Flexibility isn't something that comes naturally to people. For the most part, we're creatures of habit -- we like what we like, and we don't like someone else telling us what to do. Given the option, most of us would prefer to force the world to change so that it better suited our demands than the other way around. You grow up changing based on everyone else's rules, and the first chance you get to make your own rules, you usually go crazy. It's the same reason that many of our college days are half-remembered through a haze of alcohol and poorly thought-out relationships.
The problem is that roleplaying demands a lot of flexibility, not just once or twice but all the time. You are no longer the only egotist in the room, so to speak -- you are in a room full of other people who don't just want the world to change so that it might be more convenient, but do have a limited ability to do precisely that. And so you have to be able to adapt to other people, a changing game environment, and your own moods pretty much every time you speak in-character.
That's where things get dicey. I've seen people be adamant that they are able to move with the changes without realizing that it's not a boolean operation. "See, I don't get bent out of shape when something nasty happens to my character; I integrate it. That means I'm flexible."
No, it doesn't. It means you've reached the point that you can be flexible about your character's well-being. But can you be flexible about his or her backstory? Can you be flexible enough to put your roleplaying on hold when needed? Can you accept your character's being wrong or being the unintended villain? Can you deal with an event you organized when it's derailed until it focuses on someone else entirely?
None of these things is uncommon. I've dealt with every single one of them, not just once or twice but on a regular basis for as long as I've been involved with an RP community. And weirdly enough, I think the sense of being flexible in one area encourages players to become more rigid about everything else. After all, you can deal with bad things happening to your character, so why should you have to change part of your backstory because someone claims it's incompatible with part of the game lore?
The answer is because when you start fighting that point, drama erupts, often because someone else is being similarly inflexible. And if you want to focus on roleplaying instead of arguing, taking a hard-line approach is counterproductive. So much of RP is consensual. So much of what we enjoy is, essentially, an unspoken agreement to honor being in-character. Do we really need to spend time fighting over a layer of make-believe we've tossed on an existing layer? Is that really going to help anyone enjoy the game and the community?
I'm not saying we have to all be one happy family. Character conflicts are inevitable, and player conflicts will arise from time to time. But if we're going to have to argue, let's make it on points that matter. Let's not have what could be an enjoyable evening of roleplaying stymied because we're arguing over fine points of lore that no one cares about. Let's not bring everything to a screeching halt because you think all miqo'te in Final Fantasy XIV should roll their "R"s and I don't.
There are solutions to the problem that don't require me to be absolutely and inviolably right. There are compromises, and more often than not just making it clear that you will change if needed makes others more likely to change. Resist, and people push back. Flow like water, and others flow with you.
I've talked more than once about boiling a character down to core concepts, and that doesn't stop at creation. The important point in roleplaying should be who your character is and the broad scope of what brought him to this moment. Your character is not you -- and the character and player both will make a better impression if you're someone who doesn't reduce the enjoyment of other players. And you do that by being flexible. Let the chips fall where they may, keep things moving, and don't sweat the small stuff.
Actually, I really could have just said that last line and skipped the rest of the column.
That's our rant for this week, and I can only hope you enjoyed it. If you did -- or didn't -- you can feel free to leave messages to that effect in my inbox via the old standby of firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can just leave a comment on the article itself. Either way, next week we have a new idea that I'm quite excited about, and if experience is any indicator I'll continue being excited about it for the first 500 words.
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.