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!