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Storyboard: If it walks like a duck...

Eliot Lefebvre

If you play Warhammer Online, my column here is probably pretty much useless to you. The game's last roleplaying server has been shut down for quite some time now, and to be honest, the environment was never spectacular for roleplaying. You don't even have a "walk" toggle or the ability to sit comfortably in chairs -- minimal functions that even World of Warcraft manages to pick up. None of this is news.

What might surprise some members of the non-Warhammer Online audience, though, is how much roleplaying is still going on.

Oh, it's not the large and elaborate character ensembles that I tend to wax poetic about in Storyboard, but it's still roleplaying. And the fact of the matter is that there's a lot of roleplaying that has virtually nothing to do with our regular topic of discussion here, some of it small and some of it elaborate, all with the purpose of immersing the player in the game world. And while I focus on the subject that I know, it's worth noting that there are more things out there than just creating a bunch of characters and playing them off one another. Heck, sometimes it doesn't even involve creating characters per se.

See, WAR is still full of people roleplaying. Not a day goes by when someone in an ORvR warband doesn't say something to the effect of "Oi, what you want from me, boss?" These people are playing Greenskins and they make sure that when they ask questions, they ask them as if they were Greenskins, because that's just the way that orks and goblins talk.

Mind you, I think a lot of the people who do this wouldn't call themselves roleplayers, and I doubt many would see their dialect as roleplaying. But it is, because as far as I'm concerned, anything players do to make the game feel more like a world is roleplaying. If you're treating the game as something other than raw mechanical efficiency, you're roleplaying in some small fashion. Caring about character appearance, trying to give your character a flavorful name, even just stopping and saying "Shields up!" when playing Star Trek Online counts.

It's admittedly on the shallow end of the spectrum. There isn't a lot of character building going on when you just try to talk like you imagine a member of your character's race might talk. But it brings a bit of color into the world, and for a moment, you're treating the collection of polygon models with statistical representation as something other than just a model. You're treating it like an individual with some sort of free will. And that's the first step toward thinking about your character as distinct and important and memorable -- of making that character someone other than yourself.

But there's roleplaying that doesn't even involve that. There's roleplaying like what our own Beau Hindman will occasionally do with his "immersion rules." Beau doesn't change his method of speech or pretend that his character is a real person, but he does pick out an aspect of the character's world that makes sense in mechanical terms, just not in logical terms. In other words, his characters are living a life, not just moving through a game.

If your character dies? Back to the character select screen to hit the delete button. Your character wants to get from place to place? Then he's walking or riding -- no fast travel that wouldn't make logical sense. It might not give you a chance to explore the depth of character motivation, but it allows you to see the world as a real place with real rules that function in a logical matter. We've talked before about forcing gameplay and story segregation, but there's no reason why you can't go the other route and play without letting yourself get around the inconveniences in life.

The thing is, all of this isn't a spectrum. It's not that on one end you have people who never do anything remotely related to roleplaying and at the other end you find people who have spent days figuring out a character's preferred diet. (I haven't ever wound up there; I'll spend an hour thinking about that, tops.) It's a broad different range of activities that all fall under the same aegis, and quite frankly, it doesn't always make sense to group everyone together as "roleplayers" when not everyone shares the same views on roleplaying.

Think about it this way -- would you tell someone who loved the PvP in Darkfall to play WAR? The two games have a massive gulf between them in how they handle PvP, even though both games tout PvP as a major function and feature some sort of territory control system. But by saying that you're a roleplayer, people assume you speak in character at all times, focus more on cosmetics and silliness than actual gameplay, and occasionally sneak off into dark corners of the city to describe perverse sexual acts between characters.

The terminology is too broad. It covers a range of people who don't necessarily overlap in more than a few areas, and unfortunately, even if you're blessed with the opportunity to write a column about roleplaying, you can't possibly cover all of the permutations and preferences available. I can't talk to you about ERP, both because this is a family-friendly site and I don't have the experience to give useful advice. We are not all one big happy family with uniform wishes and features, but individual players with different expectations about what makes good roleplaying.

If there has to be a point -- and as I get older, I find I increasingly lack those -- it's to keep this in mind when you're dealing with your fellow roleplayers. Someone's character might be a mess of stereotypes and cliches, but there are some people for whom the enjoyment comes from playing a cliche. Be a little more open. Someone self-described as a roleplayer might have a very different set of goals and interests compared to your personal viewpoints.

And, you know, be kind to your neighbor. All of that fun stuff. Eat more vegetables, while you're at it. Feedback, as always, can be directed to the comments or sent along to Next week I'm going to try to break down events in something resembling types, which usually doesn't go as well. And the week after that, I'm going to talk about ERP after all. Sort of. You'll see when we get there.

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.

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