I can't speak for anyone else, but one thing Momma always warned me about is that there are a few topics you just don't talk about over dinner or in polite company. Sex, drugs, money, politics. If you're like me, your sweetheart gives you that look if certain subjects are brought up. "Don't even get started," that look warns me.
I admit, I can be a powderkeg about feminism, racial equality, and general "do the right thing" subjects. But these issues do come up during the course of roleplay. There are more than a few victims among WoW's characters, and there are certainly some bad guys who'd do despicable things.
If you're going to play with hot-topic issues, there some things you can do to help keep everyone's sensitivities in mind. 1. Do not use real world language to describe your character's attitude.
Let's be clear. I'm not talking about George Carlin's infamous Seven Words. I'm not talking about the most common four letter words. I'm talking about those foul, vile racial slurs, the demeaning and dehumanizing language targeted at women and minorities.
A good rule of thumb is that if Blizzard's language filter blocks the words your character is using, it doesn't belong in WoW. Hell, Blizzard blocks that language for a reason. Why would you work to circumvent those rules? What's more, even if your character is evil and demonic, the players who view your work probably aren't.
By using this kind of real-world language, you're also losing your roleplay-driven message. People seeing your roleplay aren't going to think "What a deep and meaningful interaction." Whatever communication you may have had in mind, all your audience is going to see or hear is the slur. And poof, you've defeated yourself. It's just not helpful.
2. Spend a bit of time being sure this is the path you need for your story.
Some subjects are stickier than others and also best avoided. Rape is almost never necessary in stories. If you're trying to portray someone who's been through a forcible, horrid violation -- don't fall back to rape. Can't you formulate a similar story based on some kind of telepathic violation, or maybe a demonic possession?
While you may be able to interact with rape as a valid, consensual storyline -- others may not. And you'll again finding yourself losing your message in the shock and horror of your subject. Not to mention, maybe digging up painful feelings in other people. It's usually just not worth the negatives.
3. Spend a little time out of character.
Out of character time goes against the veins of pure immersion, but a high level of trust between players is required in order to handle delicate subjects. Especially if you're about to betray another character, or do something vile. It could be in character for you, but you should take the time to do the communication with the other player(s) and establish a trusting rapport.
Mutual out of character trust and understanding is probably your best defense in any situation. It's especially critical if you're putting yourself or another player in an uncomfortable situation. Sure, they can log out whenever they want. I hear that a lot. But why would you want them to? Wouldn't you rather have an understanding, and both of you have a good time?
4. Don't joke about serious subjects.
If you wouldn't say it in church, around your family, or at work -- don't joke about it. Why not? Well, even tiny little slips of humor communicate information. And if you set yourself up via quips and remarks as being the person comfortable and okay with inappropriate commentary -- when things get serious or uncomfortable, that perception is going to remain in place.
Sure, everyone should (hopefully) get the benefit of the doubt. But each of us has the responsibility to ourselves to maintain that benefit. If you're looking to lighten a mood, self-deprecating humor usually gets me by, personally. I know I'm not going to hurt my own feelings. But a lighthearted jab at someone else may be overanalyzed by the human being behind the other computers.
Of course, these four tips really just boil down to "be considerate of others." Remember that there's a real live person sitting behind the other computer, and treat them as you would like to be treated yourself. But, if we could all manage to do that, our roleplay would be a little better off.
Good luck out there!
All the World's a Stage brings you all kinds of roleplaying tactics and strategies: from finding other roleplayers to avoiding annoying pesterers, to overcoming the Mary Sue within all of us -- even to roleplaying the opposite sex!