Telling Stories: We don’t like your kind here

Yes, I know, it's a horrible logo. I'm not always good at those.

Some games just don’t want roleplayers around, it seems.

Guild Wars made a point of not letting players stop running no matter what; Warhammer Online made the same mistake.  Several console-based games make things like walking and chatting more difficult than they need to be, discouraging people from roleplaying even further, and some games like Defiance barely give you a spare moment to stop and chat about local politics anyway.  It makes things a lot more awkward, because it’s one thing negotiating around other players who don’t like roleplaying.  How do you deal with it when the game itself doesn’t want you around?

Like always, there are no hard and fast answers, but there are approaches you can use.  Very few games are made with the intent to stymie roleplayers, but several make the mistake quite naturally.  So let’s look at what you can do when the game’s built in such a way that you certainly don’t feel welcome

There's always a certain level of bitterness when talking with an old flame.

Sometimes conversations qualify as hostile environments, really.

Working with system limitations

One of the great things about roleplayers is that we tend to be creative sorts.  It’s in our blood.  Hand us a game that has a chat interface and we can figure out how to roleplay in it.  Maybe not all that well, but we can decipher it.

The trick is figuring out what the game does not let you do and coming up for a way to cope with it.  Games that don’t actually let you walk, for instance, can be overcome either by on-point use of emotes or by manually slowing your movement via small, deliberate steps.  (Remember, it took years for City of Heroes to get an actual walk animation into the game, and even then it wasn’t ideal.)  Games without a flexible emote system can be overcome with text chat, usually bracketed by asterisks.  There was no chair-sitting in Star Wars: the Old Republic for as long as I played, but the roleplaying population got very good at perching on chairs and using the /sit emote to create a convincing enough illusion.

That’s the key, really – creating an illusion that you’re able to do what you really want to be able to do.  I wish that every game had context-sensitive /sit options like Final Fantasy XIV, or the varied forms of sitting you see in games like Star Trek Online, but with a little effort you can hammer out something that looks right enough.  As long as you understand the limitations you’re working with, you can do a decent job of working around them.

Taking it outside

Something I’ve discussed in the past is that the game is essentially a tool.  It’s a convenient way to have a graphic interface, to exist in a shared space with everyone else playing the game.   But like any other tool, when it starts to be counterproductive, you can replace it or supplement it.  If a screwdriver is cutting my hand open whenever I try to tighten or loosen something, I can get another screwdriver.

I’ve also discussed in the past that there are times when it’s best to take roleplaying out of the game.  One of those times would be when roleplaying in the game, for whatever reason, is counterproductive.  Such as when the nature of the game is hostile to roleplaying.

What you lose by going outside of the game is the graphical interface, which can be significant.  Roleplaying in chat or via forum posts is slower, often more inconvenient, frequently less engaging.  It’s not the optimal tool to be used, definitely.  But sometimes it’s a slightly better tool than the one you’re given otherwise.

Some games require external roleplaying partly because the pace just doesn’t support it in-game.  It’s not even so much about tools, it’s about the nature of the beast – you have very few chances to stand still and just chat.  That alone can be reason enough to step out and continue a scene outside of the game proper; the fact that doing so allows you to compensate for weaknesses in the game mechanics is just icing on the cake, so to speak.

She's not trying to be, really.  She's just Romulan.

Sometimes people are just plain hostile.

Establish a community

Communities are important.  That’s true in any situation.  But they can be even more important when you’re in a hostile environment.  If the game doesn’t support your efforts to roleplay, it can be almost vital to have a community gathered together, people who all want to be a part of long-term roleplaying in an environment where it’s not exactly welcome.

How does that help?  By ensuring that you’re not the only person.  By establishing a firm grouping of people, even though you run the risk (or the absolute certainty) of having a rather incestuous nest of social politics to work through, you also have a bastion, something to anchor you to the game and your roleplaying experiences.

This doesn’t make the game any more welcoming, obviously, and it doesn’t change the fact that you’ll be stuck in an environment that is either not welcoming or is actively hostile to people who want to roleplay like you do.  What it helps with is the psychological effect of being someplace where you don’t feel welcome.  Instead of feeling that you’re out in the cold, you feel like there is a group trying to keep the spirit of roleplaying alive and well.  Perhaps with only moderate success, but it’s better than nothing at all.

As a corollary, once you have established that community, you need to make the effort to keep it visible and known by people in the game.  Consider yourself the proverbial port in a storm for people who might come into the game knowing nothing.  Let others know you’re out there, make posts, place signposts, become a known community.  It’s not certain that everyone will find you, but you can still make it more likely.

Feedback, as with every week, can be left down in the comments below or mailed along to expostninja at gmail dot com.  Next week, I’d like to talk about being polite and supportive of roleplayers even if you’re not one yourself.  The week after that, I’d like to chat about the importance of separating yourself.

About expostninja

I've been playing video games and MMOs for years, I read a great deal of design articles, and I work for a news site. This, of course, means that I want to spend more time talking about them. I am not a ninja.

2 responses to “Telling Stories: We don’t like your kind here”

  1. Kristen Stevens says :

    TERA Online was another game that was very unfriendly to RPers, even though there was a huge community. The inability to walk coupled with the sheer amounts of trolling and griefing that went unpunished – it made things very difficult.

    The community (at least on Celestial Hills) was good at keeping things going in spite of all that, but it would have been really nice if the devs would have done something about the tickets we were submitting.

    There were a few forum groups for RPing, but I never really got into those. Usually they were just stuffed with unnecessary drama.

    I was also surprised by the lack of RP community on FFXI. The only groups I ever found were linkshells that were all Mithra and encouraged (ew) eRP.

    Nope, nope, nope.

    The WoW RP community isn’t wonderful, and there’s still a lot of griefing and unsolicited eyeball scratching, but I’ve found a great guild and love my characters. That’s all an RPer could really ask for!

    That, and maybe some chairs. The Horde needs more chairs.

    • expostninja says :

      Unfortunately, FFXI’s RP community suffered a big hit with its earliest incarnation. Since there was no way to select a server when the game launch, there was no way whatsoever for players to actually coordinate and wind up at the same point. Combine that with brutal progression, and the community never had a chance. I think the last real gasp died out a year or so before FFXIV came into existence.

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