The Lure of Roleplay

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The Lure of Roleplay

Post by Sy23 on Wed Feb 15, 2012 1:06 pm

The Lure of Roleplay
An Essay by Sy23



FOR me, it’s been quite an eventful year. I’ve been captured by vampires, fought with space pirates, conducted an illicit romance in Georgian England, investigated a haunted manor and risen to a position of prominence in an internationally renowned company – by sleeping with my boss. I’ve also faced down an evil magician, taken tea with a were-fox, damn near fallen out of an airship (twice) and changed sex at least three times.

I’ve been on innumerable quests, fallen in love at least twenty times, seduced twice that number of females (not all of them human), narrowly escaped with my life on a regular basis, and nearly kissed a fairy. In the coming weeks, I confidently expect to be an elemental spirit, a world-renowned photo-journalist, a member of a street-gang in a post apocalyptic world and, possibly, a steam-powered robot. All at the same time!

Of course, none of this is especially unusual – not in the circles in which I mix. I can name good friends who have died and resurrected on a frequent basis, dallied with werewolves (or even been them), danced with angels and summoned demons. And none of us even had to leave our computer-chairs to do it.
The world of Roleplay is like that.

On-line, text-based, free-form Roleplay (to give it its correct title – which even its adherents usually don’t) grew from a number of sources. An obvious genesis are the fantasy roleplays of the 1980s – elves, dwarves, halflings and heroes, represented by brightly-colored figurines and controlled by the participants, battling their way through perilous dungeons in order to recover stolen treasure. Historians of the art never fail to cite this as its origin.

But there are other sources, too. Most people remember childhood games, where, with the aid of a few props and a huge dollop of imagination, one became a pirate, a cowgirl, or an astronaut. Many people can also recall telling chain stories, where one controlled the narrative only when it was their turn to speak, and had to suffer the joy and pain of the next storyteller taking the plot off in an entirely different direction. Geeks with shorter memories will, no doubt, recall the glory days of Internet Relay Chat, where people from all over the world met in a virtual room to flirt, tell jokes, pose, swap information and fall in love.

Roleplay grew from these and many other sources. Who hasn’t played competitive games, or tried their hand at the great Australian/British/American/Canadian novel, and abandoned it after half a chapter? What person hasn’t, in the privacy of the bathroom, pretended to be a rock icon, a martial arts expert or a world-renowned actor? And who hasn’t, secretly or otherwise, wished they could actually visit Middle Earth, solve a case with Sherlock Holmes or serve on the USS Enterprise?
Roleplay incorporates these elements and more. It’s something like creative writing – but unlike composing a story, one doesn’t just not know what will happen next – one genuinely has no control over it. It also resembles a competitive game, except that sometimes, it’s better to lose if it improves the plot.

And yes, it’s a game, and it would be pretentious to claim otherwise. But it’s also an art-form, especially when it’s done well.

The way to play this game is deceptively simple, though as with any great communication medium, true masters can take this apparent simplicity and turn it into genius. Essentially, a person (hereafter known as the Game Master or GM) determines a background - an interplanetary empire, a fantasy kingdom, 1920’s Chicago or Harry Potter’s Hogwarts – and invites others to play. Application to join in the fun consists of drawing up what’s known as a character skeleton (or “skellie” for the frivolous), stating the physical appearance, strengths and weaknesses, history and background of your creation, and submitting it to the GM for approval.

In theory it’s possible for one’s character to be rejected at this point, but in general one would have to do something entirely outrageous (such as inject an orc into a WWII background) to get kicked.
Like all artists, however, GMs vary in their temperament and sensitivity. Some will cheerfully approve just about any player, others insist on specific levels of literary ability, the ability to post with a specified frequency, or inserted pictures to illustrate their characters’ appearance. Some martinets have been known to specify the type of picture (“Realistic only, no anime”), or sneakily insert a phrase into the introduction, with a request to quote this at the end of your submission to prove you’ve been paying attention.

And some are extremely specific about the details of their background. It’s a vampire roleplay, based on Stoker, you ignoramus. No sparkles!

