Three years ago, if someone had told me that I would be a World of Warcraft roleplay leader down the road, I would have laughed. I would have laughed because, back then, I held the same standard view most outsiders to video games and roleplay have: that roleplay is a strange activity that strange people do to fulfill their strange fantasy needs. And I’d never tried it, nor did I ever intend to! It’s just way too “out there.”
This, my friends, is what I call “Roleplay Phobia”, and I was guilty of it. Many, many people are; gamers and non-gamers alike.
For anyone completely unaware of what Roleplaying is, in its most broad defining sense, it is the act of pretending to be one’s character. Roleplaying (RP for short) has a lot of forms, everything from LARPing (Live Action Role Play), to tabletop RP such as in Dungeons & Dragons, to video game RP, all of which have social stigma surrounding them, a stigma that is completely and utterly wrong.
Nonetheless, I had a bad case of unwarranted Roleplay Phobia; I would see people LARPing at an anime convention and automatically assume something about them, and I didn’t think much better of people doing it in games, though I had never even really seen it. My “social rules” simply dictated that it’s not what people are “supposed” to do, because it was “weird”, regardless of the fact that they were having fun, and not affecting me in any way, and regardless of the fact I myself was not a terribly conventional kid in many ways.
So what happened?
Well, first I started playing World of Warcraft. Mind you, this was before I met my current guild Vanguard Gaming, I was simply roaming the world of Azeroth without the slightest inclination to RP. My character, an elven rogue, was passing through a small town to gather quests, and as I walked into a small inn I unwittingly found ten or so other characters discussing their plan to poison a nearby dwarven water source. They were all speaking 100% in character (IC), some drunkenly, some with a bit of a “ye olde english” lilt, and all contributing to a complex and interesting story they were making up on the spot.
As I had walked into the small building, I had hit my stealth spell to go invisible, which is the proper reaction for a rogue caught off guard by something disturbing. Yet, from my hidden position, I continued to watch the conversation with piqued interest, simply because for all my judging, I had never really watched RP. Then, perhaps out of raw, un-pressured curiosity, I did the unthinkable; I un-stealthed. I had my character greet the others warily, and started asking a few questions as I idly walked over to the tavern bar for a drink. The up-to-no-good group went on the defensive suspecting me a spy, but I convinced them I could be trusted, and I later left the inn belonging to an RP guild that now intended to use me as a pawn for their evil deeds.
It felt epic! We, a small group of characters, had just created the beginning of a completely awesome story. Better than a story; a narrative. A fictional event only possible because of all the different aspects of our characters coming together at that time and place. My character’s emotional depth and subsequent actions would affect not only my story, but the story of others, and vise versa for their characters as well! And it suddenly hit me that this epic feeling was roleplaying, which I had previously stuck my nose up at, and rudely dismissed.
Since then, I joined my current guild, and hesitantly volunteered to take on some of the story-crafting responsibility for the guild’s RP events. I ended up a RP administrator paving the narrative flow of those stories! I could (and will in the future!) talk about this aspect of RP alone, the part that involves crafting roleplay; the characters, the story, and all the elements that go into this improvisational imaginative story telling medium. But right now I just want to address the stigma around roleplay, and why it is so so so so so dumb.
Fantasy roleplay lets the player express their self beyond the limiting parameters of the game. Sure, WoW is an MMORPG (*cough* Role Playing Game *cough*), but it’s only called that because it lets players express themselves by choosing what they look like, what skills they use, and what quests they do. The game provides no emotional depth to the player’s character whatsoever, as is the case with most western RPGs simply because they often trade a sense of “immersion”; the feeling that the player is existing in an alternate world, for the ability to tell the player’s own unique story. Some games have moved towards giving the player some more thoughtful, self-defining power, but the only way to really expand fully on who a character is, without the game telling you who you are (see: JRPGs) is through roleplay.
In player-created roleplay, the player gains an active role in who their character really is, who they are fighting for, what they love and hate, who they betray and save. It is a compelling, exciting, and captivating story. And, it’s spontaneous and unscripted because each character is played by a real person. It’s your favorite improv TV show like “Whose line is it anyway” but filled with every aspect of creative force; comedy and drama alike, and you, the player, are the one on stage! This is why roleplay should be celebrated! Not stereotyped, ridiculed, or even disdained. Roleplay is an artistic expression; it can be complex or completely gooftastic, but it is always imaginative and freeing as people shape their experience together. You create something totally new every time you participate, something that can never again be experienced in exactly the same way.
Roleplay isn’t weird, it’s misunderstood. It’s often judged as a social oddity, when in reality it’s both incredibly socially engaging, and a fantastically compelling way to bring a fictional world to life.
Ding! You’ve leveled up! Please see your local librarian for training.
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