All the World's a Stage: When you just can't find the roleplay

Anne Stickney
A. Stickney|01.02.11

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All the World's a Stage: When you just can't find the roleplay
All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players. In World of Warcraft, that player is you! Each week, Anne Stickney brings you All the World's a Stage with helpful hints, tips and tricks on the art of roleplay in WoW.

Roleplaying a character can be entertaining, and some people have been roleplaying the same characters since Day One. Others have alts to play and swap back and forth between, and still others are perfectly fine with deleting a character in favor of rolling a new one. But sometimes you get attached to a character; the story behind him, the amount of work that went into developing him, and the sheer time devoted to playing various stories with friends and other players. When you're trying to roleplay and you can't find anyone willing to do so, that emotional attachment can actually begin to work against you.

If you're trying to find roleplay with people and your closest companion to date is your non-combat pet, the typical response is to blame those around you. This is where we start to see the common complaints of little to no roleplay being available on roleplay servers, or accusations of roleplaying cliques that you can't really get into. More often than not, it's not the people around you responsible for the lack of roleplay in your life; it's the common element that links them all. That element is you. Learning to look at your character with a critical eye can be an enlightening experience.


It's easy to look at other people's characters, to find the faults and mistakes that other players have made in character creation. It's much harder to look at our own characters with that same critical eye and figure out where we've gone wrong. When you're wrapped up in the delights of creating a character, you tend to lose yourself in the character you're creating. Much like creating a piece of art or writing, it can be difficult to distinguish and pick out the flaws in whatever it is you've made, because you're so invested in it.

In art and writing, there are a couple of different tactics for looking at one's own work with a critical eye. With art, simply turning the piece of artwork upside down or looking at a mirror image of the piece will make any flaws with the work glaringly obvious -- if there are mistakes in proportion or expression, you'll be able to pick them out immediately. With writing, it's often suggested to actually begin at the end of the article during the editing process, approaching each paragraph as its own separate piece.

The common link between both of these tactics is simple disconnection. When you've been staring at one piece of artwork or working on one story for an extended length of time, you get used to seeing it a certain way -- and your brain automatically glosses over whatever mistakes may be in the work. By reversing an image or starting from the end of a story, you're creating a disconnect in your brain. Suddenly, that piece isn't the piece you've been working on anymore; it's just a random image. This makes it easy for the brain to pick out any inconsistencies or errors in the piece.

The same applies to character creation. If you notice that you're not getting the kind of roleplay you'd like to see in the quantity you'd like to see it, you have to create that disconnect so that you can look at your character with a critical eye. Sit down in front of your computer, or grab a piece of paper and a pen. Don't log into the game; don't even look at the game. Think about your character, and make a list of every memorable interaction that character has experienced and what happened during that interaction to make it bad or make it good.

The important part with this list is that you make it as objective as possible. For example:

Don't: I was in Stormwind and said hello to a bunch of losers who started jumping on me because they're all elitist jerks.

Do: I went to Stormwind and said hello to a group of roleplayers. After telling them my name and a little about myself, they told me to leave.

See the difference there? Don't lay blame, don't try to justify what happened in the situation. Just write out the series of events. I did X, and Y happened. Don't try to figure out why yet -- just write it all down. While you're writing, jot down a quick summary of who your character is, where he's come from -- any important story information you've come up with that you talk to other players about.

Now get up and walk away. Go do the dishes, take a walk around the block, run some errands. Get your mind off the list and your disappointment in roleplay, and when you're nicely distracted by the excitement of real life, come back and pull out that list. Don't look at it as your character; look at it as a simple list.

Take a look at that character description sitting in front of you. Is it a description of a friendly individual, or a loner? A homicidal maniac? An assassin for hire, or someone who's gone completely insane? A dragon, or the son of an important lore figure, or an exotic crossbreed? Someone from another dimension? A demon? A distant relative to someone incredibly important in Warcraft lore?

How do I fit in the world?