Having determined the milieu and the characters play begins. The GM (who may or may not be playing a character, but usually contributes two-dimensional spear carriers necessary for the plot – known as “non player characters” or NPCs) opens up an “Out of Character” (OOC) post, where the attributes, plot streams and general housekeeping of the game are discussed. It’s here where you post your character skellies, congratulate (or complain about) other players’ postings, explain just why your character was able to pick that lock despite having no criminal background or whine about why no-one else is posting.

This last, unfortunately, is a frequent event. Like great novels, a lot more games begin than finish. “Has this game died?” is perhaps the most common OOC question, followed by “Has anyone heard from..... (insert GM or player’s name here).

The main focus, though, is the In-character section, or IC. Everything that happens here is, as the name suggests, in character. You might be swapping jokes with a fellow player in the OOC, hell you might even be married to her. But IC, you’re fighting a deadly magical duel, abusing each other for infidelity or desperately plotting each other’s downfall. Breaking the fourth wall by speaking OOC in an IC is one of the deadly sins of RP.

And while we’re on the subject of deadly sins, there’s a few more. God-modding is one such... acting on knowledge that your character could not possibly have. If you’re playing Frodo during the climactic scene at Mount Doom, you’d better damn well act as if you don’t know that Gollum’s gonna fall through the cracks, even if you’ve read the book!

There’s also meta-gaming – controlling another character’s actions without their creator’s permission (such as picking a fight, and trashing them to a pulp before your own post’s ended, thus giving them no chance to defend themselves), acting out of character (such as having your schoolboy nerd character suddenly turn into an unconquerable fighting machine), or being a Mary Sue. The last is perhaps the worst sin of all. A Mary-Sue (the name comes from early fanfic) is a character that’s twice as beautiful, rich, intelligent, witty, lucky and athletic as the rest of the characters put together. Happily, this is a fault that most players soon grow out of. It might seem to be a lot of fun to be in a world where no-one can compete with you, but the lack of competition and challenge soon palls. Not to mention that no-one will want to RP with you.

And by the way, there are Marty-Stu’s, too!

Of course, it’s not as anarchic as all that. All sites have moderators and Admin staff, who will quickly stomp on you if you act too anti-socially. Frequent posting of abusive comments, continually joining games and then vanishing without explanation, or dirty tricks like cutting and pasting others’ comments, edited to put them in a bad light, will get you sat on well and truly. Punishment can range from a gentle hint that one would have more fun if one moderates one’s behaviour to a lifetime ban. While the position of Moderator or Admin has the potential to attract budding megalomaniacs, in practise this rarely happens. After all, there are plenty of RP sites out there, and those with Nazi-like admin rarely last long.

Apart from these few restrictions, though, the art of RP is refreshingly free from constraint. In fact, for its adherents, this is its main strength and appeal. It’s only in very rare cases that the GM insists on the plot going a certain way, usually when the game is based on a hunt or quest of some kind.
Generally speaking, the players are the artists. You’ve got a way to take the story in a new direction, and you can make the twist look natural? Go for it. Want to romance that elf, or break your magic sword and retire from combat? That’s your call. Unlike playing chess or watching a TV drama, what happens next is very much within your control. And unlike writing a novel (where you know exactly how it’s going to end), there’s always the thrilling feeling that your little ploy may or may not turn out as you’d hoped. It’s this element of chance and realism that sets RP above fantasising. If you succeed, there’s a genuine sense of triumph, whereas in your daydreams you know damn well you’re gonna win.

While the IC sections are the meat and drink of RP, it also has its own unique culture outside of the actual games. Apart from OOC posts connected to specific RPs, there’s general discussion threads about the art, or, for that matter, anything else. For perhaps explicable reasons, a higher percentage of RPers are creatively inclined than the usual run of people, and the posting of one’s creative output in the forms of drawings, poetry or stories are encouraged.

There’s plenty of discussions about current affairs, literature, showbiz or music going on OOC too. And romance, naturally (though most sites discourage explicit sexuality, a product of the large number of under age exponents of the art). I know at least one player who was driven to the depths of despair by a particularly beautiful sorceress rejecting all his IC advances, only for her to fall into his (virtual) arms OOC! At least one site runs regular awards, complete with a “Oscars” style presentation ceremony (and no, I didn’t win anything!), and many have a rep system, where particularly witty, helpful or well-written posts gain their creator points that are displayed on their in-site home page.

