A (kind of long-ish) Essay on Roleplay Etiquette

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A (kind of long-ish) Essay on Roleplay Etiquette
« This is a repost of Charlie's Essay on Roleplay Etiquette »

Roleplay on its own is a subjective hobby and the rights and wrongs vary greatly from community to community. In a way, one can say that there are no wrongs when it comes to method because, in regards to method and style, each community has its own way of doing it. The general consensus is set by the platform and the users, and roleplayers will often gravitate towards communities that fit their style and preferences in regards to roleplaying.

But while there are many agreements when it comes to the rights and wrongs of how to play one's character, how to interact in character and how to properly communicate the words and actions of one's character, the general etiquette is still a grey area. Because with etiquette, this is mostly defined by the smaller groups within the communities. Just as the platform is defined by one's preferences when it comes to method, the people one migrates towards within the community is defined by a shared sense of etiquette, more than a shared roleplaying style. This raises the question; why should it be so? How come the etiquette is so subjective?

Of course, there is always the mandatory 'be nice to your fellow roleplayers when interacting off-character', and 'be nice' is something everyone can relate to. This can be related to the norms of the society we have grown up in. Don't be a dick. Treat others with the same respect you would expect from them. The general definition of those terms is something most anyone knows at least the foundations of. This is mostly objective.

Roleplay as a hobby brings in a myriad of other factors than the ones we know from outside of these communities. It is a different way of interacting with others through fictional characters, and that can make things complicated. This is why the etiquette is as important as it is and why there should be common ground, not just between the players in established groups, but between each and every member of the community as a whole. Doing so would not only improve the experience of the roleplay, but also the experience of being a part of the community formed around the roleplay.

This brings the question. What is good roleplay etiquette? What is bad roleplay etiquette? Personally, I think the answer is simple:

First and foremost there is communication and self-reflection. In more or less all social environments, communication is key. The better you are at stating your needs and intentions, the bigger the chance of those needs and intentions being met. This is especially important in a roleplay community. Because while the general consensus is that whatever happens in-character is fictional, misunderstandings still ought to happen. One might not want to do a particular kind of scene, one might have a certain preference on how to go about certain scenes, and so on, so forth. This is all subjective, which is why it is beyond important to measure the expectations, especially during the harsher scenes. It does not have to break immersion to quickly state your intentions and ask another roleplayer on their preferences of how to continue a certain scene. If anything, this will only make the experience better for all parts involved. Sometimes a scene leaves us with a bad taste in our mouths as well. During those times it is just as important to acknowledge it and talk about it. Putting words on why something left us uncomfortable or dissatisfied in a sensible manner (and validating the experience other people have, especially during these times) will ease a community of a lot of conflicts and keep the roleplay fun for all parts involved. Communicating also forces us to look inwards and ask ourselves 'why was that scene bad' and 'how come I experienced it such', and that self-reflection is an important skill to have when roleplaying with others.

This brings us to bleeding. Bleeding is either when a roleplayer experiences their in-character emotions, thoughts or conflicts on their own person, or when the roleplayer's thoughts, conflicts or emotions rub off on the way they play their character. To many, the act of bleeding is seen as something to avoid or something shameful. People tend to look down on whoever they perceive as being bleeders, but one has to keep in mind that not all bleed is bad bleed. Feeling sad when a character dies is a form of bleed. Being annoyed after a certain scene is also bleed, in most cases. It is next to impossible for a roleplayer not to experience bleeding in one form or another while enjoying their hobby. Turning bleed into something taboo is extremely counter productive. Instead, we should learn to recognize and accept it as a part of being a roleplayer. This brings us back to communication. When experiencing bleed, we should instead talk about it and acknowledge it for what it is. The moment anything transfers either from in-character to out of character or vice versa that's bleeding, whether it's good or bad. With it being inevitable, it is not about the bleed itself as much as it is about how we handle it. Always keep in mind that roleplay is fictional. Conflicts are what sparks roleplay, and in-character conflicts and overcoming them is what makes roleplay interesting.

