This is the next to the last, in a series of blog posts about role-playing (RPing) geared especially to those who don’t know how or think they can’t. Today’s post is going to be geared a bit more toward those who think they shouldn’t; that is, people who have either been burned or who otherwise have been made to feel that RPing is dishonest and little more than a tool for liars to get away with lying (“Well I never meant it, I was just RPing!”).
It’s true, I will not deny it, RPing is a great tool for the dishonest. But it is just that: a tool. A tool’s use depends greatly on the intention of the person using it: a hammer can build a house or it can smash windows; a skillet can cook an omelette or bash someone’s skull in. So today let’s talk a little bit about how to use this particular tool in a safe, responsible way.
A liar is a liar is a liar.
There’s a goofy old joke that I refer to from time to time that goes like this: if you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have? The answer, of course, is four; calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg. If someone is intentionally being dishonest with intent to deceive you, they can call it RPing, but it doesn’t make it RPing. It’s like if a bunch of kids are playing cops & robbers, and little Joey steals money from little Timmy’s mom’s purse. Joey can plead that he was “just being a robber” all he wants, but the fact is, he really stole. Pretend, real. Pretend, real.
If you haven’t figured it out already, RPing is pretty much playing cops & robbers. There might be a little bit of a plan made ahead of time (“OK, Joey, Andy, and Bobby are robbers. Me, Timmy, and Casey are cops. The back porch will be the bank. You guys pretend to try to rob the bank and we’ll try and stop you.”) but other than that, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to be the kind of cop or robber you want to be. To help keep things fair there’s usually a combat system in play, so as to avoid “I shot you!” “Nuh-uh! I dodged!” “Nuh-uh! I got you!” when the gunfight breaks out. Godmodding (“Andy, you can’t just walk out of jail! It’s locked and I have the keys!”) is frowned upon.
Let me reiterate, because it bears repeating: there is no “right” or “wrong” way to play the role you want to play, but there still is “right” and “wrong”. Those don’t go away. There are still rules of conduct and there are still your real life basic principles of what’s moral and ethical.
You vs. Your Character
You can, and in fact should, be honest while still being a good RPer. As adults, we’re especially wise to what’s us and what’s our character (at least I like to think so!). There are things that Robert T. Fiction behind his computer would know, and they are not necessarily the things that Bob Newcomer in the game would know. Because of this, there is no need to deceive Robert T. Fiction in order to surprise or keep something from Bob Newcomer. Mr. Fiction is an adult; he knows the difference. You’re an adult, and you know the difference. Right?
Valgar the Red: There’s just one thing that’s been bothering me…if the Stone of Awesomeness wasn’t in the cave, then where is it?
Avalon Ravenfeather: I never saw it at all.
Bob Newcomer: I took it and then lost it, remember?
Valgar the Red: ((well yes, I know that for real, but Valgar would never have seen you take it. He was busy in the next room battling orcs.))
Bob Newcomer: ((D’oh! You’re right. OK, strike that last thing I said.))
Valgar the Red: ((You got it. Never happened. 😉 ))
Bob Newcomer: Was it a yellow stone, glowed, about yea big?
Valgar the Red eyes Bob suspiciously. “Yes…”
Bob Newcomer shifts his weight nervously. “Yeah, about that…there’s something I gotta tell you.”
Avalon Ravenfeather: I don’t have to read minds to know a guilty conscience when I see one…spill it, Bob!
So even though the people who play Valgar and Avalon are aware that Bob took the Stone of Awesomeness and then lost it, the characters of Valgar and Avalon never saw any of it happen and so they’re ignorant of the event. So they RP accordingly. And even though Bob made a mistake and forgot about this fact, they’re able to magically rewind the action as though Bob’s comment never happened.
Sometimes when you’re RP you dig deep and pull out emotions that, while not genuine, still feel very real at the time. This is especially true of anger or anything romantic, I suppose; but it’s not limited to that by any stretch.
Valgar the Red: How the hell could you lose the Stone of Awesomeness, you stupid fool?! Do you have any idea what that thing is capable of?!!
Bob Newcomer: Don’t call me stupid, you bossy jerk!
Valgar the Red draws his sword. “Take that back.”
Bob Newcomer picks up a rock. “Make me.”
Avalon Ravenfeather: Guys! Guys! Let’s not get too hasty and do something we regret here!
Valgar the Red: Avalon, stay out of this! This is between me and dumbass over here.
Bob Newcomer: Oh that does it! You better get your healing potions out, ’cause you’re gonna need ’em all when I’m through!
IM: Valgar to Bob: Nice one!
IM: Bob to Valgar: Heh, thanks. So I guess we better get our meters on and stuff…
IM: Valgar to Bob: ROFL I just got an IM from Avalon, she wants to make sure we’re not really pissed at each other.
IM: Bob to Valgar: LOL!! Yeah we’re cool, I’ll IM her and let her know.
IM: Valgar to Bob: If I do step over the line, just say so.
IM: Bob to Valgar: Hey, I’m the idiot who lost the thing 😉
IM: Bob to Avalon: We’re cool, it’s just RP fighting.
Avalon Ravenfeather nervously watches the two to see what they’ll do next.
As you see, it’s good to check behind the scenes to make sure no real feelings are getting hurt. The person behind the computer playing Valgar isn’t really angry at the person playing Bob and doesn’t really think he’s stupid. They make that line clear by being in contact in IMs.
What about alts? Aren’t they a kind of deceit?
Alternate characters, or “alts”, are tricky territory to walk in. On the one hand, you’re playing someone entirely different from your usual character, your “main”. On the other, you haven’t necessarily told Valgar and friends that Rick Rookie is being played by the same person as Bob Newcomer. People’s reasons for making alts and keeping them secret vary. Sometimes Robert T. Fiction behind the computer needs a break from Bob Newcomer’s responsibilities, and just wants to focus on building or selling without all of Bob’s friends IMing him.
Generally, I see alts as “need to know” information. Suppose that Bob Newcomer has been starting an in-game romance with a character named Elfina Moonflower. Elfina doesn’t need to know that Rick Rookie is run by the same guy behind the curtain, if all Rick is doing is building and selling items for his shop or playing a minor role. But suppose Bob and Elfina become serious. Like really serious, as in outside of their roles or even outside of SL. Suppose then that some other girl has started making google eyes at Rick Rookie, and it would be in Rick’s character to reciprocate. Right around then is when Elfina needs to know.
IM: Bob to Elfina: Hey, El, I gotta talk to you about something.
IM: Elfina to Bob: Sure, hon, what’s up?
IM: Bob to Elfina: Well you know how over the past week Imara has been flirting with Rick Rookie?
IM: Elfina to Bob: Yea, it’s kinda cute ^^ Why?
IM: Bob to Elfina: El, Rick is me. He’s my alt.
IM: Elfina to Bob: …
IM: Elfina to Bob: really?!
IM: Rick to Elfina: Yes really.
IM: Elfina to Bob: omg!
It’s really up to you to decide how much about your alt(s) you want to divulge to people. But again, if/when real feelings and/or real deceit look like they may enter into the equation, that’s when “need to know” information is needed to be known.
So to sum up, being an honest RPer means being open, and it means separating your RL self from your RP character. It means being clear behind the scenes about what’s going on “onstage”, and it means checking when you’re not clear. Sometimes it means decompressing when things get to feeling a little too real (like after a RP fight); usually after an emotinally intense experience a break is in order. But most of all it comes down, simply, to entering into RPing with a clear conscience. If you’re feeling guilty about something you’re doing, speak up and address it now, rather than later.