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All the World's a Stage: Maintaining your barriers


In-game romances are a staple of escapist persistent roleplaying. Any time you're talking about a group of roleplayers who maintain their persona on a long term basis over weeks, months, or years and enjoy any kind of freeform creative environment, you're also talking about someone who engages in the love story. There's just something about the framework of a love story that brings out some awesome roleplay. It's great.

But it can also turn into a nightmare fairly quickly. When you spend hours and hours each week roleplaying side-by-side with another person, you get awfully attached to that other person. And even if you never engage in ERP and keep away from intimate scenes, you're still pretending to be in love. That's just begging for trouble to creep into the roleplay. Trouble that could quickly lead you to a visit to the Drama Mamas.

Consider that science hints we think of our characters the same way we think of ourselves. Assuming you're not using your roleplay as a chance to meet someone in real life, then you should absolutely set up, maintain, and enforce some barriers between your romantic roleplay and your real life. Romantic stories can be very rewarding, but these barriers are essential to keeping trouble out of both your real life and your roleplay.

I never knew her name

There's an old song by Heart named All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You. As the song's story goes, a woman meets a stranger on the road, has a night of passion with him, then splits. It turns out all she wanted from the guy was to get pregnant, and she was uninterested in a further relationship. There's a line from the song that's always stuck with me, and it comes to the forefront now: "I didn't ask him his name."

The singer just wants something from the dude (in our cases, roleplay) for a brief time. As such, there's no reason for them to swap names. Because, really, why the hell do you need to know? Character names in WoW are unique identifiers. (Okay, the seemingly infinite character map can complicate things, vis-a-vis LègȱĨâs, but you get the idea.)

Keeping your real name to yourself introduces one of the first barriers between you and others. It's a very subtle but powerful way of communicating to other players that you're portraying a character. You're playing out this romance with the same distance an author keeps between himself and the novel. This is not an escapist way for you to live vicariously through your character. (And, hey, if it is, more power to you. That's just not the case we're talking about here.)

The mun convention

In my roleplay lives in previous games, we had something called a "mun." It's pretty simple. If my character was named Bob, then I as the player was known as Bobmun. If the community knew that the same player behind Bob also played a character named Frank, then I would still be referred to as Bobmun. "Who plays Frank? Oh, that's Bobmun."

The idea here isn't to be clever about nicknames, and we're certainly not trying to create some kind of cultural divide. But the notion, again, is to create layers and barriers between yourself, the player, and people who might have personal relationships with your character. Trust me, the mun convention works just fine.

WoW is the first game I've played in which I've not seen the "mun" convention. We had it in MUDs, in AOL roleplay, and in Dark Age of Camelot. But I just don't see it in WoW. Maybe I'm not talking to the right people, and I'm not sure why the convention died. But when I hear about bad experiences with roleplay, I have to wonder why the convention got abandoned.

As a note, the origins of the term could either come from "mundane" or a foreign word meaning "man." The term is so damned old that I doubt anyone could definitively prove anything. Knowing roleplayers, rennfaire geeks, and general geekery as I do, though, I suspect it probably does come from "mundane."

Don't talk about your life

Some people use WoW as their social outlet. Those folks are obviously a little outside this discussion. But that being said, there's no need to talk about your life in order to promote great roleplay. Sure, you can talk a little about some general themes. "I had a crappy day" is fine. "I had a crappy day because my boss was mean" is probably all right. "I work at AOL and my boss threatened to fire me" is way, way, way out of bounds.

Try and view your roleplay time in an almost professional manner. No, it shouldn't be "srsbsns." But it should be a time where you compose yourself, act with a level of decorum, and maintain your own personal space. Talking about what you did with your day, your weekend, or your family won't help enrich your roleplay.

Ask yourself first whether what you're about to talk about has any impact on the game. Is your teacher at High School giving you a bad grade in math? Okay, maybe that's relevant if you're playing an engineer, but you could just say: "I'm bad at math." The other details (High School, bad grade) are not relevant.

Don't engage in ERP

Just don't do it. I'm not trying to judge the practice, and I'm not judging the people who do engage in erotic roleplay. It's their business. But, if you want to keep up a distance between yourself and your character's lover's player, then there is absolutely no reason to have ERP.

Think back to the article I linked before about how we think of our avatars. Here's a hint. We tend to think of them as a projection of ourselves, not as a different person. So if you're engaging in erotic roleplay, how do you then think you think about the other person? I'd guess you would think of the other person as someone you've had erotic moments with.

Does that really sound like you're keeping a distance?

Why bother?

There's a lot of reasons to maintain a wall. If you're already in a relationship, and you don't want to introduce drama or problems into your relationship, then I would think that keeping a distance and maintaining your personal space would be absolutely mandatory. I've seen more than a few healthy, happy relationships start sprouting trouble because of the emotions ERP can create.

Safety is another concern. There's some odd folks out there, and some of those odd folks roleplay online. Keeping your distance by not divulging your name and keeping your private business private will help make you less of a target. "Keep your head down," as it were.

I don't mean to make roleplayers out to be an obsessive-compulsive, drama-prone, angst crowd. But I also don't see a lot of reason to share personal information with even the people our characters interact with daily. Keep it all to yourself, and you won't get in trouble.

All the World's a Stage is your source for roleplaying ideas, innovations and ironies. You might wonder what it's like to sacrifice spells for the story, or to totally immerse yourself in your roleplaying, or even how to RP on a non-RP server!

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