Note: This post was written for an MMORPG community backdrop, where this perspective tends to be rare. It’s also applicable to freeform roleplaying (though the common MMORPG pitfalls that are being expressly addressed in this post usually don’t apply there), but will probably have very little applicability to dice- and/or stat-based roleplay.
My name is pinkgothic; in many roleplaying communities, I’m also known as ‘Dread‘.
I started RPing twelve years ago (1998) on guest-book format style forums on the now disfunct but much-missed InsideTheWeb.com. I came across it by chance, by spotting one of those forums while browsing links.?Dragon Dale?was my first fleeting contact with the roleplaying world.
To me? All I saw was people getting together to write a nonetheless coherent story. Not quite a book-project with multiple authors, though potentially so, and certainly that in spirit. A work of art. A?collaborative?work of art. Something I had no right to interfere with. Something I could only humbly request to join.
This mindset lives with me, still. And I think it has helped me greatly in keeping my roleplays pleasant for all participants, and in keeping the peace.
(Beware, written instructively; and both too detailed and not nearly detailed enough.)
Your characters are a part of a greater context. They should be your?gift?to the community. You should be trying to improve on the story – not destroy it. After all, people clearly had something great going, no? It was something you wanted to be a part of, after all.
At first, your characters will be a foreign body. They’ll need to enter the story somehow, be they as parts of it that were established but unmentioned (e.g. if you’re playing a bartender for a session that’s already had his job at that bar for ages), or as complete new entries to the scene(s).
But, to barb: Things were already going well without you! Ergo, no one is obliged to hold your hand getting you into the plot. It’s your responsibility. It’s also your freedom. You can create as many characters as the plotline demands and play them for as long as you wish, with the level of involvement you envision for them.
But what does one do when disputes arise? There’s no one author. Opinions are prone to clashing.
Gamemasters, if they exist in the medium, fill the role of mediators and, if necessary, godly eraser and/or permanent marker. Respect these people – they have an overview of the plotline, or at least dedicate themselves to trying to retain an overview, and they are not here to make your life difficult. Usually, they will be invisible. Normally, they have nothing to do. They’re just there to nudge the plotline back into shape should it go entirely awry. They are there for integrity. They are, basically, there to serve you.
Your first love should be for the plot – not for the tools (your characters) that you craft it with.
However, they’re not cleanly separable,?nor should they be. Sometimes, characters become incredibly entwined with the plot. They might come to symbolise whole parts of it, driving it in ways cherished by you and possibly many others.
It is your full right to love your characters if they are fulfilling their roles well. They’re a work of art! In turn, no one has a right to take that from you. You’ve invested time and effort into your character as that they may become a greater tool.
You?can?be fond of your characters.
You?can?defend them if someone describes them as extraneous.
You?can?be upset if someone criticises your way of playing your character, especially if it is not constructive.
You may?not, however,?identify?with them to the point where an IC attack on them becomes a perceived attack on you. That makes no sense. The plotline is what we are all working toward. Whatever happens IC, happens because another player thought it would be exciting for?everyone. If you disagree, take it up with them – but disagree for the right reasons.
Character love (thinking your characters are damn cool): Yes, yes, and yes again.
Character self-identification (shaping yourself to be like your characters or vice versa): No. Just no. It’ll end in tears.
Character deification (wishing your characters were real): Eh! As long as you’re aware you’re probably on your own and don’t take offence in that, go ahead.
As alluded to in the previous section, what is IC should at all times remain IC. (With the obvious ‘exception’ that everything that happens IC is automatically OOC knowledge and can be freely spoken?about.) You wouldn’t start attacking an actor over how their character treated another in a movie you watched, either. So, IC stays IC.
The reverse, however, is not true.?You cannot be asked to create a work of art together with someone you abhor (though I applaud you if you do pull it off, and I know some people do). Not only can it not be asked of you, but that kind of interaction in most cases ought to be discouraged. Consider what your animosities might do to the plot – can you really improve on a story if you’re upset with someone else your characters are in a scene with? Could your mood not negatively affect how well you write your own characters?
Don’t patronise your fellow writers.?They’re writing a story. They know that the story isn’t real life. They know to ‘withhold’ information you give them about the plot from their characters. Plot with them. Scheme with them. See if you can come up with an exciting twist to something!
Remember, you want to write an exciting story – so do your fellow writers. But they can’t know what?you?deem exciting (and vice versa!) if you eschew all OOC contact with them. Then it’s guesswork.
I am absolutely serious about this section. “Everyone else is a crappy RPer,” or similar hyperboles are just not true. If you feel someone doesn’t understand the concepts of RP, there are polite ways to teach them the ropes. Do that. Don’t sit there feeling smug, it doesn’t fix the situation; not for you, nor for them.
A note about altruism
I am an?ethical egoist. I do not believe in doing things out of selflessness. I know much of the above reads as if I’m advising to selflessness. I’d like to adjust that perspective now.
You want to have fun, right?
Reflect on yourself for a minute and ask yourself what is more fun: Fighting with people over who’s characters are more awesome, more entitled to something, or how the plot should or shouldn’t move… or shaping something creative in an atmosphere of harmony (terribly cheesy though that may sound)?
In the time someone has bickered with ten people, how many volumes worth of plot could they have written, instead? How much could they have shaped their worlds?
This post is meant as a fresh perspective. It couldn’t be used as a blueprint for MMORPG community rules for several reasons:
For one, not everyone in MMORPGs bothers with roleplay.
For two, even the people that do roleplay aren’t necessarily in the community?for?RP.
For three, being irreversibly attached to an MMORPG is something a book-project would not be. And it complicates things.
All these points effectively merely make this a post intended for reflection, not living by (though I certainly do, I’ve simply grown up with the mindset and couldn’t shirk it if I tried).
But I hope that something can be gleaned of it, regardless.