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Storyboard: Nobody gets your character

Eliot Lefebvre

Odds are good that you went through a stage as a teenager convinced that no one really got you. Sure, your parents told you that they understood, but they never experienced a love like what you felt or pain like you felt or ennui like you felt, and so on and so forth. You were the first person to ever feel certain things so acutely, and it was a tragedy that others thought they understood.

It's also likely that you realized a few years later that none of the above was true, and if you were lucky, your parents were polite enough to point out that you thought you had the purest love of all time simply because you had no basis for comparison. (If you haven't gotten there yet, it's cool; we'll be here when you have.) Those around you understood better than you thought; it was more a matter of your not getting something.

There are many roleplayers who seem to believe that their chief problem is that no one understands their characters. All of the drama and poor roleplaying is a result of other people not getting something crucial. I invite readers to draw the obvious comparison.

Shouting at someone about being wrong fixes everything, right?Your responsibilities as a roleplayer

I understand very clearly the impulse to make a multi-layered character, and I invite and encourage others to do so. The problem is not layered character; the problem is when someone makes a multi-layered character and no one gets past the first layer. Some people will claim that the problem is the surrounding community, that not enough is being read into the character, that he's not being addressed properly, or whatever.

This is entirely the wrong way to deal with things because no other player is obligated to decipher jack about your character.

As a roleplayer, you're operating on the ham sandwich rule, which is an old writer's trick centered on a simple idea: Your reader is ravenous for a ham sandwich, and every sentence has to convince that reader to hang around rather than head off and get a ham sandwich. Every other roleplayer around you has to be convinced almost immediately that your character is worth the attention you're demanding.

You can insist that your character needs to be approached or handled in a certain way, but the problem is that you need to be prepared for characters who will not adhere to that. If during the first few encounters your character comes off as being cold and demanding, there's nothing to convince others that they should invest more time to find out what your character's deal is. There are interesting interactions to be had somewhere else.

It's just as true of established characters. If your character winds up with a lot of negative reactions from players, that means you are doing something wrong. The point of roleplaying is to have fun and create enjoyable conflicts. Failing to do so while staying true to your character concept means you're doing it wrong.

In other words, if nobody gets your character, that means you did a bad job of making a character. Your avatar is someone whom no one else wants to get. And the burden of correcting that falls on your shoulders, not on those of the people around you.

I will beat you into liking me!Why does no one like me?

I'm going to let you in on a secret. Those six words above? They can be the answer to your problems. If you've got a character whom no one likes and a burning need to fix the issue, walking into a room and asking just that question might help you out of your rut.

No one likes being lonely. No matter what your character is like, he doesn't want to be isolated. And it's entirely believable that he might find himself wondering what it is he's doing wrong. Even the most grim and cantankerous warrior could wind up sobbing on a stranger's shoulder over far too many drinks.

Even if that's the wrong path for your character for whatever reason, the core idea is the same. If you've got a character whom no one seems to get, your first step needs to be fixing that issue. Standing around and complaining about others is not going to work out well. Instead, focus on figuring out why no one wants to get your character.

More often than not, it's one of three possibilities. The first is that the character is unapproachable, that he responds poorly or not at all to others unless they address him just so. It's often a character insisting on being addressed in a "proper" fashion. The solution there is pretty immediate and obvious: Stop locking other people out of conversations.

Your second possibility is that you've created a character whose multiple layers are hidden under a horrible exterior, like a delicious cake frosted with motor oil and bat guano. If you act like a horrible person in public, very few people will try to see what's under the surface. Explaining how to play a jerk effectively while remaining a jerk is something to discuss in a future column, but in a pinch, fall back on just doing some unusually nice things for selfish reasons.

Third option? Your character has a fine personality and is approachable but doesn't seem to send a message that he's worth approaching and just fades into the background. This is actually the easiest element to fix, since it's mostly a problem of playing your cards too close to your chest. Just be a bit more open and you'll be in good.

Last but not least, there's the possibility that you yourself are contributing to this issue, that you've developed a reputation for being a toxic player and as a result no one wants to get to know your character or you. That may be unfair, but if you've managed to systematically alienate most of a game's roleplaying population through your behavior, you might want to take a step back from the game and start evaluating yourself on a more fundamental level.

The core to remember, though, is that it's not a matter of others not getting your character; it's a matter of not making your character worth getting to know. If you can correct that, you can correct the problem, which I think is ultimately a hopeful thing.

As always, feedback is welcome down below or via mail to Next week, as it seems apropos, I'm going to talk about playing a jerk that people want to hang out with.

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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