Role play, as defined by wikipedia, refers to the changing of one’s behaviour to assume a role, either unconsciously to fill a social role, or consciously to act out an adopted role. While the Oxford English Dictionary defines role-playing as “the changing of one’s behaviour to fulfill a social role”, the term is used more loosely in four senses:
- To refer to the playing of roles generally such as in a theatre, or educational setting;
- To refer to taking a role of an existing character or person and acting it out with a partner taking someone else’s role, often involving different genres of practice;
- To refer to a wide range of games including role-playing video game, play-by-mail games and more;
- To refer specifically to role-playing games.
The latter two, RPG Video games and table top games, are more what this discussion will be about.
Role play can be a lot of fun, it can be entertaining and it can be used as an educational tool. The main focus of role play is to act out a role, a character that the player wouldn’t normally be. That can range from anything and everything; a starship captain, a stealthy thief who gathers information, a brave knight, a mad scientist bent on completing his (or her) death ray, or even a victim of a medical experiment that has granted them strange new powers. The only limitation to what a person can come up with is their imagination (and maybe the game mechanics as well).
Often we as players might try to separate real life and the fantasy video game life, which is healthy. But people have to remember, behind each avatar on screen is a player, and no matter how many times you say “it’s all in good fun” sometimes your actions can go beyond good fun. There are players who role play that know what they want for their character and know how far they will go in certain situations. Other players just want to have a good time, and haven’t really set limitations for a backstory for their character. And then there are those players who are very timid in real life and are attempting to play a much more bold character (though often their shy nature may bleed through, it happens).
Role play is that escape from reality and moving to create something, or be a part of something fantastic. Larger than life. Leave behind the mundane routines of life and do something epic. Even if it is only make believe. Still, all of those people playing together, there will be some rather abrasive attitudes that run into each other. In a private server or in a friendly table top game, we know the other players and can often walk away from a game without a feeling of dread or being threatened. But in an online environment like an MMO, often times we don’t know who’s behind the keyboard. Thousands of faceless entities who are all vying for the same items, bosses, and in some cases, glory of being noticed by thousands of other players.
Along the way, however, some players tend to feel threatened through role play. Either by constant harassment during quests or harassment during down time at one of any games’ central hubs of activity, where players can role play and story tell. Harassment comes in many forms; childish name calling, constant attempts to “PvP gank” a target, or by unsolicited demands for “erotic” role play. There’s other examples that are out there, but any one of them can make a gaming experience for a player uncomfortable, even to the point where they might quite the game and never come back. I’ve seen that happen before with players, and I’ve even done that myself.
Often when players feel threatened, many others will state that the player can just “press the ignore button” on the offender. Which is great, that the Devs have put such measures into place, but often times that’s just not enough. And it’s not a case of telling players that they need to suck it up, or that it’s all just role play. Or, possibly the worst, telling them they’re too sensitive and should never have started playing the game at all. There seems to persist this idea that because it’s on the internet, it’s okay to be an asshole.
And it really, really isn’t.
I could continue and tell players that the number of players who do act like assholes is small, but unfortunately that really doesn’t do anything about the assholes. So, instead of telling people how to defend against harassment in MMO’s, time to tell the assholes how not to be assholes. If a player doesn’t like the way a role play is carrying out, then stop. Don’t chastise them or say they’re too much of a “sissy” for not liking some aspects of role play. They have just as much right to stop a role play as someone else has to start it. Just as movies, television, books and other forms of medium can be triggering to people (especially with regard to violent actions), so too can stuff in video games. I know people that hate going to certain areas in Champions Online because the sun never comes up. There’s other players out there that are going to feel uncomfortable with any number of different things, including triggering role play.
So, to the assholes that prey on she, introverted players; stop it. It’s not funny the things you do, and it never was. To those who enjoy role play, and don’t know how to approach some players, just ask. There is nothing wrong with asking a player what limitations they have. If you know, you’re better prepared.
Finally, while a video game environment may be an imaginary place, a fantasy world, that fantasy world is filled with real people on the other side of keyboards and computers. They have feelings, they have hearts, and they can be broken. Keep that in mind not only when you deal with people in real life, but also online.