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All the World's a Stage: The surface layer


This installment of All the World's a Stage diverges from the series of roleplaying guides about how to roleplay your race, class, and professions, in order to have a closer look at different layers of social interaction in roleplaying, and see in which ways you can tailor your character for each one.

So there you are -- you've got the coolest, funniest, most heartbreaking character idea on your whole RP server. You login, create your new masterpiece, and start leveling up... But as time goes by, you realize you have a problem. No one seems interested in you! You may be having trouble meeting people who actually roleplay on a roleplaying server, or the roleplayers you run into may not realize how truly awesome your character is. Let's say you even join an RP guild and try to impress your guildmates with your witty "/guild" chatter, only to discover that they're seem mildly interested at best.

What's a roleplaying genius to do? It would be tempting to think that you are not such a great roleplayer as you think, or that your character idea isn't as fantastic as you had hoped, but the truth might lie in something far less depressing: You may have created a character with true depth, yet lacking established friends to explore that depth with, your character has no way of showing it. Making such friends is never easy if you are too deep for them -- they expect some sort of interesting surface-level interaction first. Likewise, if a character is all silly gimmicks designed to entertain strangers, without anything deeper for potential close friends to enjoy, he or she may seem like an attention grabber, entertaining in the short term, but mostly shallow in the end. Choosing the right kind of surface-layer character traits to suit your personality and social needs is essential if you want to have a good experience in roleplaying.

The three layers

When you roleplay a character you essentially have to interact with people at three levels, all of which are optional in one way or another, and each of which provides its own opportunities for you to entertain others and have a good time. These levels are pretty simple: strangers, acquaintances, and close friends. There's a lot of blur between them, so to state them more broadly, they are:
  • Surface: people you haven't met before, or are very unfamiliar with;
  • Inside: people you interact with somewhat regularly (such as guildmates);
  • Core: people you know very well, and choose to spend time with whenever you can.

In this article, we will focus on aspects of the surface layer of interaction. Some people would say this level of interaction is unnecessary, because they already have a small circle of friends whose company they enjoy more than everyone else. I would argue such a person is missing out on a lot of good opportunities. While it's true that there are plenty of people out there whose roleplaying style you may not enjoy, there's something very special about the possibility of meeting a new person, making a new friend, and having another roleplaying experience you never would have dreamed of in your stable circle of friends.

The first rule: don't be a loner

Starting out as a new roleplayer, or as an experienced roleplayer on a new realm, you can't really get by with a character who is reclusive, withdrawn, quiet, or otherwise anything like the typical "lone wolf" stereotype popularized in so many movies. It may work for popular media, but in a roleplaying environment, such a character only leads you to a bunch of soloing unless you already have a circle of friends who will pay attention to your character in spite of his antisocial qualities and perhaps see deeper inside him to the things they really like.

So the first rule of a character that works at the surface level of communication with people you haven't met before is that he or she should be gregarious in some way -- generally willing to speak with people in a manner that isn't immediately offensive. Even if you play an evil character, it probably won't do much for your reputation if you're actually hurtful to everyone you meet for the first time.

The second rule: consider your first impressions

The second rule for this layer is resides in a choice you must make: How memorable do you want your first impressions to be? In an article I wrote last year, I assumed that every roleplayer would always want their characters to rise above those normal, completely forgettable interactions with have with strangers every day, and make some sort of special impression on people. I suggested designing some sort of "quirk," or character trait which you could instantly bring out in many situations. For example, a mad scientist character could use "science" to solve literally any problem, from a broken sword to a broken heart; a bloodthirsty fighter could open a conversation with "so, how many gnomes have you killed today?"; and a shy rogue could make a memorable first impression by introducing himself with stammering and embarrassment, then stealthing for a little while and continuing the conversation from the shadows. Each of these characters would attract some people and repel others, but a person who wants to make a strong first impression has to live with the fact that not everyone is going to like his idea.

On the other hand, if you're most comfortable with common interactions like, "Good day," or "Hello there, I see you are fighting the same monsters as I am. Would you like to fight them together?" then that's fine -- perhaps you don't even see any reason why you should want random people to remember you. With some people, the best way to make a good first impression is just to be as normal as possible. It's not exactly hollywood caliber entertainment, but then these people aren't looking for you to entertain them -- they just want to have a normal human social interaction with someone who acts in ways they understand.

To quirk or not to quirk

The choice is ultimately up to you. In my case, I've chosen different roads for different characters. The "normal" ones definitely take longer to become recognized by any community, but once people got to know them more, they were usually willing to discover his or her deeper characteristics. The more eccentric characters I made definitely got a more immediate reaction from other roleplayers, in many cases very positive ones. Sometimes I could tell that the person I was talking to wasn't really used to roleplaying, but could tell I was trying to roleplay and so went along with it and seemed to enjoy him or herself.

If you want to promote roleplaying in an environment where there isn't already a lot of it, it really helps if your character is really quirky in some special way so that you can play up your quirks and get others into the spirit of having a good time. Some people may be put off by anything that isn't perfectly "normal" according to their expectations, and you may even need to try and fail a couple times before hitting on a quirky character style that really works. In the end, however, it really pays off for me to always have an accent, special attitude, or particular style which is immediately identifiable, especially if it naturally leads people into the deeper aspects of my character once they've decided they like him or her enough to go on to the next layer of connection. The accent may lead to interesting stories about my character's strange background, or observations about cultural differences; an attitude will help people think from different perspectives; and a style can give people a special feeling of immersion in the game, and make them wonder if your character is just the same on the inside as he or she is on the surface layer.


All the World's a Stage takes a break from the series on roleplaying within the lore this week. Be sure to check out previous articles on similar themes, from how to make your character memorable, to how to map out your character's traits. Be sure to follow the ten commandments of roleplaying!

Filed under: All the World's a Stage (Roleplaying), Analysis / Opinion, WoW Social Conventions, Virtual selves, RP

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