You've just started your adventures into the newest game to hit the market. Without thinking, you select the server with the coolest name, the best balance of population, or some other criteria in your head. As soon as you step into this new world, you're greeted by a friendly sort who helps you along your way. They make you feel warm and fuzzy, secure and comfortable all at once. In fact, you'd be more than happy to hang out with them, but something doesn't seem right. Little things pop up here and there, and suddenly, the dreaded question arises.
"So, how are you role-playing your character?"
At first glance, a niche group such as role-players seem relaxed and welcoming. In many cases, they are. They create helpful little topics like "How to role-play" and "Role-play 101" on the forums. Sometimes they even hold in-game tutorial sessions to get people comfortable with the idea of role-playing. They publicly role-play in the hopes that others will join in, even if new to the idea of acting a part in-character. It all sounds kind, fluffy, friendly. Like cotton candy dipped in honey and covered in sprinkles.
Don't be fooled: it's also a quiet lie. Role-playing is very much cult-like: it has exacting standards and rules, can be violently vehement to those outside its walls, and is quick to ostracize those who fail to comply with the golden expectations. It's a dangerous hobby, full of emotional strife, backbiting, and name-calling that would put most soap operas to shame.
I bet you thought role-playing was for care-bears, too.
Let's break it down a bit. When it comes to rules, every role-playing environment is a little different, but there are still are some cardinal rules that sometimes go unspoken. Some of these would seem to be common sense, such as separating in-character from out-of-character, to make sure immersion isn't ruined and to remind people to distance themselves from the fake lives they're leading. Another rule is to not 'godmod' or 'god-mode', referring to when a role-player goes outside the rules of fair play and either makes themselves impossibly invincible, or forces other players to bend to what they want to happen. There's also the golden rule: don't break lore. You must remain within the confines of your world's story.
These rules are incredibly sacred to role-players, and they are how role-players create their own social hierarchy and caste system. There are three basic groups: the casuals, the rule-breakers, and the hardcore. Casual role-players (aka "softcore") are the majority group. This is a catch-all term that includes players who may only role-play once in a while, to those that role-play on a more regular basis but are a little more relaxed to the 'rules.' They may be the ones who do things simply because it's something else to do between waiting on a dungeon or engaging in PvP, or while they're doing other things. It's simple enjoyment to them, and they generally don't care how other people might view them. They'll generally flock together for events and set aside time here and there to chat with their role-playing buddies.
The rule-breakers are those that blatantly twist the lore, engage in 'godmoding' or other 'good taste' rules - the role-playing equivalent of players who roll need on loot because the game gives them the option to. They love to lord themselves over other role-players, casting the unwashed masses before them like so much chaff in the fields. They're simply magnificent, and tend to come up with fanciful stories about how they've personally slain every single major NPC in a game single-handedly while drunk and tied up. Sometimes, they're just there to make other role-players lives difficult because they can.
The hardcore, of course, are that last sector of the role-play cult. They have attained godlike perfection, able to perfectly perform their role in-character without breaking any cardinal rules, while maintaining a subtle creative art deserving of best-seller lists. Their knowledge is paramount. No little detail slips by their deft minds, and under the guise of being helpful, will point out any and every flaw in your personal history with alarming ease. They are the self-proclaimed leaders of the bunch - they're the ones that make all role-play possible by their mere presence.
That's right, role-players have their own form of elitist jerks that will tell you how to play. Just like every other group.
Naturally, these "hardcore" role-players despise the rule-breakers. Where other players might simply shrug off the inappropriate antics of those who don't play fair, hardcore role-players go the extra mile to make them suffer. They offer no hesitation in blacklisting a "godmodder." They will also happily enter into a smear campaign against said players, their guilds, their non-combat pets, their mounts, and any other players associated with them. Often, they'll go out of their way to make the role-playing life hellish for these players in order to "teach them a lesson."
Like many elitists, hardcore role-players tend to sneer at the casuals as people beneath their worth of attention. People who aren't always in character when playing are "not really role-players." Players who don't know or follow the lore of a game 100% get labeled "idiots" or "lazy." Players who make a very stereotypical character become "Mary Sues," a not so endearing term indicating the player is incapable of creating an interesting or inventive character - or, on the opposite side of the coin, that they're too inventive and creative with the process.
The camaraderie role-players would like you to believe exists with their friendly how-to posts and special welcome-all events isn't really there. The truth is, role-players can be some of the nastiest, dirtiest players you'll find in an MMO. There are the people who will meta-game, using any means possible to find a way destroy your reputation if they don't like you. There are those who will drag you into a knock-down, drag-out style forum fight if they disagree with you. There are even role-players who will report you for the smallest infraction, send false reports to GMs about you, or who will happily get banned themselves if it means the chance to make you suffer because they don't like how you choose to play.
There are also many who become falsely attached, who forget that sacred wall between in-character and out-of-character dealings. They suddenly latch on to you, demanding all of your time, attention, gold and leveling services to the point they will throw a fit and threaten to do unspeakable things if you don't oblige them. Worst of all, they will try and turn you into the villain if you don't cave into their sudden, secret emotional needs for someone to give them all the attention they demand, so they can continue to dwell in a fantasy world where you might actually give a damn about them.
Let's also not forget one thing: role-players are incredibly cliquish. Often, players who want to get involved in another's (publicly done, mind you) role-playing are spurned, ignored, or outright lambasted with insults that would make a sailor's mother cover her son's ears. Many times, guilds only role-play with themselves in haughty disdain for the rest of the people on the server, all in the ideal they are trying to, "rescue role-playing" on the server. In reality, they're doing quite the opposite, turning away others to feel better about themselves.
"What's the big deal then?" you might ask? Simple. Instead of hating role-players as being different, realize they're probably full of much, much more vitriol than you are. They go well beyond simple griefing and hating that sometimes get doled out on them from people who don't understand them. Furthermore, they do this to the people that are supposedly most like them, too. Imagine your friends doing nothing but going behind your backs, making fun of you to everyone else in your circle, and then laughing and saying they were just kidding when you've called them out on it.
Sounds like fun, doesn't it?
At the heart of everything, role-playing is still a fun hobby. Heck, I role-play, and have crossed into every camp at one point or another. Still, there are times I swear I'll never roll on a role-play server again; times I avoid role-play hubs and events as if I might catch some detestable disease. The longer I play with the "RP community," the more I realize that it often lacks the maturity to hold itself together by more than a faint interest in a similar hobby. Role-playing in MMOs isn't decaying, but it certainly no longer bears a sweet scent.