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Storyboard: Ten tips to avoid drama burnout, part one

Eliot Lefebvre

Roleplaying doesn't create drama. Sure, we all hear stories about roleplaying drama, but it'd be more fair to say that MMOs create drama. There are epic arguments that erupt over who gets a piece of armor that will be obsolete in a few months, it's not really reserved to having players sitting around and talking. The difference, of course, is that the lower the stakes, the higher the drama and the more petty politics can get. It's the sort of thing where petty politics can get so bad people step away forever, because the fun of roleplaying is just not worth the irritation.

Needless to say, you don't want that. If you enjoy roleplaying, you want to keep it as unspoiled as possible for as long as possible. So for this week's column, I'm going to cover the first half of ten tips that I find help ensure that you don't wind up getting knee-deep in drama that ruins the roleplaying. It won't always prevent drama from occurring, but it can help make sure it's nothing more than a mild misunderstanding.

1. Don't make it your only reason to be in the game.

Let's say you're playing RIFT. You don't like RIFT; you sort of did at one point, but your interest level plummeted pretty fast and these days you don't really care for it. You don't enjoy the combat, the PvP bores you, and the high-level endgame raids make you want to shove bamboo shards under your fingernails. But you stick around because you have the best group of fellow roleplayers, and you want to keep playing with them.

I'm going to make this blunt -- if you are in this situation, leave.

Right now. Head to the account management page and unsubscribe. Let someone else have all your stuff. Hand it over and don't look back. Go find a game you enjoy playing and play that instead. For the good of yourself if no one else.

If you're enjoying an MMO, a night of bad roleplaying or annoying roleplaying or whatever is just that -- an off night. But when the only reason you're staying around is for roleplaying purposes, then every time you log in you are just asking for something to go wrong. Your expectations are being keyed up because there's only one part of the environment that you care about, and the second anything disrupts that you're going to stop having fun at all. And rest assured, sooner or later, something will happen that leads to a sub-par experience, and you will explode because this is the only reason you're playing this boring game anyway.

Do yourself and your great group a favor, and don't become an albatross or force them to become yours. Play the games you enjoy playing, and look for the best group you can find within that game.

"All too often, what happens is that you have one unpleasant night turn into an unpleasant week, which turns into an unpleasant month, and the next thing you know you haven't actually enjoyed roleplaying or even playing with these people for the better part of six months. "

2. Know the person behind the name.

The reason it's as easy as it is to get angry at people on the Internet is because there are no other people on the Internet. There's just you and a whole bunch of text strings spouting dumb opinions.

You can say that sounds ridiculous, but think about it. We're trained from birth to recognize hundreds of subtle cues that point out we're talking to another person, little parts of body language and minor shifts in inflection. When we communicate entirely via text online -- or even just via voice -- all of those cues go straight out the window. It's much easier to call someone atrocious names and insult their entire family history when they aren't a person to you.

So if you want to avoid drama, the obvious step is to ensure that the opposite occurs. Don't just learn about your fellow Jedi Knight when playing Star Wars: The Old Republic. Learn about the player behind that knight. Learn about how he's twenty-five years old, how he works as a data entry clerk but he hopes that his band takes off big in the near future. Find out that he likes How I Met Your Mother and is looking forward to the premiere of Terra Nova and he listens to Radiohead and Coldplay on loops when in games. It won't tell you about his family history on Coruscant, but it will mean that when the Jedi Knight does something nasty to you, you won't associate it as being an action by the player.

3. Keep the separation of IC and OOC clean and open.

In Final Fantasy XIV, I just resolved a major conflict between Rhio (my character) and another character. (At least, I think I did. Time will tell!) Rhio tends to be fairly polite, but she's very capable of being vicious at times, and the exchanges between herself and her ostensible commanding officer were not light-hearted jabs. There was some serious venom exchanged between the characters.

But either I or the other player made a point of saying soon afterwards that the venom in question was all in-character. And that made a lot of difference.

Sometimes, you're going to get really involved in a scene. Identifying with your character isn't just inevitable, it's good roleplaying and a good chance for you to put some real emotion into an exchange. It's also the first step toward identifying any slight against your character as a slight against you, which leads to a lot of bitterness over dramatic exchanges and harsh words.

There is no such thing as making it too clear that you are a distinct entity from the character you play. Yes, it should be all handled in brackets and in strictly OOC settings, but if two characters are at odds, it's more vital than ever for the two players to understand that it's about story and not about personal animosity. And if for whatever reason it is about personal animosity, maybe you'd be better off finding a nemesis who didn't hit quite so many of your buttons.

4. Watch out for potential triggers.

Even when you know the person behind the character, there are still things they might not mention to you. Horrible bird-related trauma, for instance, or a deep-seated fear of drowning. So you might inadvertently start playing things in such a fashion that the other player's character ends up having his head held underwater by a penguin, and the next thing you know tempers are flaring from the player having his buttons pushed and the other player just roleplaying appropriately.

This is a double-edged piece of advice. If you're the person who has the bird-drowning trauma, you need to do your best to recognize that's what happening is a major stress trigger for you and bring it up to the other player OOC. You don't have to go into detail, you don't have to derail things completely, but you need to look out for these sorts of things and be ready to clarify that the game is heading in uncomfortable directions.

By the same token, if you hit someone else's triggers in a roleplaying session, you need to stop, backtrack, and get out of the trigger zone. Yes, it might feel like a kludge, but this is a matter of respecting the person behind the other character. It's much better to ruin one scene and preserve your relationship with another human being than the other way around. If you want others to respect your comfort zones, you have to be respectful of theirs.

5. Set yourself limits.

The problem with not having fun with roleplaying is that it's not a one-off thing. I mean, off nights happen, we all know and expect that. But we use that philosophy that an off night can happen to justify an unreasonably long stretch of time. All too often, what happens is that you have one unpleasant night turn into an unpleasant week, which turns into an unpleasant month, and the next thing you know you haven't actually enjoyed roleplaying or even playing with these people for the better part of six months.

In other words, all you need is a slight jolt to go from "disappointed player" to full-on "raging monstrosity."

Set yourself a point where you will no longer give the group or the game any more chances to hook you. There's a certain point that if you're still not having fun, you probably won't be having more fun tomorrow or the day after. Don't try to push yourself to stick around past those limits, because the end result will just be asking for minor issues to go into overload. It seems like the most obvious piece of advice, but we tend to be much better at giving things one more chance than we are at recognizing when it's too late for second (or third, or fourth) chances.

This one was originally just going to be a single part, but seeing as it's a monster and we're only halfway done, I'm going to call it for the week. As always, questions, opinions, and the like can be sent along to or left in the comments below. Next week, I'm going to avoid my usual habit of staggering releases and just hammer down to the second half of the list.

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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