computing era, game consoles and portable PC's are popular. Gaming Consoles such as xBox offer network connectivity to shared gaming sites. Local Area Network (LAN) Parties are also very popular. In such an arrangement, a host sets up tables, routers, and power supplies. Then his or her friends bring their PC's, hook up, and play on a dedicated server or across a distributed computing environment.
LAN parties are popular for non-role playing build and conquer type games. Examples include Blizzard Entertainment's Starcraft and Microsoft's Age of Empires. LAN parties are also popular where gaming consoles can be strung together.
The classic pen and paper Role Playing Game (RPG) is Dungeons and Dragons. Dungeons and outdoor adventures can be pre-bought or made from scratch. One person is the 'Dungeon Master' and other people play one or more characters. Individuals are encouraged to take on the persona of their paper-based characters. It's like Monty Python, only worse. More on this later.
The space-aged equivalent was GDW's Traveller. This later became GURPS Traveller and then MegaTraveller when it was bought by Steve Jackson Games in Texas. Game Designer's Workshop (GDW) was a British outfit that made lead metal miniatures and RPG's. I don't think that they are around anymore.
The classic computer game is MUD. It is a text based game born in the mainframe era of the 70's. I think that I played this on a PDP-11 at The University of Toledo. It's not that I am that old, but I started out pretty young. Check out the link below for a detailed history.
Blizzard: Diablo, Starcraft and World of Warcraft
GDW's Traveller (US)
Microsoft: XBox and Age of Empires
MUD History: newsgroup compilation (SE)
MUD History: The Living Internet Site (US)
Pokemon (requires Macromedia Flash Player)
Wizards of the Coast: Dungeons and Dragons, Magic the Gathering