All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players. In World of Warcraft, that player is you! Each week, Anne Stickney brings you All the World's a Stage with helpful hints, tips and tricks on the art of roleplay in WoW.
For those of us who have been roleplaying for years, many of the things mentioned in the previous two columns are old hat by now and things we don't even bother thinking about. Things like social niceties and the basic mechanics of talking to people are old hat to us by now, and the thought that anyone doesn't really know what those things are is kind of mystifying. And the automatic reaction to seeing any of these kinds of errors is an air of general derision.
Mistakes like errors in timeline placement, playing a character that doesn't really fit within the canon of the Warcraft universe, interrupting what is a pretty serious roleplay session between groups of people, or simply standing in the wrong spot are treated like grievous offenses. Roleplay descriptions full of grammatical errors or the wrong choices in words are mocked outright. And any attempt by these new roleplayers looking to try out that new world of roleplay are shot down, leaving the new roleplayer in the dust and discouraged.
Sound familiar? Is that you? Cut it out.
1. There is nothing wrong with knowing nothing. While you may have been roleplaying for years, a new roleplayer may not have the slightest clue what roleplaying really is. You may have your own set of rules and guidelines to follow for social interaction and roleplay, but these entirely new people have no idea what those rules are. They may not even know that those rules exist. To them, this is a blank canvas, and they're simply making the first awkward brushstrokes -- and a roleplayer berating them for errors is like an artist with years of training blasting those brushstrokes and demanding the next Mona Lisa.
And that, my friends, is intimidating beyond all rational reason. Don't belittle a new roleplayer's ignorance. They aren't breaking your rules because they have an agenda and are out to get you; they simply aren't aware of how to act. While yes, this does mean that they know absolutely nothing about roleplaying the right way, it also means that they know absolutely nothing about roleplaying the wrong way. Bad habits aren't even habits yet; they're just an error in judgment, most likely, and something that should be corrected without giving offense.
A new roleplayer is essentially a blank slate and should be treated as such. Gently correcting them on proper guidelines while they're still fresh out of the gate means that they'll learn the right things given due time. Think about when you started out with roleplay -- or heck, think about any time you started out with any new experience. It was something that took time to develop, and it wasn't something that you instantly mastered right out of the gate. That is the space that these new roleplayers are in, and lambasting them for simply being in that space does far more damage than good. In fact, it can drive them away entirely.
2. The more roleplayers that are out there, the more roleplay flourishes. I have been on a mission to visit the different RP realms out there in World of Warcraft, and this is what I have found: There are very few roleplay realms that have a substantial amount of open-world roleplay. I can't really begin to delve into the reasons for this, but the general impression I feel when I find a roleplaying realm that is stuttering out on the roleplay front is one of general disappointment -- even more so when I find people who treat new roleplayers like trash or simply ignore them entirely.
New roleplayers are the next generation of roleplaying, guys. The fact that they are showing up and trying to roleplay should be something that is looked at as a good thing, not something to be frowned upon. Is your roleplay realm teetering on the edge of extinction? Look -- and I mean take a good, hard look -- at how much open roleplay is on your realm. If new roleplayers don't see any roleplay out in the open, if they don't see any activity on the realm forums, if they don't know what's going on, they simply aren't going to stick around. They're going to leave and go find a roleplay realm that is teeming with activity.
And man, those roleplay realms that have a lot of activity? A lot of activity is a severe understatement. This is what happens: A new roleplayer decides to try out RP for the very first time. They go to a random realm designated for roleplay, make a character, and log in, only to find there isn't really any roleplay readily available. Discouraged, they leave the realm and roll on another realm -- and this time, they happen upon one with lots and lots of activity. Seeing all the roleplay happening, they stay put to make a home.
The roleplay realm that already has a ton of activity gets even more activity, which attracts more new roleplayers, and on and on. Meanwhile, the realms with no roleplay activity to speak of gather tumbleweeds and continue to languish. It's a cycle, and it's a cycle that's going to continue if nothing happens to change or break it. New roleplayers need something to look forward to and they need a reason to stick around; simply dismissing new roleplayers or refusing to engage in any kind of open-world roleplay with them means that they will eventually come to the conclusion that they need to move on.
3. You make an impression. You make an impression on new roleplayers. If you're constantly making derogatory and insulting comments toward them, they will absolutely leave you alone -- and likely they will take their leave from roleplay altogether, too. There is nothing like being outright mocked and derided for trying something new and fun to put a sour taste on that new and fun thing and make sure you never try it again. If you stumble upon a new roleplayer, treat them with kindness. If you aren't available to roleplay, let them know as nicely as possible. Don't bite their head off; that's the sort of thing that will turn new roleplayers away.
But it's not just face-to-face interaction that counts, here. Is your realm forum active? What kind of threads are being posted on that forum? What's being said in general channels or trade chat? Is there any talk of roleplay, or is it devoid of anything having to do with the topic? Is roleplay taking place out in the open, or are people hiding it away and fostering it in places no new roleplayer is going to see? Even if you think that the roleplay on your server is fairly active, if it's not easily accessible and out there for new roleplayers to see, they're going to assume that there isn't any to be found.
Does your roleplay community work together, or are roleplayers divided and at odds with each other? Are there constant bickering or passive-aggressive jabs in plain sight? Are the forums or general channels littered with posts and chat about drama and fighting? If there is a general sense of negativity in the air, new roleplayers will pick up on that. And who really wants to stick around and play on a realm where it appears there is far more drama than actual roleplay?
When a new roleplayer pops up out of the woodwork, it's an opportunity for you to put your best foot forward. If you're kind, polite, and gentle when you speak to them, that will go miles farther than simply telling a new roleplayer that they are in the wrong. If you notice a mistake, don't insult or mock them for their error; they may not even have known that it was an error in the first place. Point them in the right direction -- if there are roleplay guides on your realm forums, point them there. Or you can always point them here if you like!
Offering a friendly face and a guiding hand to new roleplayers isn't just for the sake of being nice. It's also about opening your realm's door and welcoming the activity new roleplayers can bring. If that door is password protected and nobody knows the password, nobody's going to get in -- and what fun is that? If you're an experienced roleplayer, realize that you have the power to foster roleplay, but you also have the power to snuff it out entirely if you take the wrong steps. All the World's a Stage is your source for roleplaying ideas, innovations and ironies. Let us help you imagine what it's like to sacrifice spells for the story, totally immerse yourself in your roleplaying or even RP on a non-RP realm!