Would you like your roleplaying well done?
Spend enough time near roleplayers in MMORPGs, and you’ll soon come across attempts at labelling different roleplaying styles. Usually, this mean categorizing roleplaying as either light, medium or heavy. You’ll hear kinships say they are heavy roleplay, players being medium RP-ers, events allowing you to engage in light RP, and so on. These terms have been around for a long time and are widely used.
I am sometimes asked what kind of roleplaying I engage in myself. I am usually at a loss for an answer.
The reason is that no-one really knows what the labels mean.
Or rather, players interpret the terms differently. Some uses of the labelling include:
- The time spent roleplaying: heavy implies that you RP much/often
- The level of immersion: heavy being more immersive and realistic
- The quality of the roleplaying: heavy being better
- The seriousness of the storylines: heavy being darker and more serious, less lighthearted
- The balance between RP and other kinds of gameplay: heavy roleplay would exclude raiding, questing, PVP or similar
And so on.
So there is a fair bit of ambiguity to the labelling. Does it really matter? Perhaps not, but any labelling system tries to set some sort of expectations related to the terms used. For instance, when an event is labelled as “heavy RP”, those attending will expect a certain kind of gameplay. If this fails to materialize because no-one agrees what “heavy” means, chances are that the players will spend so much time bickering over rules and proceedings that not much RP will happen at all.
Aspects of roleplaying
So, if I were to answer the question of what kind of roleplaying I engage in, what would the answer be? Well, besides saying I am a biscuit-eating lute-playing hobbit in Lord of the Rings Online, I’d have to look wider than the terms light, medium or heavy.
Instead, I would look at the following aspects of roleplaying, whether or not I:
- Stay in-character, by acting true to the traits of my character, no matter the situation I am in.
- Follow the game lore, by behaving according to the in-game storylines.
- Follow Tolkien’s lore, by behaving according to the lore in the books (which might be different than the game lore).
- Adhere to the laws of nature, by following the day/night cycle and in-game time, respecting line of sight (no looking around corners), respecting gravity (no falling off 50-feet ledges without dying), doing realistic travel (no running everywhere, no fast-travel), etc.
- Avoid outside references, by not bringing characters, storylines or actions from real life or fictional worlds into the game.
- Avoid meta-gaming, by not using information that my character wouldn’t possibly know, like names floating above player heads, entries from diaries posted on RP websites outside of the game, etc.
Related to these, I’d also have to ask myself: How do these aspects impact on my gameplay?
- My character’s appearance in-game: My name, my armour/clothing, my pets, my actions?
- Where I roleplay: Do I play all over the game world, or do I stick to certain areas and avoid others? Do I roleplay only in the local /say channel and through emotes, or do I also roleplay in kin chat and serverwide chat channels? Or even outside of the game? Do I roleplay in all types of gameplay?
- When I roleplay: At what frequency do I stay true to the above aspects? Never, sometimes, usually, always?
- How I roleplay: Do I roleplay primarily through my dialogue? Through long descriptive text emotes? Through physical movements and animations?
Using the above, I can decribe my roleplaying style as follows:
- I stay in-character.
No matter the situation, I bumble along merrily as a slightly excited and nosy hobbit looking for lost mathoms while craving biscuits. My hobbit view of the world shapes my actions and behaviour, the way I interact with others, the way I approach different situations.
- I try to follow the game lore as far as possible
… as expressed through the in-game locations, cultures and customs. However, I don’t really feel beholden to the storylines that are told through the in-game quests, so they rarely impact on or have lasting consequences for my own story. There are only so many heroes who could have saved character X, after all. Also, if every character in the game had gone on similar murdering sprees as myself by slaying their way through the local wildlife looking for hides, heads and livers, there wouldn’t be a single life form left in Middle Earth. So I display a fair bit of pragmatism here.
- I try to follow Tolkien’s lore as far as possible
… acting like a hobbit would (albeit being a bit more adventurous than even yer average Took). However, sometimes the game and the book lore differs. In those cases, I sometimes go with the former, sometimes with the latter. For instance, even though the books have no fully-operational dwarven community in Moria mere seconds after Gandalf duked it out with the balrog, this is the situation in-game. Hence I’d go with that. On the other hand, even though the game is full of silly-looking pets and outfits, I wouldn’t be caught dead with them myself (see also the point about appearance below).
- I rarely follow the laws of nature.
Time is limited, and I want to play the game and experience the world. Then I can’t sit around waiting for the sun to rise, and I can’t walk all the way from the Shire if I want to boogie down in Mordor right now. Of course, sometimes it is good to slow down and be more realistic about it, especially during travelling events, but I’d have to be around like-minded players for this to happen. Instead, you’ll find others roleplay around my inclination to seek out and fall down from tall ledges with only a lightly sprained ankle as the result.
- I try to avoid bringing outside references into the game.
