Telling Stories: Safe and sound

Yes, I know, it's a horrible logo. I'm not always good at those.I would really like to tell a story wherein the roleplaying community is notably different from the raiding community or the PvP community or any other community and isn’t filled with all sorts of creepy players who will make you want to stop playing altogether. The only thing preventing me from telling that story is the fact that it’s not true.

Let’s face it, roleplaying isn’t exactly like any other community, but it still has those hallmarks.  There are creeper and weirdos who will make you awkward, people who have no sense of personal boundaries, and a varied assortment that will make you feel some combination of unwelcome and frightened until you just leave.  It’s not unique to online games, either.  For some people, roleplaying just seems to lead straight into creep-ville territory.  It’s gross and unpleasant, but it’s true.

I am going to assume that no one reading this wants to be a big creepy jerk who drives people away from their game of choice, although whether or not you achieve that goal anyway is another discussion.  Today, I want to talk about keeping yourself safe and comfortable, though, and it’s a good idea to make sure that you don’t violate anything contained herein if you’d like to avoid being super-creepy.  Yes?  Yes.

Especially not when they're just a random background NPC who I liked the look of.

You don’t get to know who everyone is.

Let’s start with the most basic thing: you are not obligated to share personal information.  Ever.  I encourage people to communicate OOC whenever possible to make it clear that the person behind the character is, yes, a person, but that doesn’t mean you have to jump in there and explain your real name and place of residence.  You aren’t obligated to share your gender, orientation, family history, favorite pets, political affiliations, nationality, religion, any of the above.  If you choose to, fine; if you choose not to, also fine.  Be leery of anyone who insists otherwise.

I’ve been in several guilds that do ask for some of this information, and that’s fine – usually it comes down to real name, age, and gender, just to get a sense of who’s playing the character.  But it’s also perfectly fair to decline answering one or more of those questions if you’d prefer.  It shouldn’t be an issue if you’d prefer not to answer, either.  Part of patrolling the boundaries of your own safety means saying “no, I would prefer to stay kind of hidden here,” and that should be accepted as valid.

Similarly, you are not obligated to remain in any scene that’s making you uncomfortable.  Anyone who tries to make you do so is wrong.  You don’t even really have to say why it’s making you uncomfortable in the first place; saying “I am uncomfortable and need to stop” is explanation enough.  Yes, there are people who might say “aw, but it was going well,” but the key element is whether or not they respect your need to stop then as opposed to pushing for more.  Wanting to continue and trying to guilt you into continuing are two different things.

For that matter, for any storyline involving your character, you have veto power.  Another player doesn’t get veto power over whether or not one of my characters likes her characters, but she gets full veto power over a storyline in which one of my characters seeks revenge, violent or otherwise.  This goes for crushes, for relationships, for rivalries, for friendships, for anything.

You are not obligated to roleplay with anyone.  If someone makes you uncomfortable OOC, you have every right to say “I do not want to roleplay with you.”  If they make you uncomfortable IC, same deal.  Heck, you can say “no” if you want to just because you don’t find the interactions between your characters very engaging!  That’s totally in your hands.

Oddly, I have never seen this happen with women playing MMOs or points related, but I think that's coincidence.  I hope.

If no one says why they won’t hang out with you, that’s usually a sign that you’re kind of uncomfortable to be around.

Last but not least, the people you roleplay with should respect your boundaries.  Some of this will only happen by butting up against them, obviously.  But if your friends realize that John makes you really uncomfortable, they really shouldn’t be inviting John to inter-guild events when you’ll be attending.  It’d be nice to imagine that John will be polite enough to excuse himself to begin with, but hope springs eternal.  By the same token, if you’ve said you’re uncomfortable with plots that involve kidnapping and/or torture, you shouldn’t be thrown into the middle of them by your fellow players.

In a perfect world, of course, none of this would be necessary.  But there are a lot of times that we’re not even totally clear on what makes us uncomfortable until we run into it at full speed.  You didn’t think that a romance would bother you, but Mike is taking it so seriously that you want to back off.  You wouldn’t have thought so, but Sally’s alcoholic character is bringing up unpleasant memories, even if it’s actually a really good thing for Sally in terms of both character development and working through her history with alcoholic parents.  Or maybe you’ve just discovered that Andrew is super creepy in his attitudes toward women, authority, and lore, and you just don’t want to interact with him at all any longer.

You are not obligated to tell someone you find creepy why you find them creepy, but it can help.  I like to believe that, on average, no human being wants to be a creep.  No one wants to be a sexist, racist asshole; we’re just taught that you can’t be one unless you’re trying to be, which is so far from the truth as to live in a different time zone.  Sometimes, explaining why you don’t want to roleplay with someone can help them understand what they’re doing wrong and correct it for the future.

Sometimes it won’t; I’ve seen far too many people insist that they’re doing nothing wrong over and over even as several people explain how uncomfortable they are with the current state of affairs.  But sometimes it makes a difference, and the person being super creepy apologizes.

That being said?  You aren’t obligated to give them another chance, either.  If you believe they’re trying not to be creepy any longer but still don’t want to associate with them, you are entirely within your rights to do so.  The mature thing to do is recognize that apologies don’t fix matters, accept it, and move on.  Someone who throws a tantrum when you don’t accept their apology and say that you’ll roleplay with them now because they’re not creepy any more…

Well, that’s kind of creepy at face value anyway, isn’t it?

Feedback is welcome however you’d care to leave it, like always.  Next time around, I’d like to talk about the stress that roleplaying can generate compared to other endgame activities (which may come as a shock if you’re not used to it).  After that?  Some advice about running in-character stage productions.

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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