Roleplay: I love thee. I love thee not…

Posted: July 10, 2007 by Kendricke in Everquest 2, General Game Concepts, Out of Character

I love acting. It is so much more real than life.

-Oscar Wild 

I love to roleplay.  I’m just annoyed by roleplayers.

It sounds like a contradiction, but it’s not.  Part of the problem probably lies with the word itself.  Few words in MMO’s are as charged by prejudice and emotional investment as the word “roleplay”.  Virtually every MMO today releases with at least one server dedicated to “Roleplay Encouraged”.  Websites which span multiple games have cropped up to serve the needs of the “roleplayer community”.  Even within such communities, players who willingly label themselves as roleplayers argue amongst themselves regarding what does and does not qualify as “true” roleplay. 

As I’ve mentioned previously here on the Tracker, my first roleplay experiences started with a stolen copy of FASA’s Mechwarrior (1st edition).  I worked dilligently on creating characters I thought were interesting and complex – well, as interesting and complex as any 13 year old is likely to create. I spent hours around my mom’s living room coffee table with my brother and our two best friends coming up with physical descriptions, backstories, and of course, trying to take each other out with dice rolled plasma cannon shots. 

Forward the story a few years and we became a bit more sophisticated.  Storylines evolved.  Characters became multidimensional and flawed.  We spent more time crafting the plot as opposed to just rolling dice.  We’d ham up scenes, and occasionally let some fairly lame one liners break us up into laughter.  Through it all, we spent many a memorable night huddled around someone’s dinner table, trying to work together (and against each other) to bring this other, futuristic world to life. 

Eventually, the settings changed from sci-fi to fantasy, and the medium itself shifted from tabletop to virtual desktops.  We discovered MUD’s and MUSH’s and all manner of interesting realms to explore nightly.  Soon, we weren’t limited by how many players we could logistically jam into someone’s front room.  Now, we were grouping with friends in Finland, Portugal, Japan, Austrailia – the list goes on.

When we first found Archmage online, we were hooked pretty much instantly.  Perhaps it was fitting that the name for the online guild which I lead today was formed once again in my mother’s living room with one of my brothers and several of our best friends. 

However, just like old times, we each took names and spent time together crafting backstories and physical descriptions – even though Archmage didn’t require anything of the sort.  While most players were simply trying to run the numbers and acquire power as quickly as possible, we spent time forming up a charter, a ranking structure, and a set of internal guild rules which policed our conduct.  In a game built around acquiring power through various means, we were the one guild which intentionally self-limited our ability to easily acquire power.

For some strange reason we didn’t quite understand, it worked.  Within just a couple of months, our little group of 6 friends had ballooned to over 100 members.  We were turning players away left and right, and had no idea how we were so popular.  Then it occured to us – we were the only real “roleplay” guild on the server.

Even then, nearly 9 years ago, the concept of roleplay was already quite powerful in online gaming.  We didn’t advertise as a roleplaying guild.  We simply did it.  On the game’s message board, every post we wrote was written in character. For us, it was as natural as could be. 

We didn’t ham it up or overdo it – we just did it.  We spoke naturally, but just in a way which indicated the character was in a different world altogether different from our own.  We mentioned “reports from the field” instead of referring to logs.  We referenced “our people” instead of rattling off population numbers.  We didn’t break down into sonnets or take on unnatural sounding  Elizabethan formal tones.  We simply spoke as if we were our characters, in much the same way we’d be speaking as our characters around dinner tables for over a decade. 

That was enough.  We didn’t know it, but it was what was needed in the game for many players.  We had built it, and they were coming…in droves. 

So, here we are, nearly a decade later and the word still has power.  The problem is that for many players, roleplay means completely different things.  There are 32 different flavors of roleplay and then some now.  I mean, are you looking for light roleplay, roleplay encouraged, roleplay friendly, serious roleplay, hardcore roleplay, roleplay required – come on sir, the line is waiting!!!

It used to be that the only problem one had to deal with online as a roleplayer were players who just didn’t get it – that somehow the arrogant, pious stick-in-the-mud online was being played by a guy who worked a desk job, had 2 kids, and went out smoking and drinking with his buddies at the pool hall every Saturday night.  That ruthless, twisted warlord online was actually a 16 year old A-student who still tells his mom he loves her in front of his friends. That cute, flirtatious wood elf girl is actually a 300 pound biker who spends three days a week at the gym benchpressing VW minibuses – ok, maybe people believe the last one.

(Incidently, that last example brings up a little fact I love to point out.  In February of 2005, the one and only issue of SOE Worlds magazine released the fact that in Everquest 2, over half of all characters were female…but only about 1/3 of the playerbase was actually female.  Do the math.)

Players would assume that the voice you used online was, of course, well…you.  If you played a pompous ass online, then obviously that meant you were a pompous ass in life as well…right? 

