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The Roleplayer's Redoubt

Is there a really place for roleplaying in MMOs? What do roleplayers bring to the table? How can developers foster stronger roleplaying communities? How do traditional concepts fit into the realities of contemporary online roleplaying?

Author: OddjobXL

The Power Of Selective Perception

Posted by OddjobXL Friday March 13 2009 at 9:45AM
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There are two powerful, opposing, forces at work in any unified roleplaying community.  They both have merit.

One force is the eternal drive for immersion wherein roleplayers all intuitively grasp the nature and nuance of the melieu and the moment, embrace the same roleplaying techniques and cognative dissonance shrinks itself down to a mote, and this union of imaginations creates suspension of disbelief.   The illusion becomes real for a time and we are our characters living out exciting lives in exotic places all from the comfort of our own living rooms and dens.

Well, that's the aspiration at least.  It's not terribly common anywhere even in tabletop games and MUSHes.  But when it works, it's magic.  People will tell stories about the time when it happened, without mentioning immersion itself, for years to come as the best roleplaying they've experienced.  And they'll keep on looking for it.

Actors, musicians and I believe roleplayers get it.  Keroac perhaps best frames the experience when describing jazz in "On The Road."  Like jazz, roleplaying is an improvised activity that takes a group to pull off.  What'd old Jack have to say?

"Here's a guy and everybody's there, right? Up to him to put down what's on everybody's mind .... All of a sudden somewhere in the middle of the chorus he gets it-everybody looks up and knows .... Time stops. He's filling empty space with the substance of our lives .... He has to blow across bridges and come back to it with such infinite feeling soul-exploratory for the tune of the moment that everybody knows it's not the tune that counts but IT."

Pretty high falutin' stuff, ain't it?  Still, when you're on a roll I can't think of a better word picture for it.  Of course, generally, we tend to sum up one of those moments with a, "Wow, that was cool!  Thanks for the RP!"  Sometimes we even manage to get to sleep afterwards.

The opposing force is, for lack of a better word, integrity.

Assuming a roleplayer's been around a while he's going to have a personal understanding of the craft.  The more experienced and knowledgable a player is the more structured his practices will be.  Likely, the player also has expectations for how people behave in a setting and how the setting itself works based on research or common knowledge.   He's got canon slung low on one hip and a two-handed claymore of high standards sheathed over his shoulder.

In general these practices are built from his past experiences with immersion.  He knows what's worked in his past to make it happen.   He may look for proper spelling and diction, characters that are believeable to him, context aside from just socializing in costumes and certainly players who grasp the depth of the setting, as he sees it.  It's not just enough to make believe in the moment, for a jaded fellow like this, but to make believe in such a way as to deepen the scope of roleplay and immersion.

The problem with integrity is that almost every experienced roleplayer will have different interpretations of how things should work.  They'll often spend more time arguing OOCly about roleplaying techniques or elements of the setting than actually roleplaying.   You know the cat who spends more time fluffing his prospective bed than actually settling into it?  That's the roleplayer with integrity.  Everything has to be just right before he can get comfortable.

MMOs, sadly, don't often provide strong settings or gameplay that's plausible.  The roleplayers themselves end up cooking up house rules for resolving disputes or creating story arc developments or fleshing out the gaps in canon.   So, you get a table full of these guys and when they agree, wow, watch out.  Something really special is about to happen.  However, of course, often all you get is arguing.

Integrity opposes immersion, while at the same time pursuing it, because it tends to trample less knowledgable or experienced roleplayers, who can have a pretty good time without all the fancy things the purist roleplayer looks for.  In fact, the less you know the easier it is to achieve basic immersion.  What wrecks it, for the intuitive roleplayer, is the guy OOCly criticising how you go about it.

At the same time, the reason the purist roleplayer acts like this is because he too was once an intuitive roleplayer.  He was a newbie.  Over time he ran into problems that he knows how to avoid now by planning ahead.  For example, knowing how a setting works before he runs into a situation where he's roleplaying the wrong thing and it matters.  He knows that OOC discussion, while weakening immersion, is also the grease that keeps misunderstandings between characters from becoming misunderstandings between players.  He grasps that agreements which set the understandings for roleplaying can cut down on random arguments that crop up in live RP and break immersion.

So how can the purist and the intuitive roleplayer coexist in the same game without annoying each other to death?

That's the power of selective perception.  It's really basic but it's so ingrained that we don't think about it much.  It means "ignore it."  Blow it off.  Move along. 


If someone's doing something you don't like in a game ignore it.  It's not there.  It never happened.  Keep on moving until you find something more to your tastes.  Don't berate them, don't run to the RP forums and mock or complain about them, and if they're really annoying (purist or intuitive RPer alike) literally /ignore them. 

You are the boss of you.  You're not the boss of anyone else and nobody else is the boss of you.

There is always the pull of immersion, of community, of peer pressure to go along with other roleplayers you know.   Nobody can roleplay alone.  The bigger the group of people roleplaying together the more ideas will crop up and keep things interesting. 

But when you get involved in a community, you're still the boss of you.  You've just given them permission to entertain you for a while and, hopefully, you're entertaining them too. If you stop having fun maybe it's time to find a new community, take a break or even find a new game.   It's not time to escalate the arguments, to start trouble, to gossip and spread rumors.  It's time to find something better to do.

See what you want to see in a game.  Find roleplayers that see the way you do.  And don't notice things that look bad, or wrong or out of place.  Only you can give them permission to exist in your imagination.


Update:  Seems like yesterday's blog post was noticed: