Telling Stories: Being polite to roleplayers
So you don’t roleplay. Maybe you did at one point but don’t any longer. Maybe you never have and are curious, but are a little put off by what seems like arcane terminology and the looming threat of skeevy behavior. Maybe you’ve never cared to but just don’t like being a jerk. Maybe lots of things. The point is, you’re not roleplaying, and you come across people who are actively roleplaying, either because you intentionally chose a roleplaying server to play on or because you just found it lying there.
Because you fulfill the basic requirements for human empathy, you don’t want to be a jerk. But how do you do that? How do you interact with roleplayers, possibly even observing them, without being a twit or in some way damaging what they’re doing? As it turns out, it’s not that hard. So whether you’re just on the outside of roleplaying or you’re deeply invested and want to show this to others, let’s talk about being polite to roleplayers when you aren’t one.
Whispering and communicating
First things first: it’s helpful to know what OOC conversation is. OOC stands for “out of character” and is basically like a conversational flag, removing any ambiguity about whether or not something is said by your character or by you. Obviously, if you’re not roleplaying it probably seems irrelevant, but making it clear that you’re saying something OOC is just an added bit of courtesy to say “I understand what you’re doing and I’m not trying to interfere.”
There are a lot of different OOC markers that people use, but by far the most common in MMOs are the double parentheses and the bracket. Either sentence would be pretty recognizable:
Kaynor: (( Sorry, I’m just passing through, didn’t mean to interrupt! ))
Waruste: [ Whoops, didn’t realize people were roleplaying here, my bad. ]
It’s a little thing, but it does send a message. It’s most relevant if you’re speaking in a local channel rather than via whispers and the like; those are sometimes in-character and sometimes not, but anything in the more conventional speaking range is more frequently meant to be in-character. Using the indicators makes it clear from the get-go that you’re aware of what they mean, and while you may not be interested in joining in, you are interested in showing a certain degree of respect for the people invested.
Should I stay or etc.
By and large, in my experience, roleplayers love to be watched. That’s not really surprising if you think about it; it’s amateur theater on some level. It cries for a audience. Still, there’s a certain degree of anxiety about just standing and surveying something when you’re not certain whether or not you’re welcome.
Here’s the trick: you ask.
I don’t mean you ask as soon as you stumble into a roleplaying interaction. But if you find yourself intrigued by what’s going on and want to keep watching, you can just send a discreet whisper asking if that’s problematic. Sometimes – often – the added audience is welcome. At other times, the people involved will decline and ask that you not watch them, at which point the polite thing to do is precisely that.
Why would someone not want to be watched under the circumstances? Lots of reasons. Maybe one of the players is still learning how their character will react to situations and isn’t yet confident enough to let other people see. Maybe both players are getting re-acclimated to roleplaying and the game as a whole, and it’s placing pressure on them. Maybe the scene is supposed to be private and having another person around will slightly deflate that. There are a lot of possibilities. Heck, some people really don’t like to be watched, period, although they’re in the decided minority of roleplayers.
As long as you can deal with a negative response, though, there’s no reason not to ask. And a lot of people will be happy that you did ask and happy to let you see what’s going on in their interpersonal drama.
Immersion is not so fragile
One question I’ve seen asked before is “but how do I make sure that I don’t ruin the immersion?” The obvious response is that you can’t even if you want to, so don’t worry about doing it by mistake.
In my very last Storyboard column, I mentioned that roleplayers flipping out at the idea of losing immersion is a big old myth. Roleplayers have learned over time to put up pretty reliable filters to help ward off potential immersion-destroying elements. You have to. When I play Final Fantasy XIV I can often find people spamming AoE skills in the street, running around and jumping maniacally, and shouting about The Walking Dead. You learn to just filter it out and focus on what’s going on around you.
When purposefully disrupting immersion isn’t terribly doable, I wouldn’t worry too much about accidentally disrupting it. You’re not going to do so.
Yes, you might accidentally say something in a local channel instead of guild chat or whatever. A simple spoken “(( whoops, MT ))” can put that right in a moment. You might run into the middle of something, but no one construes that as malice, just as something that happens because no game features a comprehensive roleplaying map so you know what’s going on all around. If you’re trying to be courteous around people you know are roleplaying, you’re already doing better than any number of people who actively work against roleplayers at the first possible opportunity.
So don’t worry about it. Being a little polite alone is more than we ask for. And you’re not going to approach the level of people who are trying to disrupt things with a will and failing.
Feedback is welcome, as with prior weeks, either down in the comments or via mail. Or Twitter. Or, you know, the plethora of contact methods I have available, I check all of ’em. Next time, it’s all about separating yourself from your character. The week after that I want to discuss taking an episodic look at your character’s past and how it can help organize your thoughts.
About expostninjaI'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.
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Thanks for this article! It’s a lot of good information.