Ok, so it’s not necessarily right.  Players take on roles online that differ from their real world selves for a variety of reasons.  Most likely, it’s to effectively daydream outloud – to play the hero (or villian) they wish they could be.  More importantly, it’s a way to play these roles without any real repurcussions or consequences.  (What?  You think every player who enjoys PVP is secretly a cold-blooded serial murderer?)

So obviously, we’ve established that I like roleplaying.  What’s the big deal with roleplayers then?

The problem as I see it?  Respect, or rather the lack thereof.  It’s not enough to live and let live.  If you roleplay a certain way, you’ve got to make sure everyone around you gets in on the act or it’s not enough.  That’s not roleplay at that point – but an form of control play.  I love playing Kendricke as a blowhard know-it-all.  That doesn’t mean that I’m going to force everyone around me to pick up a role and start referring to Kendricke as a “Lord”.  Even in my own guild, I’m constantly referred to as “Hey, Ken” or “Kend, want to help with this?”  It’s no big deal really.  I’ll politely turn around and respond back with a “Hello to you as well, Lord Idagi” or “Certainly I’ll help, Lady Astiri”. 

I play my way.  They play their way.  Everyone shows a certain level of respect.  Everyone’s happy. 

The problem is when I play on one of my Antonia Bayle (a “roleplay encouraged” server) and find myself in groups where the gameplay comes to a grinding halt because I don’t follow the party line on what is or is not “proper” roleplay.  Seriously.  Too seriously, really. 

First example.  I was playing my Kerran Templar (I really love Templars, ya know) and needed a quick break because the doorbell rang.  I announced in group, “AFK – Pizza here”.  I returned to find a conversation had broken out over what “pizza” was and whether or not provisioners could provide it.  It was tongue-in-cheek, but it was annoying…and I love to roleplay.

Another example.  Same server, different character.  In a low level dungeon group, we were fairly deep inside when we came upon a named monster and wiped.  After reviving, the group’s fighter told everyone to “buff up” and one of the healers started using the “/flex” command over and over.  Apparently, because the fighter didn’t use the word “blessings” or “prayers”, the priest was sarcastically “buffing up”.  Again…annoying. 

I don’t begrudge anyone a personal playstyle preference.  However, either make sure the rules of the roleplay metagame you’re playing are known to everyone you play with or don’t hold it against them when they unknowingly break one of those rules.  Compromise the “purity” of the roleplaying for a few minutes in order to better the experience for everyone. 

To me, it’s a mark of maturity to see roleplayers who can respect the other players around them – especially when they show that respect to players who don’t hold to the same high roleplay standards.  This isn’t an acting class, and we’re not all crafting King Lear here.  We’re out to play a game, not participate in a world simulation. 

It took me a while to figure it out, too.  I think it not only made me a better online citizen, but helped me to become a better roleplayer as well.  In the meantime, I just grit my teeth at other roleplayers…all the while doing what I can to respect them.

  1. Anakh says:

    As a roleplayer who considers himself very flexible, I agree with you here. Personally since most of the people you’re grouping with are not going to be roleplaying, I say just roll with it, continue to roleplay your way, and let them do things their way. It’s a game for everyone to play the way they want.

  2. Khan says:

    Interesting points, Kendricke. As a friend of mine said: “Anti-roleplayers don’t kill roleplay, other roleplayers do.” The number of roleplayers willing to have a public blow-out over something someone else is doing is astounding. I feel like telling them, “Ya know, there is no test we can use to see if you’re doing it right.” Case in point, people were sharing stories in one of the Inns in LOTRO and someone said the word “halfling” instead of Hobbit. One of the elitist rps in the room blew a gasket. Long story short: a pleasant rp event rapidly devolved into a shouting match over whether or not “halfling” was part of the Tolkien vocabulary. Yeah, I left and didn’t bother going to that event again. A little flexibility on the part of those involved could have kept the event moving along just fine.

  3. Rick says:

    I’ve played on two good RP servers. First was the EQ Test server, where people were flamboyant, brilliant characters. There was a guild called the Furious Foodstuffs, and they named themselves after food. Noodles, Pickle, and so on.

    They weren’t stuffy or Elizabethan. They didn’t worry about how other people played. They were such absolute characters that whatever adventure they undertook, others were happy to participate in character. I think that was my best lesson in RP, seeing people model characters so well that you wanted to join in.

    My second great RP experience was in DAOC, playing the Hibernian realm on Percival. I don’t know how the community evolved into such a solid roleplay environment, but a lot of it was due to people focusing on their own characters and not being judgemental about other people. I’d say it was peer pressure, but pressure is the wrong word. You wanted to join in because it was fun, a flight of fancy, a wonderful shared imagination that produced some exciting moments, some hilarious moments, and some downright touching moments.

    Khan, I’ve been in moments like you describe. Dunno about y’all, but I’m absolutely terrified of the self-righteous RP police in a Star Trek MMO. I have nightmares about it. That’s some serious potential scariness.

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