All the World's a Stage is a weekly column by David Bowers, published on Sunday evenings, investigating the explorative performance art of roleplaying in the World of Warcraft.
We've talked before about roleplaying as an art form, whether you think about it as acting or puppeteering, fiction or improv, there's definitely something creative going on here. But like any art form, roleplaying is best when it means something; that's to say, when it expresses something ultimately "true" about human experience, and perhaps even illumines the minds and hearts of the roleplayers in some way.
Roleplayers all want to achieve that creativity, of course, but one problem often stands in our way: it's a rare work of art that really works for everyone. That's why the regular old art world is such a complete mess -- one man's fingerpainting is another man's post-modernist masterpiece. People constantly disagree about what subjects make for acceptable art, whether some art pushes extremes too far and becomes obscenity, and whether real art actually requires talent and skill. One person may curl up with their favorite Jane Austen novel and read it for the 10th time, while another may come home from the comic book store with the epic adventures of the Bone cousins. Each story conveys very different things to the reader -- but then the people who want to read these stories are looking for different things to get out them as well. Each form of storytelling speaks its own language for its own special audience.
We have the same problem in roleplaying. To illustrate, imagine there's a teenage boy going through public school and not getting along with his peers very well. When he roleplays, he plays an intimidating character who likes to try to get in your face, pick a fight with you and insult you to show how very powerful he is. That power fantasy may be very annoying for you and me, but for him it really means something. That's not to say it's high-quality art by any means, but nonetheless, his feelings are important too, and he has his right to play a character on an RP server the same way we all do. It's just that for us, the "/ignore" command starts to look really tempting every time his sort comes along.