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All the World's a Stage: WTF is IC - OOC? WTB RP! OK THX, CU L8R

All the World's a Stage is brought to you by David Bowers every Sunday evening, investigating the mysterious art of roleplaying in the World of Warcraft.

While many online gamers are famous for using "leetspeak," there's a certain portion of the community that places a great deal of importance on complete sentences and good spelling. Roleplayers, as a whole, are friendly and communicative, but nonetheless have special ways of interacting that other gamers may not understand.

As a new roleplayer, I remember having to figure a lot of these things out, although I was blessed to befriend many people who kindly explained things to me as well. The first and most important concept I had to get a grasp of was the idea of "in-character" versus "out-of-character" communication (usually abbreviated to IC and OOC), and in what situations the use of either sort would be appropriate.

It's fair to say that on an RP server where roleplaying is still the rule rather than the exception, anything in the /say or /yell channels should be "in character." That's to say, it should be phrased with good spelling and proper punctuation, and should only refer to happenings within the WoW universe. In situations where one must say something out-of-character in these channels, it is polite to at least couch your OOC words in double parentheses to clarify your meaning.

For example:
Annarielle says: How fair the night is! I wish every night could be so tranquil.
Annarielle smiles at Karavar.
Karavar says: I'm talking to her now. I sure hope she says yes!
Karavar says: ((erm... eh... mistype! >_<))
Generally, however, even this much out-of-character speech in the /say or /yell channels is discouraged if you can possibly avoid it, as there are many techniques for "roleplay recovery" in situations like this. In this case, having dropped the ball, so to speak, Karavar needn't actually announce to everyone "I dropped the ball!" Rather he can just go ahead and pick the ball up, and continue in a natural way:
Karavar says: I'm talking to her now. I hope she says yes!
Karavar says: Oh gods! Did I say that out loud? I meant... I was just thinking about... and I... oh dear.
Karavar rubs his face and forehead in awkward embarrassment.
Annarielle grins at him, leaning close to say, very quietly...
Annarielle says: Yes...
Annarielle says: ...I think now would be a good time for a little walk together, don't you?
Annarielle motions for Karavar to follow.
Notice how Annarielle manages to gracefully finesse her way through the mistake too. She needn't nitpick on him, unless it makes sense for her to do so in the situation. But, alas, I'm getting ahead of myself. We must return to the topic of roleplay recovery another time.

In other channels, such as /party, /guild and /whisper, the understanding of whether people speak IC or OOC by default varies from group to group, and often it will be clear from the context. If you unclear, however, you can always use the double parentheses to ask: "((Are we IC or OOC in this channel?))" or even something like "((Do you mind if I ask a question about the most important stats for my character?))"

Usually, whenever you join an RP guild, they'll let you know whether their guild chat is IC or OOC. If it is IC, they often have a special secondary channel set up for OOC chat in order to keep these conversations separate. Contrary to popular opinion, most RPers love to gabble on and on about the same stuff that non-RPers do, so these extra OOC channels tend to get lots of good use. Keeping guild chat in-character just helps to keep that feeling of immersion going strong -- it's a safe place for you to roleplay your character even if no one you know is within speaking range.

Some of you may be wondering how in the world people can roleplay through guild chat or whispers when usually these characters are on opposite ends of the world (or in another world altogether, perhaps even another time!). Indeed, many roleplayers are casual enough that they've never really thought to answer this question before. They just assume it's something everyone can do, and they don't give it the attention it would need in order to get in the way.

For the more analytical types among roleplayers, however, there are a number of solutions, varying from the assumption of universal telepathic capability to the use of hearthstones as a kind of magical cell phone, which let people communicate across vast distances. For most guilds, this use of hearthstones makes for a convenient way to make long-distance communication plausible, even if it's not officially part of Warcraft lore. It lets us interact together more often, so we tend not to worry about it too much.

As far as whispering is concerned, the "/whisper" command tends to be only for out-of-character chat, or else for in-character conversations happening across great distances via hearthstones or telepathy. It may also be used for true whispers where characters are very close to one another and for words that players don't want others to overhear, but generally it's better to include everyone by using a custom emote to type out the whispered words instead of using private tells, since this tends to feel more natural, and it lets anyone who happens to be nearby enjoy the story too:
Karavar whispers to Annarielle as they pause by the lake, "I... made something for you." He takes out a small package and opens it for her.
Annarielle says: [Crunchy Spider Surprise]?!
Annarielle stares at Karavar for a long moment, then smiles and replies, "It's my favorite! How did you know?"
Gloric can't help but overhear, chuckling to himself as he catches a fish.
Other players can choose to let their character be oblivious of such whispers, or to let them eavesdrop on it as they like, but either way, this practice includes them and creates a stronger sense of community.

As you can see from these basic beginnings, reserving "/say" and "/yell" for in-character dialogue can create an atmosphere of spontaneous storytelling, from which a myriad interesting and funny situations arise quite naturally from people's creativity. Even if you are not a roleplayer, it might be worth your time to seek some out, and stop to listen for a while. You might be pleasantly surprised by what you hear just wandering about the streets.

Filed under: RP, All the World's a Stage (Roleplaying), Virtual selves

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