Storyboard: Police state

No, I don't know exactly why Saren's here.
Sometimes, column topics get away from you. When I sat down to write last week's Storyboard, I realized at the halfway mark that I had spent a lot of time not really hitting the core of the issue, and the overall article wound up being much weaker as a result. So I went back, started fresh, and instead delivered a column aimed squarely at the central question of whether or not it's important to have a flagged roleplaying server.

But there is an issue that I didn't really address in that column but still remains relevant. If you're going to talk about having an RP server exist even if it's not policed, you do need to address what policing a roleplaying server actually entails. A lot of it is just plain speculative at the moment, given the overall track record of the industry, but that doesn't mean it's not worth discussing.

Actually, if this guy went around to punch sparkly vampires, I would be down with that.See, the word "policing" is loaded. If you mention having a server policed, there are players -- a not insubstantial portion, I'll note -- who immediately have an image of a server in which an absolute authority will tell you whether you're playing correctly or not. Instead of being given tools and being invited to build a structure by the game, you are told exactly what you're supposed to do, and the rest is just going through the motions.

This is kind of ridiculous. Policing a server is a spectrum, that's all. On the far end of the spectrum is a place where GMs run rampant and tell players what is and is not roleplaying, and people are getting kicked off of the server for not roleplaying well enough to appease the official sources. This is ridiculously unworkable and not what anyone expects.

At the other end of the spectrum, of course, is where GMs simply investigate players who are reported for naming violations. It's telling that this end of the spectrum of policing is the best that most anyone actually expects to happen, and even then, some games don't bother with this level of regulation. Ofte players are even told as much -- roleplaying servers in Star Wars: The Old Republic are marked as such, but there's no pretense of having GMs on call. There are no special naming conventions; the servers are just marked for roleplaying.

In an ideal world, yes, these servers would have one or two dedicated GMs in charge of making sure that the server remained a comfortable environment for roleplayers. That means seeking out people who try to disrupt events, seeking out inappropriate names, and so forth. It's not about kicking you off the server if you haven't logged the required number of hours in a tavern but about ensuring that the server remains open and friendly to players who are congregating there because they want to roleplay.

We do not live in an ideal world. We live in a world that frequently manages to fall very shy of the ideal. Even the games that do police roleplaying servers do so at the bare minimum level, and they alone are becoming a scarcer breed. (Not nonexistent, mind, and there are companies that come around later. But I'm talking about the majority.)

Hands where I can see them, emotes in-character, and no tragic pasts!Of course, the question becomes why we would even want this. After all, we already get enough pressure from other players about not playing the right way. Roleplayers as a group will do crazy things like intentionally equip something sub-optimal because it looks pretty. The idea of creating a central authority to tell you what you can and can't do seems somehow counterproductive. When Final Fantasy XIV was getting its roleplaying community together, the idea of using that community organization to set up some kind of roleplaying authority was specifically rejected on the basis of its being an awful idea.

But policing a server doesn't have to mean that. It can easily just mean that you have GMs actively trying to ensure that people disrupting a roleplaying event are avoided, or possibly the GMs could lend some official support to events. Instead of having to leave a lot of the more dramatic parts in Imaginationland, you could actually have monsters spawning, walls tumbling down, and NPCs reacting in horror or shock or another appropriate emotion.

The flip side, of course, is that this is a lot of work. But part of me does wonder whether part of the reason the roleplaying population is so small is that this doesn't happen. Part of me wonders whether players quickly figured out that putting the extra work into realizing a character wouldn't be acknowledged by the game, and a latent seed of roleplaying was buried before it had the chance to blossom.

Of course, another part of me then wants to slap me silly for being pretentious.

Ultimately, it's a matter of how many roleplayers there are versus how much effort it takes to provide this sort of attention. Extra effort spent policing a server means extra money spent on customer service, probably without a lot of extra player retention. (We roleplayers are kind of fickle.) It just makes more sense to do the bare minimum... or frequently nothing at all. But it would certainly be nice to see a little more support, and I don't think it's such a bad thing.

Feedback can be left in the comments section down below, or you can mail thoughts along to just like always. Next week, I'm going to talk about something every single roleplayer likes to play around with: outfits. (At least, I like to play around with them. Don't judge me.)

Every Friday, Eliot Lefebvre fills a column up with excellent advice on investing money, writing award-winning novels, and being elected to public office. Then he removes all of that, and you're left with Storyboard, which focuses on roleplaying in MMOs. It won't help you get elected, but it will help you pretend you did.
This article was originally published on Massively.