Telling Stories: Breaking into the middle

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

When I first went to college, I had a very simple goal: do better there than I had in high school.  I had a sound guideline to help me establish that, as well.  I figured that if my first instinct about what to do in any situation had resulted in acting the way I had all through high school, clearly the best course of action would be to gauge my first instinct and then do the opposite in any situation.  Thus, when I saw a pretty girl and a guy chatting at the first meeting of the school’s anime club, I decided the logical course of action was to walk right up and invite myself to the conversation.

The result?  Well, the pretty girl wound up marrying me and the guy roomed with me in college for several years and is still a dear friend.  But that was lucky, since my behavior was so screamingly rude that I’m relatively certain I should have been sent to Behavior Jail.  But of course, how else are you going to insert yourself in a social situation when roleplaying?  Yes, there were dozens of other options open to me as a person in the real world, but if you see interesting roleplaying go down, how do you take part without making your character a rude, abrasive jerk?

If you know the context, it's kind of heartbreaking.

A quiet cough is heard. “Um, you don’t know me,” said the young Cassian woman, “but I’m really a huge fan of your work.” Unfortunately for her, she was talking to a hologram.

Let’s be fair – in roleplaying, a certain amount of rudeness is a survival strategy.  The only one that works over the long-term, even.  As a game’s lifespan wears on, people inevitably drift away, interest bubbles down, people leave, and the odds of finding new roleplaying companions shrinks.  Meeting new people is vital, and to do so, every so often you’re just going to have a deep breath and do what you don’t want to do, assuming that you don’t normally want to be rude.  (If you do want to be rude, well, you might not be the best person to roleplay with in the first place.)

Besides, if you never insert yourself into roleplaying without being invited, you’ll spend most of your life wanting to interact with others whilst never actually being able to.  Not a desirable state of affairs, that.

At the same time, you don’t want your character to come off as totally socially clueless.  (With some obvious exceptions, yes.)  Walking up to people engaged in a conversation and adding yourself to that conversation is rude enough when you’re all attending a club meeting for a shared interest; it’s even less polite when you’ve been eavesdropping on someone’s conversation and want to get involved, as it concerns something near and dear to your character’s heart.  Puppies, perhaps.  Or murder.

How can you insert yourself without being awful?  There are a few tricks.

“I’m sorry, I couldn’t help overhearing…” Extremely useful during arguments!  After you’ve been in the area for a bit, it’s perfectly plausible that your character would indeed overhear what was going on, especially if he’s sitting alone whilst two people are arguing one booth over.  Politely interjecting and offering an important contrast or bit of feedback on a point that has been raised is still rude, but it comes across as rude with the intention of being helpful, which is excusable.  Or rude with an eye toward social conventions.

Pardon me, I can see you’re busy, but…” All right, so they’re in a conversation.  Yes, it’s a bit rude to ask people who are talking for information.  But darn it, your character needs to know where the cheese shop is now, and if she happens to catch a fragment of the conversation after receiving directions, well, it’s not more rude to ask for further elaboration.  Not less rude either, no, but the damage has already been done, it may as well be made to serve a purpose.

“(( Hey, neat roleplaying, can I join in? ))”  Yes, the ultimate roundabout trick.  You’re not having your character do anything, but you’re asking the person out-of-character how you might circumvent the problem altogether.  The part that makes this particularly useful is that sometimes it can free your character from having to do anything at all, sometimes resulting in the other characters pulling him in whether he intended to join the conversation or not.  It’s not a trick that can always work, but it’s fun when it does, and it helps scenes feel more organic with regards to who gets involved.

Fun, though.

Having a character who barges into every situation and has literally no desire to bother with social filters is not recommended.

Be awful briefly, be polite ever after.  If no other options are working, there’s always the option of going ahead and having your character be unbelievably rude… once.  Briefly.  Immediately after that, she’s incredibly polite.  This doesn’t really fix the problem of rudeness, but it does make it seem like an isolated blip that’s easily ignored subsequently.  It’s one of those moments that narratives use all the time, the bit that doesn’t fit with the rest of the game/movie/book/concept album but is easily ignored if everyone just walks past it fast enough.

The thing is that roleplaying is complex, from a social standpoint.  On the one hand, you’ve got the implicit social rules of the setting – you don’t want to barge in on someone else’s conversation.  At the same time, there are the social rules take place outside of the setting as well.  For all you know, a scene in front of you is something that’s meant to be a very private thing between two people, and adding another person will not only fail to help but will actively make it worse.  Yes, maybe it shouldn’t take place in a public space, but sometimes privacy isn’t an option.  I’m not talking about something outside of the scope of acceptable behaviors, like ERP in /say channels, I’m talking about a quiet and deeply personal confrontation that needs to involve just two people.

All right, that also does include ERP in /say channels, technically.

But at the same time, just as you’re looking for people to RP with, the people on the other end are looking for people as well.  Yes, it’s a private conversation, but it’s one taking place in a public setting within the framework of a playstyle that is by nature social.  So the people who are roleplaying want you to say hello.  They want you to join in.  Hell, they might be looking at the people around them and saying “someone please barge into the conversation.  It would make life much more interesting.  Please, someone.”

The point being?  There are ways around the rudeness.  And don’t be afraid to be a little bit rude to get involved.  If you’re asked politely to back off and you ignore it, though… well, that’s another conversation.

Feedback is welcome, like always, however you’d like to offer it.  Next week, I want to discuss how religion can play into important aspects of character development.  The week after that?  Vigilantly policing your borders, how important it can be, and how necessary it is even when you know the person involved.

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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.

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