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Roleplaying is like puppeteering

David Bowers

Jim Moreno writes quite a bit about roleplaying. For a long time he kept his own blog about the subject, and now he writes a special column about roleplaying for WoW WarCry, which precedes and in many ways inspired WoW Insider's own roleplaying column, All the World's a Stage. Jim's latest article struck me with an excellent point: roleplaying has often been compared to acting -- by myself no less -- when in fact it is closer to the art of puppeteering.

He cites Jim Henson and Frank Oz as two of the best roleplayers ever, even though neither of them is known to have actually played roleplaying games. Both of them, however, used alternate physical bodies -- their puppets -- to tell stories and convey their characters to their audience, whereas regular actors would have used their own bodies and faces to portray their characters, no matter how different they are from one another. The example from Jim's article that stands out most in my mind is that of Yoda telling Luke, "There is no try, there is only do," conveying so clearly who this person Yoda is, what he stands for, what he talks, moves and looks like without ever giving a hint that the whole thing is just a "puppet with Frank Oz's hand sticking up his butt."

Roleplaying, Jim says, is just the same. Instead of acting with our own bodies, we use the digital avatars that Blizzard has designed for us: we customize our characters with different abilities and appearances, but more than that, we give them actions and words that distinguish them as believable people, just like puppeteers do. A superb roleplayer can do what Frank Oz and Jim Henson did, only on a smaller scale; he can convey a sense of true depth, a human story, using a virtual puppet made of ones and zeros rather than cloth and plastics.
This is just another example of how "roleplaying" is just a new form of the same basic creative endeavors that have been around for millennia. Someone who gets "freaked out" by roleplaying might as well get freaked out by Miss Piggy and the Cookie Monster, because roleplaying is basically just an adaptation of the puppeteering concept in a modern technological environment.

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