You’ll never see me roleplay direct copies of real-life or fictional character (there are no Lina-made Jack Sparrow clones or Game of Thrones characters). I don’t talk about real-life stuff in-game. My hobbit would never shoot a rail gun and destroy half of Bree. However, given that I enjoy the music system, I often play real songs in-game. I sometimes add a snappy pop-cultural reference in my dialogue. Some of my events (like Lobelia’s Hill Pie Rolling Challenge) have real-life counterparts. Even so, I always try to wrap these things organically into the game, and I try keep them within Tolkien’s lore. You don’t want your inspirations to be too obvious.
- I try to avoid meta-gaming.
I never bring stuff from external sources into the game. I desperately try to avoid letting OOC matters impact on the way I behave towards others. However, sometimes a “meta”-oriented emote can help speed up the game. If I say that “Lina thinks Gandalf is an idiot”, it doesn’t mean that I imply that you’d be able to read my mind. Instead, this would be a short for “Lina mutters that Gandalf, now there is a court jester among wizzers and a prized idiot if I ever saw one”.
- I try to keep my appearance in-game as realistic as possible
…related to Tolkien’s lore. I use names following Tolkien’s naming conventions, clothes fitting the season of the year, pets being natural and Shire-like (dogs, cats) rather than outlandish (grims, mumaks), choosing colours that hobbits would prefer, etc. However, I rarely dress up in full metal armour for combat, since it looks rather cumbersome. Got to allow for some vanity and style.
- I roleplay according to the above more or less everywhere and anywhere.
Although I spend a fair bit of time in the Shire, as hobbits are wont to do, I go looking for mathoms and biscuits in every corner of Middle Earth. I stay in-character everywhere, though: In all areas. In most /chat channels; /say, kin, regional etc. When questing (although often ignoring the storylines afterwards). During instance runs or raids. I never use ((OOC double brackets)) in /say, unless it is absolutely vital, like linking instructions for events from an external website.
- I roleplay according to the above all the time.
I am more or less always in-character, except in officer chat and in some direct messages/tells.
- I am a very dialogue-driven player.
I prefer to let my character shine through the things I say and do, no by describing it in minute detail and serving it to you on a platter. Long-winded descriptive emotes drive me batty, because they sloooooow dooooown gameplay. Mixing dialogue into the emote channel is a big no-no for me. Just let the dialogue flow, and stories move forward at a pleasant pace.
So, there you have it. Although, each of the points above might warrant a blog post on its own. Many dimensions and details are missing still. Lots of work ahead, then!
Light, medium, rare or well-done?
Does this make me a light, medium or heavy roleplayer? I don’t really know. I don’t really care myself. The terms are absolutely useless as labels for something as complex, as layered, as many-dimensional as roleplaying.
But I’d be curious to hear what you think. Or even if you think the aspects above are helpful for describing roleplaying. What kind of labelling would you like to see? Do let me know if yer feel something is missing!
i label you as an excellent Roleplayer Lina.
Those labels means NOTHING to me. From this day I still do not know the difference. Roleplay is Roleplay and is VERY subjective. To me is about common sense and a bit of respect for Lore, but also how the roleplayers can interact and communicate with other people. I suppose some people think it makes them more “exclusive” to label their kin and themselfes as heavy roleplayers. But is just a joke. Too us veterans it means nothing!:D
Grand label, thanks!
I didn’t write much about the exclusivity related to labelling, but that’s a good point too. Players or kins might use the heavy label not only to attract likeminded players, but to try set themselves apart from others or claim a certain quality to their gameplay.
It doesn’t make much sense when you start looking into why they chose that particular label, though. I have seen lots of “heavy” RP kins or players who put huge emphasis on walking everywhere, but who have absolutely no qualms about going OOC in the /say channel when it suits them. Or “heavy” RP kins who spend a lot of time on backstories, which sadly are wildly out of place in a Tolkien setting. Players claiming they want deep “heavy” immersion, but spend half their time being non-immersed by bickering over whether another player really would know their name by reading a tag above their head in-game. It is just head-scratchily inconsistent.
The aspects I mentioned in my post are relevant for me when shaping or describing my roleplaying, but a simpler approach is usually more than enough too. As I see it, roleplayers should try stay true to their character, keep things generally within the lore and avoid using their RP to harass others. If they do that, I am happy and I don’t care about their label. Seems we are pretty much on the same page there!
Well put, Lina. The labels are indeed useless, or more like pointless since they don’t really describe anything of substance that is agreed upon by all. And I agree with Kymiel that you are indeed an excellent RPer, no matter the label. Better than I certainly, though I try to follow many of the same practices you discuss.
I’d call myself a “Lightheartedly Serious RPer” if I had to tag myself. Lighthearted in that I’m usually watching for a joke to crack or an off-the-wall comment that may make people smile. Serious in that I do stay in character most of the time, even when alone and far from anyone else, it’s Rubysue out hunting orcs, not “my toon” out slaughtering orcs to complete a quest I didn’t even bother to read description of. I expect many RPers might have their own tag for their style that really has nothing to do with Light, Medium, or Heavy.
