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Behind the Mask: The dangers of roleplaying as an outlet

Patrick Mackey

Recently, I've run into some troubling developments while roleplaying in Champions Online. I've encountered quite a few "troll characters" who seem designed soley to irritate and annoy other people. The characters in question are often played by otherwise-good roleplayers, which makes me wonder: Why would someone do this?

This is as much a topic for Storyboard as it is for Behind the Mask, but because it is very common among Champions Online roleplayers, I feel it deserves extra consideration. This article isn't going to finger-point at bad roleplayers and say why they're wrong. Rather, the point of this column is to inform good roleplayers about elements of RP that can quickly ruin people's fun.

As always, before we get into how we deal with troll characters, it's important to explain exactly what I mean. There are two basic types of troll character: The first is a character who is simply rude or abrasive in all of his or her interactions, and the second is a character who is very pushy or vocal and has to interfere with other players' roleplaying in rude ways. There are other types of troll characters, but I want to focus on these two because the other types of RP trolls are deliberate, and I assume anyone reading this article is a decent human being. If your intention is to offend or annoy people in the first place, then learning how to avoid being annoying is not going to be a priority for you.

Also, if your intent is to annoy people in roleplaying, please stop.

The two types of RP trolls mentioned above create unfun RP scenarios because they interact harshly with other characters by their nature. People like creating fun and interesting stories with their characters and resolving them, and being negative or pushing your own RP story on other characters defeats that purpose.

The rude jerk

Annoying person #1 is the rude type; he's the one who talks down on most things he doesn't like and is a general hindrance to communication. This person is a problem because he doesn't foster relationships with other characters (relationship in the general sense, not necessarily romantic).

This character can exist for a variety of reasons; perhaps he has been through a lot of difficult life situations and is a bit bitter because of it. He might also be a natural loner or think he's better than everyone else. He might be totally justified in his demeanor, but that doesn't make it right. The simple truth is that this character pushes people away from him, which is the opposite of what makes roleplaying possible.

You'll hear this a lot from me, but when it comes to roleplaying, outgoing, friendly, personable characters usually succeed and antisocial or antagonistic characters tend to fail. This is because RP is at its heart a social thing, and being antagonistic doesn't win you friends. If your character is outgoing and friendly, he'll get more friends and have more people interested in his dark backstory. That's just the way that social interactions work, in real life and in RP.

I'm not suggesting that you turn every one of your brooding loner-type characters into a bubbly social butterfly because that would be out of character for them. Instead, try to portray any cynicism your character may have in a less negative light. Make it clear through roleplaying (the bio does help, but it's not an excuse to be a jerk) that there's more to your character than his rough exterior. Instead of being rude or abrasive, speak in fewer words or with less embellishment. If your character has a history, try to bring the lessons he's learned into the spotlight rather than simply being rude. It's one thing to be negative and a downer; it's another to compare things to history he has. "I've been there" is a joke in my friends' circle for characters of this type, but if you're trying to spark interest and interact with other people, you need to speak more about your character's experience and the things that make him what he is. You need to speak less in cryptic, rude ways and quickly provide explanations as to why your character is the way he is.

The nosy darkling

The jerk is a fairly easy, cut-and-dried problem. While not all people who play jerkish characters are good enough to convey a character in more sociable ways, I have high hopes for anyone reading this article. The overly extroverted nosy character is a very different, more difficult problem.

Instead of being relatively quiet except to hurl barbs, the nosy character is the kind who will dive into a conversation and shove her situation down your throat. Her signature move is to jump into a conversation and explain about how her story or situation is so very important and how you should all be paying attention to her. I'm somewhat concerned that this is more of a player attribute than a character attribute. However, in a few circumstances, I have interacted with otherwise pleasant roleplayers who also play one or two characters like this.

I advise simply that you change your focus; talk about your character less and ask others about their characters more. Whenever possible, you should avoid ways that your character can solve the other characters' problems and just listen and be sympathetic. It's still okay to offer help and/or get involved, but the person with the problem should usually be the center of attention, not you.

As with the jerk above, this is more of a RL skill than it is an RP skill. Listening and being supportive builds connections and friendships. This is not to say that you can't have your own story, but you should focus more on other people -- they will naturally be more interested in you if you show that you're more interested in them.

Getting what you want out of RP

Ultimately we all have goals with our interactions. If your goal is to resolve your character's backstory, make sure that she talks about it and asks others for help. Once you've got someone hooked into your character, asking for help can often lead to making lots of new friends who can all be involved in your story. That's pretty exciting!

On the other hand, if your character's goal is simply to exist and generate "fun RP," you'll want to direct story more to your partners and let them have the ball. Once they're hooked into your character, you can explain what your character is capable of and OOC ask what might be appropriate for your character to do. This lets you get involved and help out without trumping someone's entire backstory.

Your goal shouldn't be to ruin other people's fun. However, your character can easily do that if played poorly. Always be mindful of other characters' feelings, even if your character normally wouldn't be. You don't want to offend someone else's character or even the player behind the character by being rude or annoying.

When he's not touring the streets of Millennium City or rolling mooks in Vibora Bay, Patrick Mackey goes Behind the Mask to bring you the nitty-gritty of the superhero world every Thursday. Whether it's expert analysis of Champions Online's game mechanics or his chronicled hatred of roleplaying vampires, Patrick holds nothing back.

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