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3 red flags that your roleplay is getting out of hand

Anne Stickney

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.

Last week, I saw an interesting thread on one of the RP forums I visit. A roleplayer was asking for advice regarding a situation with one of her RP characters. The general gist of the situation was this: She had been roleplaying a relationship with someone, and they had a child together. The child was another character she'd made on her account. The two roleplayers had a falling out and stopped speaking to each other. The roleplayer in question asked if it was all right to tell the ex-friend that he could not roleplay their child, because the child was a character on her account.

Needless to say, since the questioning roleplayer had the character on her account, it was her character. She had every right to tell the ex-friend not to roleplay the child, because the character didn't belong to him. But it's situations like this, tangles in the threads of RP relationships and arguments between players, that create sticky situations both for roleplayers and the storylines they roleplay together. How do you know when things are getting out of hand before it gets to the point of a virtual child custody battle?

Emotional entanglement

Roleplaying is an exercise in creating a character that is convincing. It's a bit like an acting exercise; convincing roleplay requires you to sink yourself into your character and see the world through their eyes, to react to situations and other characters just as a real person would. When you pull this off, a character turns into a realistic avatar that appears to have just as many emotions and feelings as you yourself do.

But roleplaying emotions and experiencing emotions are two very, very different things. For some, it's hard to separate real emotion from character emotion -- they seem like one and the same. Actors are experts in identifying that line between what is fiction and what is reality. They can slip into convincing emotional states and out again with relative ease. Roleplayers may seem like actors, but while actors are trained to see that line, roleplayers have to find that line for themselves.

And some roleplayers never find that line or even think about it. For some, what they roleplay and the emotions they feel while they roleplay translates and crosses over to how they are feeling in real life. If they roleplay a scene and their character gets angry, they feel anger even after they've logged off the game. If they roleplay a romance with another character, they begin to think they have genuine feelings for the person they are roleplaying with -- even if they've never exchanged any details about their out-of-game lives with each other.

It is really hard to spot when a roleplayer is taking events a little too seriously. As a roleplayer, you're looking for genuine bits of emotion from those you roleplay with, but those genuine bits of emotion are an in-character thing. If you notice that your roleplaying partner is acting strangely, carrying anger out of character or treating you as more than a roleplay partner, this may be a warning sign. And if that's the case, you may want to stop the roleplay between the two of you and let things go before it gets too serious.

If you are having issues with emotional entanglements in game, don't beat yourself up over it. Actors are trained to separate that line; roleplayers are not. However, if you feel that your emotions are getting the better of you -- if you begin to feel those emotions carry over even after you log off and say goodbye for the evening -- you may want to examine how seriously you're taking your roleplay.

If you're still angry, ask yourself why exactly you're angry and who you are angry at. If you're feeling a romantic connection with a roleplay partner, ask yourself how well, really, do you know them? Are those things you fancy traits of the roleplayer or just traits of the character? If your emotions are getting the better of you, you may want to consider taking a break and stepping back from roleplaying until you evaluate the situation.

Emotional manipulation

I had a friend who joined a guild with the best intentions of simply getting out there and roleplaying his character. He quickly worked his way up the ladder within the roleplaying guild and found himself an officer in it. But after he became an officer, one of his fellow officers began making advances on his character, and it quickly became apparent she wanted to roleplay some sort of relationship with him. He wasn't interested in roleplaying romances with his character; what he wanted out of roleplay was more serious story and less soap opera romance.

This was all well and good, but when he politely informed her of this out of character and had his character gently turn her character down, she didn't care for it at all. And thus began weeks upon weeks of her character slowly sinking into depression and experiencing all sorts of horrible situations, all because his character had refused her advances. Not only did this make him feel guilty for not giving in to her demands, but it brought the mood of the rest of the guild down as well. Having a roleplaying officer do nothing but roleplay her character's misery wasn't really anyone's idea of a good time.

Any attempt to cheer her character up was met with yet another wave of misery. Any attempt to make her character happy failed miserably. It was becoming incredibly clear that the only way her character would ever cheer up and snap out of her pit of woe was if his character consented, gave in, and agreed to be in a relationship with hers. Until then, the guild would be forced to deal with an officer character who did nothing to further the guild's fun factor and instead deliberately dragged it down.

Let me be clear here: This was not a situation where a character was being played as true to character. This was a situation where one roleplayer decided to make another feel incredibly guilty in order to get her way. She had no respect for how he wished to play his character, and she had no intention of allowing him to play his character the way he intended to play it. Not only was she completely dismissing everything his character was, she was trying to personally guilt him into giving in.

And he felt terrible about it. He felt horrible that her character was so depressed. He hated seeing what fun new bout of depression she was going through whenever he logged on. He felt incredibly guilty that he didn't give in. Logging in for roleplay was like logging into a tense battlefield, and every roleplayer in the guild was simply walking on eggshells and waiting for the explosion. Needless to say, the explosion happened, and the entire guild detonated as a result.

If you ever, ever feel pressured to have your character act in a way that is contrary to how you want your character to act, get out. Don't feel badly about it, and certainly don't give in to it. If your roleplaying partners have that little respect for your style of roleplay, if they are so obsessed with giving their character what they want, that is emotional manipulation, not roleplay. That is godmodding taken to the extreme. Get out. Don't look back.

Threatening behavior

In fact, if you're ever feeling uncomfortable in a roleplay situation, no matter what that situation, that's a gigantic red flag you shouldn't ignore. In-character threats should never make you feel threatened in real life, and if you feel like things are spinning out of control-- if you feel the slightest bit uncomfortable with what is happening to your character -- you should immediately call a halt to the roleplay. Have a discussion with your roleplaying partner, and let them know that you aren't comfortable with how the situation is turning out.

There is a certain degree of give-and-take with roleplay. Your character isn't always going to have a life of sunshine and roses. Occasionally, they're going to run across a person who doesn't care for them. This isn't a reflection on you as a person; it's one fictional character disliking another fictional character. But just because it's all fictional doesn't mean that every roleplay situation needs to be played out. It doesn't meant that you have to be comfortable with everything that happens to your character.

And it certainly doesn't mean you're required to roleplay any experience you run into, especially if it's emotionally taxing or repugnant. Situations like these require some out-of-character conversation to clear up. If your roleplay partner isn't willing to compromise on roleplay situations you're uncomfortable with, it may be time to find another roleplay partner.

Roleplaying can be incredibly fun, but it can also lead to some incredibly intense situations. Human emotion is a volatile thing, and it's sometimes hard to separate reality from fiction. But the emotion that two fictional characters experience should always be between those characters and never between the players. Keeping a watchful eye for these red flags will help you avoid the drama, and embrace the fun.

All the World's a Stage is your source for roleplaying ideas, innovations and ironies. Let us help you imagine what it's like to sacrifice spells for the story, totally immerse yourself in your roleplaying or even RP on a non-RP realm!

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