And one of the things that attracted me to the Grand Order was IC chat in the Kin channel. I don’t care to hear what cat video kin-mates are watching on YouTube, or what album they’re playing, or how their sports team did yesterday. However, I’m pragmatically casual about discussions of game mechanics, which can get OOC pretty quickly out of pure necessity.
I sometimes feel that staying in-character is an underappreciated art. I see roleplayers who claim high immersiveness, only to switch the lights off and go fully OOC without batting an eyelid. Or that they’re “always ready for some RP, let’s meet and do some”. I mean, they won’t have to in case they stay in-character, then RP will always follow them. Be in-character, and the rest will more or less happen naturally.
And aye, I also think that IC kin chat is incredibly valuable to keep things immersive from a roleplaying standpoint. I suspect it may also help avoid a lot of trouble, strife and drama from flaring up based on real-life discussions. There are plenty other areas where one can discuss politics… As for game mechanics, most can be dealt with in an in-character manner, although sometimes it is just more efficient to explain things in clear terms grins
I agree all the way. Labels without a standard are utterly pointless. I have my style of roleplaying, you have yours and Nimelia has hers. Whether it’s light or heavy doesn’t matter, as long as we can find enough common ground for mutual interaction. And that’s what this type of roleplaying is really about.
Aye. Although I’d love to see a simple labelling system that works, I don’t think you’ll ever get away from a bit of trial and error when roleplaying with others in an MMO. Eventually you find like-minded players, or players flexible enough to live well with other styles and find the common ground you describe. That’s when times are grand and good!
Totally agree! Whenever I am looking at kin pages I always see the labels being used but actually roleplaying with people from any kin or individually those labels are thrown out the window because everyone has their own particular style. I have been in kins that label medium when they are super strict about roleplaying and then heavy where they use the roll system and break character constantly. It is difficult when players are searching for kins and some just put “medium” or “heavy” without elaborating. All these labels have always bothered me but I didn’t quite know whether it was just me or not being able to explain – I’m so glad you wrote it so well in this post :)
Yeah, I’m a bit surprised the labels are still around (I first came across them in WoW more than a decade ago). I suppose both players and kinships feel they need a quick label to signal what kind of roleplaying they are into, to ease their first interactions with others. As you indicate yourself, that might well backfire or lead to surprises or disappointments down the line, so I’m not sure how helpful it really is.
Nice article, Lina!
Really, the only labels we’d need is “You are roleplaying” and “You are not roleplaying”
which are kindly provided by the game mechanics. If you set it, you are easily identified as a roleplayer. There is no real need to specify it further as heavy, medium or light.
When I begin a playing session, it is “be the hobbit”! I try to think and act as a hobbit would do, judging by the information given to us by Tolkien.
Having said that, I do go “adventuring” out of bounds and I do use real life music to play. But I adapt the lyrics to be in lore and try not to play too extravagant styles. But in meetings inside and outside the Shire, I will (try to) stay in character (which is what “be the hobbit” essentially is).
It is also lovely to make storylines that are not necessarily made by Tolkien, but which are of the same essence and show love for the work of the Professor. One example is the epic storyline presented to us in the form of quests by the game developers.
I try to be tolerant to players I meet, who do not roleplay and hope they will be tolerant to my roleplaying too. And that should be something one can expect from people who, for whatever reason, play on a roleplaying server!
It’s never been a big problem and if they’re not showing tolerance, the meetings usually are shortlived. For players who deliberately try to ruin my roleplaying experience, there is always the ignore list. I do not have to use it very often, though.
I’ve loved our Hobbit community from the moment I started playing one on Laurelin. You’ll find fine roleplaying there, without players worrying too much about what category, light, medium or heavy, they belong to. I hope that will stay that way.
Aye, ‘s a fine way to go about things. Most important is that players try to stick to the spirit of the lore, or don’t go about their way to spoil things for those who like the lore.
Obviously, Tolkien’s lore is a huge draw for many LOTRO players. This is pretty much the only video game game where you can immerse yourself with other players in the world you know from the books.
However, 100% lore accuracy is impossible in-game, and pretty much impractical too. Thus, whatever the labels they end up choosing (or avoiding), players shouldn’t let their “fear” of breaking lore stop them from interacting with others in-game.
Labels are for bottles of spice and ale kegs! Thank you, Miss Lina. It’s always a fine day when we meet in The Shire.
Sounds like a grand approach grins
Thanks for coming to our anniversary party, hope to see yer again soon!
Aye, I agree here entirely. Durin’s Folk was in the past labeled a “Dwarf-only Heavy RP kinship”, but now a days (for about a year) we’ve simply used “Dwarf-only RP kinship”. Because this “heavy” term is utterly misleading really, depending what some believe is “heavy” or isn’t, with many times contradicting ideas of these terms. Besides, our kinship provides all sorts of RP (from dice-based, to RPing while doing instances, to long RP stories or even forum RP) so frankly, even if “heavy” was a clearly defined concept and only meant one thing, this still wouldn’t fit us (or many of our members). I vote these silly terms are put out of business in our Laurelin RP community :)