In general, RPers are a friendly crowd. They might come from far and wide to play (not all RPers are nerds, you know), but the usual distinctions and barriers quickly break down once you play together. After all, it’s hard (to take one example) to be a racist when your last IC post was made under the guise of a Venusian amphibian or an android. And it’s best to put aside the fact that the secret agent or vampress you swore eternal love to IC is a died-in-the-wool conservative, while you’re somewhere to the left of Krapotkin.

Of course, there’s more than one level of assumed identity going on here, and it’s as well to take that into account. We only have Kiss_Chase’s* word for it that she’s a 38DD blonde who works as a lawyer and moonlights as a fashion model. She might, in reality, be a middle-aged storeman with hairy legs and a bad body-odour problem. bABYlOVE could well be a geriatric virago with a bushy moustache, and Studmuffin21 is probably a twelve year old living in his parents’ basement. Many gamers post pictures of themselves, and most of them are probably genuine. But you can never be sure. Myself, I live in dread of someone pointing out that the last snap I posted in the Picture Thread was really Brad Pitt, subtly Photoshopped – nah, just joking!

So, if you find your own life boring or unsatisfying, or your creative urges need a truly original output, or you’re simply sick of what cable TV offers, it’s a pretty fair bet there’s a RP for you. Whether you like an established canon (Wonderland and Sherlock Holmes are pretty big at the moment), or a genuinely original background, complete with magic and heroics, an actual historical period or a gritty realistic story, much like your own life (but slightly better and more interesting), there’s probably a RP for you. And if there isn’t, what’s to stop you starting up your own?

Come on in – the water’s fine. Well, it might be a boiling lake on the planet X’darhex, or a shark infested sea, or a river crossing held by those damn Yankees while you’re resplendent in your Confederate butternut, but it’s fine for all that.

And you’ll have to excuse me now. I’m about to be seduced by a demon. Then I’ve got to lift the lid of that mysterious casket we found, and unearth the treasure. Oh, and lead my space fleet to a victorious, universe-saving victory.

Possibly.



*All nicknames have been changed to protect the innocent.

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Re: The Lure of Roleplay

Post by Kalon Ordona II on Wed Feb 15, 2012 8:34 pm

Exemplary. This deserves to be published and famous. Thumbs Up Thumbs Up
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Re: The Lure of Roleplay

Post by Guest on Wed Feb 15, 2012 9:07 pm

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Re: The Lure of Roleplay

Post by Bird of Hermes on Wed Feb 15, 2012 9:15 pm

That was an amazing read. It is a great survey of what role-playing is. You got it spot on!
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Re: The Lure of Roleplay

Post by Gadreille on Wed Feb 15, 2012 10:52 pm

Bravo! Bravissimo!!! Would you mind if I shared this on facebook?
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Re: The Lure of Roleplay

Post by Sy23 on Wed Feb 15, 2012 11:20 pm

Hey guys thanks - I'm kind of humbled now! Gadreille, go ahead - it has been on tumblr attached to another site, if that doesn't cause problems, please do go ahead.

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Re: The Lure of Roleplay

Post by Artorius on Thu Feb 16, 2012 2:25 am

Excellent. an easy and entertaining read. I thoroughly enjoyed it Sy23!
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Re: The Lure of Roleplay

Post by Sy23 on Thu Feb 16, 2012 9:23 am

Many thanks, Artorius. i really appreciate all the feedback I'm getting here... I can see why this site is so highly regarded.

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Re: The Lure of Roleplay

Post by Kathryn Lacey on Thu Feb 16, 2012 3:43 pm

I found this to be both incredibly intelligent and quite amusing. I'm glad you graced FoG with the presence of this essay. It's very well written in a way that can appeal to both intellectuals and those who may have a harder time with reading comprehension. I hope to read more of your essays in the future if you choose to write and/or share them!

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Re: The Lure of Roleplay

Post by Count on Thu Feb 16, 2012 5:26 pm

I am a 38DD blonde, too! Very Happy SPERSHCUL FERNDZZZZZ

It was a very well-written essay, too. Way to go!
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Re: The Lure of Roleplay

Post by Sy23 on Thu Feb 16, 2012 10:55 pm

As long as you aren't a storeman Count, we have a deal Smile

Thanks Kathryn - I'm thinking of starting a blog, actually, but wonder if I'll have time to keep it up.

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