Roleplaying and newbs – or why public roleplay is so important
This weekend, an article on the value of public roleplaying on WoWInsider reopened this often controversial topic in the often-maligned RP community. Today, I’m going to come clean.
Before WoW, I never roleplayed. Ever. The closest I got to roleplaying was probably playing a Final Fantasy game or King’s Quest, or maybe acting out some stories in my backyard with friends as a kid. I thought Dungeons and Dragons (D&D as the cool kids say) was some sort of esoteric thing they only spoke about in movies once or twice and no one actually PLAYED in real life. I probably thought LARP was some kind of musical instrument.
I did, however, write. I started telling stories about pioneer girls on the wild frontier, cute animals and their adventures in the forest (I was in elementary school!), and eventually graduated into fantasy and sci-fi as a preteen/teen. I have notebooks upon notebooks of notes on the worlds I was creating, languages, characters, histories (including detailed timelines), and countless computer files of manuscripts and short stories.
In an embarrassing turn of events, partially related to why I roleplay a paladin-turned-romance-novel-writer, the crowning achievement of these years of storytelling was my senior year AP English teacher reading a recent manuscript and telling me I should become a romance novelist. Maybe I will, one day.
I fell into roleplay in online gaming largely by chance. As I was leveling my first character, I joined a guild via trade-chat (yes, I was total newb) and subsequently registered for their forums. On the forums, I noticed one of the guildies had posted a “bio” of their character.
I thought, “Sure, I can do that too!”
So I wrote down a little history of my fledgling mage, Andriona, and posted it to the guild forums. I still have that old post. It’s really, really embarrassing.
I entered the world on a starry night in the middle of winter on the peaks of Loch Modan, just as the moon began to rise in the sky (according to my father). My parents, though originally from the Redridge Mountains, traveled to the land of Loch Modan to make their living making and sell potions. They had barely put a roof on their cottage when I decided to make my appearance…
When I was but three years old, my mother gave birth to Cailean, my tiny baby sister with faery-like blond hair and sparkling eyes. Cailean never had the patience for books and stories as I did; she wanted to become an adventurer and spent many a day watching the guards in the dwarf village of Thelasamar, copying their blade work. I, on the other hand, valued the knowledge contained within the four walls of my parents’ cottage – and when I reached the age of fifteen, I begged for my parents to send me to Stormwind where I could truly focus my heart and mind on my studies…
[Cailean] was killed in cold blood by a Tauren Shaman while foraging for supplies for her unit. Heartbroken and furious (both at myself and the Tauren scum), I traded in my books for a mage’s staff and applied my learning to the study of magic. With that power, I would be able not only to bring about vengeance for Cailean – but I would be able to continue her mission in her honor, preserving the Light and destroying the Shadow all across Azeroth. Thus, I find myself among your numbers today, ready to fight to preserve all we love. For the Alliance!
I cut out the worst parts of the post, including the section where I talk about how Andriona’s mother lived on Teldrassil for a spell. Yes, the lore flaws were there — but only because I didn’t know any better at the time. When I learned, I corrected it. I can’t imagine flinging that history into some of the more cruel RP forums that I know of these days.
So, what does this all have to do with public roleplay?
You see, writing a history doesn’t make you a roleplayer. It gets you started, but you need to actually start “roleplaying” with the character. Shortly after I shared that history with my guild, I ran into a couple members of a guild called “Azure Dreamers” in front of Zul Farrak. They were roleplaying among themselves, publicly. Armed with my new character history, I decided to strike up an in-character conversation with one of the players, a priestess named Taliana. I’m not sure exactly what was said, but I do know that after that interaction, I wanted to roleplay more.
And so I did.
Now, almost seven years later, that original mage has been retired and I roleplay a spirit-walker shaman turned baker, a romance novelist, and a no-nonsense school marm from Argus. I have learned an incredible amount about myself as a creator and developed a deep love for the “World” of Warcraft that myself and my fellow roleplayers have built.
So, what does this have to do with public roleplay?
I think that there is nothing more important to the strength of a roleplaying community than keeping roleplay accessible and in public, rather than behind the scenes in chat channels and guild meetings. If the roleplayers on my server had just hid in channels or avoided roleplaying in common areas, I would have probably never started roleplaying. I have a personal investment in it, you see.
I’ve made a point of reaching out to new players and roleplayers, introducing roleplay to them through exposure, not force. I spent a year on a PvE server and I started posting stories about my characters on the (non-RP) guild forums. It struck people as strange at first — but then they started to grow interested in this thing called “roleplay”. Suddenly, in raids, people started roleplaying along with my character. Yes, it was casual and clunky, but it was a start.
I know it’s hard. I know that there are lots of trolls and cruel people who like to destroy roleplay moments. I also know, however, that for every troll, there are five people curious about roleplay or completely ignorant of roleplay who might just get more interested or involved. Even if it’s just as small as a raider sitting in the roleplay bar while waiting for a slot to open, that’s something, in my book. Maybe one day, he’ll move beyond just sitting there to ordering a drink or saying hi to someone.
Once we close the door to those people out of fear or out of self-preservation, however, we’re lost. We won’t get new players in our tight circles and we won’t encourage growth in the community.
I’d like to encourage all roleplayers to support public roleplay, even if it’s just doing something as simple as responding in-character to someone’s “poke” or carrying on a roleplaying conversation in public. It’s those little things that matter and make new players feel like they TOO could participate in roleplay.
Last weekend, a low level player bought my 85 schoolmarm priest an ice cream bar. We only spent a few seconds chatting, but I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had written him off or just ignored him. His spelling was terrible and he had no punctuation, but he was friendly and interested in sharing just a moment of conversation. Was he a new roleplayer? A player just trying to pass sometime between dungeons? Who knows? Who cares?
It was a moment of roleplay – and that’s all that really matters to me.