Which brings us to metagaming. Most metagaming is caused by some sort of bleed, in some shape or form. When experiencing negative bleed, either towards a player or a character, exposing meta-knowledge can easily become a tool to ease that bleed. Although just as with bleed, metagaming does not necessarily have to be bad either. The difference between the good kind of metagaming and the bad kind of metagaming is a consensus. If two players agree on their characters 'randomly' meeting up somewhere or two players agree on one or both parts having knowledge about the other that they had not obtained in-game, this is the good kind of metagaming. This is the kind that sparks roleplay. Once again, communication is important. Asking people "I think so and so could be fun, would you like to do this?" can create a lot of interesting situations and scenes. Opposite that is the
bad kind of metagaming. Whenever the metagaming is not agreed upon between all parts involved, there is a good chance it will interfere with the intentions a player has with their roleplay, which is something we all know is beyond annoying. It does not always have to be intentional, but even unintentional (bad) metagaming can be easy to avoid with a single rule of thumb. Metaknowledge given to you by another player is not to be used in-character or shared with other players unless that player has consented to it. For example, if you are told that a certain character has committed murder (or if your character is murdered by a certain character) keep it a mystery. Don't mention names when mentioning said murder to others and try not to reveal too much. Let people find out in-character. This makes for more and better roleplay for everyone and is what creates plot. Getting to a point using meta-knowledge is not nearly as satisfying as seeing one's character get there on their own accord. Everyone hates spoilers.

Finally, there is
playing each other up. The act of playing someone up is many things, but most of it builds on acknowledging their character concept. Good roleplayers can express their own character and their character's agenda and motivations. The best roleplayers can do that and both acknowledge, play along with and even boost another character and their agenda and motivations. Instead of setting up a wall, you build a bridge and adhere to the "yes, and" mindset. Play the ball back and forth. React to what they are doing. Knowing the concept of a character you encounter does make this easier. In most cases, the roleplayer manages to make their intentions with their character clear through their roleplay, but for some, it can be difficult. If you have a hard time playing someone up, asking them how you can play them up can help create a dynamic that makes for more roleplay. Is the person playing an intimidating character? Maybe your character has a hard time speaking up against them. Is the person playing a cowardly character? Your character might try to push for them to get themselves together, and if you are that cowardly character, you might get inspired or even intimidated into stepping over your boundaries, the more you're pushed. Is someone playing a sneaky thief of a character? Let them pick your pocket and don't even notice. Are they playing seductive? Maybe your character is too distracted by that to notice the red flags. If they are playing the carpenter, you can ask them to put up shelves. If they play a charismatic sort, make them handle diplomacy. If they play the doctor, your character might have some headaches that worry them. Give people something to do and don't hog all the tasks yourself. Don't always expect to win, but don't expect to always lose either, and keep in mind that your character doesn't have to notice everything. Picking pockets will not go unnoticed forever, and at some point, a manipulative character might show their true face. Play on your character's weaknesses as well as their strengths. Escalating over longer periods and letting a conflict linger creates more roleplay than jumping straight to murder because someone did or said something your character disagreed with. Always do what is true to character, but keep other characters in mind as well. Negative interactions can be as interesting as positive interactions too. Everyone does not have to be the best of friends, and even best friends can argue. Think dynamically instead of statically, when you encounter other characters. The art is escalating and de-escalating at the right moments, and playing along with not only your own intentions but the intentions of others as well.

To sum it up. Most of good roleplaying etiquette boils down to common decency and more importantly communication. Whether it's a close friend or a total stranger playing that character you're interacting with, good communication can make the experience better for all parts involved. Make your intentions known and play along with other people's roleplay. Respect their boundaries. This makes for a better community and a more comfortable environment.

With that said! What is your take on it? What do you consider good and bad roleplay etiquette? :)

 
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