Now think about this, while you're looking at the basics of that character: There are approximately 12 million people playing World of Warcraft. Of those people, a good chunk of them have also played the original Warcraft RTS games. Most of them have a pretty good handle on what's been presented to us in the Warcraft universe -- they have a basic understanding of Alliance vs. Horde, they know who the faction leaders are. Most roleplayers tend to know a little bit more than that. They know the basic timeline and what occurred in what order, and they know about the important events in lore that have shaped the game.

Their experience with the game has been defined by what happens in the game. If there's never been a crossbreed of the type your character is described as, they're going to look at that a little funny. If you're playing a demon, well, demons in Warcraft lore have been almost universally considered a very bad thing, with few exceptions. Dragons as presented in Warcraft lore aren't really the type of creatures that would go wandering around with a random group of adventurers or chat about the fact that they're a dragon.

As for lore characters, the families surrounding those lore characters have already been established. Thrall doesn't have a brother or sister, as far as we know; Arthas never had any children, according to the books. Illidan only had one love of his life, and that was Tyrande -- and the majority of his character's actions are built around that obsession with her and how he reacted when she chose Malfurion over him.

To regular players who are familiar with these concepts, introducing a character that doesn't fit within the tenets of lore isn't something that they're comfortable with. They have a definition of the Warcraft world and how that world should be, and your character doesn't seem to fit within it. Given what they've been presented with already, your character shouldn't exist. And given that -- why should they roleplay with you?

It's not just a matter of your character not fitting in the world; it's a matter of you appearing to take liberties with another author's work. World of Warcraft was not written by you. It was written by the creative development team at Blizzard. Plopping a half-demon, half-centaur in the middle of an established universe and trying to claim it would fit is about as preposterous as trying to write a spaceman into the Lord of the Rings universe -- it just doesn't fit. And trying to make it fit is almost as if you're trying to say that you own the universe, which you do not.

Is it impossible to create a character that's out of the box? Heck, no. You want to create a bizarre blood elf/troll hybrid, feel free to do so. But what you have to keep in mind is this: Just because you think a character is a perfectly valid concept in the universe does not mean that anyone else is going to think so too. And if your concept is too far out there, you may run into people who are simply unwilling to roleplay with you.

It's not a matter of blaming someone for being uncreative or unimaginative; it's a matter keeping the limitations of others in mind when you're creating a character. If you are unwilling to work within the limitations of others or the established universe, then you are running the risk of being alienated. Go ahead and create your wacky hybrid or cousin to Tirion, but keep in mind that by doing so, you are automatically limiting the number of people who will be willing to roleplay with you.

Conflicts of interest

Take another look at the list, specifically at what motivates your character. Are you a follower of Cho'gall, a member of the Twilight Cult? Do you hold to the tenets of the Scarlet Crusade? Does your character think that his race is the superior race and should rightfully be leading the Alliance? Does he look down on other characters based on their appearance? Do the negatives of your character outweigh the positives?

If you are trying to play a character affiliated with an organization that's been established as "evil," people aren't going to react to that character in a positive fashion. If you're ranting and raving about the end of the world and how the Twilight Cult is the only true answer to salvation, people are going to be a little put off. What you are playing is a contrast to everything they've been led to believe is "right" -- and this automatically makes your character "wrong."

Is your character a loner, an assassin, or insane? Think about that for a minute. If your character likes to spend the majority of their time alone, then it should not be bothering you that nobody is approaching your character. He is a loner, so of course he's going to be alone. If your character is insane, consider for a moment going to the grocery store or some other mundane activity. In your travels, you run across someone who is completely insane, randomly shrieking bits of nonsense for no apparent reason, wild-eyed, torn clothing, possibly in need of a bath.

Would you walk up to that person and say hello?

If you are playing a villain, you should be expecting the fact that nobody is really going to like you. That's part of being a villain. If roleplayers around you have no need for a villain in whatever particular storyline they're playing through, they're going to pretend you don't exist. It's a matter of being inconvenient -- which leads me to the next thing you want to look at.

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