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Finding the line between you and your roleplaying character

All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players. In World of Warcraft, that player is you! Each week, Anne Stickney brings you All the World's a Stage with helpful hints, tips and tricks on the art of roleplay in WoW.

We've finally reached that magical moment when we stop speculating on what we'll see in Mists of Pandaria and start experiencing it first hand. Pretty much every WoW news site out there is inundating us with tons of information about Mists, the pandaren, the zones, the quests, and everything that is to come. If you're one of those who managed to get a beta key at this early stage in testing, you've even experienced some of that new content yourself. This can actually create a ton of issues when you're a roleplayer, and it has to do with the line between roleplay and real life.

In roleplay, there's a definitive line between what you as a player happen to know and what your character is aware of. There's a line between what you see in game and what your character sees and experiences. And there's a really big line between what you are feeling as a player and what your character is feeling in any given situation. Experienced roleplayers are aware of that line's existence and do their best not to cross it, but new roleplayers may not understand what that imaginary line is or even realize it exists.

Your character is not all-knowing

In roleplay, what you see as a player doesn't represent what your character sees. If you read someone's roleplay description and it includes a detailed background history, that's information you as a player happen to know -- it's not information your character knows. Even something as simple as a character name is forbidden knowledge to your character, unless they happen to overhear someone else call that character by name or introduce themselves and exchange names.

If a player is using a roleplaying addon, getting that information is even easier. But these roleplaying addons aren't there so that your character can have a stunning moment of omniscience; they are there so that you as a player realize that character over there is a character open to roleplay. And in some cases, it's also there to give some small glimpse into what that character looks like or how they act, which makes that decision of whether or not to walk up to them and speak a little easier for you. After all, if someone's description says that they're surly and angry, you may not want to strike up a conversation.

This plays into beta information as well. The things you as a player learn about the beta and the next expansion are not things that your character would know about. Important storylines or plot points, surprise reveals or other spoiler information is just that -- spoiler information. Presuming that your character already knows everything that's going to happen in the future is a foolhardy venture that will generally garner a negative response from most roleplayers.

Your character is not all-seeing

Roleplaying in a game like World of Warcraft means that there is plenty of information readily available to you as a player that wouldn't be as obvious to the character you play. Everything from age, height, weight, and even gender may be a mystery to your character, depending on how that other character is presented. Character level is not something that comes up in common conversation. It's likely your character could never tell if someone was a war veteran from the days of Outland and Northrend unless that person happened to be wearing something that indicated it.

One thing players tend to forget is that classes are not things that are obviously seen. You can't simply tell someone is a rogue by looking at them; you can't really discern a mage from a priest. The thing that determines how a character is recognized is purely how they are dressed -- and if a rogue is wandering around decked out like a holy man or a warrior is tromping about in caster attire, there's nothing that says they are in actuality a rogue or a warrior. And a worgen? If that worgen is in human form, there's nothing to indicate that they aren't just another human being running around in the world.

For a new roleplayer, the best way to grasp this peculiar concept is this: Turn off all nameplates, and then hit Alt+Z to remove any player frames from your screen. Walk around. Look at what you see and what you don't see. If you can't see it without the help of the game, your character isn't seeing it, either. And that means it's something your character just doesn't know about.

Your character is not you

Perhaps one of the most difficult concepts to grasp as far as the line between player and character goes is the line that exists between who you are as a player and how you happen to be feeling, and what your character is feeling. Just because you are angry in real life doesn't mean your character should be angry; just because you're unhappy in real life doesn't mean that your character should be depressed as well. Your character has his own range of emotions and feelings, and they should never, ever mix with yours.

This isn't to say you can't feel happy when something good happens to your character or sad when something really terrible happens to him. But if you take these feelings as serious emotions and start applying them to real life (or vice-versa), that's when things get tricky and out of control. Think about it. You have a friend who you've been roleplaying with for a few weeks, and your character and theirs have a pretty good friendship going on. One day, you're angry about something in real life. Maybe your car got scratched. Maybe a check bounced. You take that anger in game, and your character is really, really angry, lashing out at that other character that he's friends with.

Guess how that makes the player behind that character feel? They're wondering why your character is angry and trying to handle it in character, assuming there is something in the fictional land of Azeroth that made your character upset. They don't know that you, the player, are really upset about real-life things. Expecting them to know is like expecting them to suddenly develop psychic powers.

In a vice-versa situation, say your character has developed feelings for another character. They decide they're going to start the equivalent of Azerothian dating, and you spend your roleplay nights happily roleplaying romantic dinners and evenings of quiet conversation. Suddenly, your character has an altercation with that fictional boyfriend or girlfriend, and said significant other decides to part ways, upsetting you in real life. Or perhaps you start feeling like you're in love with the player behind that character, rather than two characters in love with each other.

Emotional situations are tricky. It's way too easy to confuse a roleplayed romance or fight with a real one -- and the consequences of doing so usually end in tears. You have to remember in emotional situations, whether they are angry, sad, romantic or otherwise, that your feelings in real life do not play a part in any of it. That person on the other side of the screen likely isn't angry at you in real life; they're probably laughing it up at the fun of fighting. Nor are they in love with you -- they're just playing a game.

And that's really the crux of it. Roleplaying is a game. You're pretending you're someone else -- but that someone else? They don't really exist. The feelings, the things they see, the things that they know are separate from who you really are out there in the real world. Other roleplayers are playing with you under the assumption that you know where that line is. They are just as emotionally detached from their characters as you should be from yours.

Think of it in terms of acting, and you'll get a better appreciation for what roleplaying is. Actors on a set reading lines at each other are paid to pretend that they are feeling what the character they are portraying is feeling, and really good actors are really good at getting into character. But at the end of the day, when the lights turn off and everyone goes home, they aren't feeling that character anymore. It's just a job. Roleplaying is like acting, except it's not a job. It's just for fun. It's a game. So treat it like one, mind the line between game and reality, and you'll have far more fun with far less stress.

All the World's a Stage is your source for roleplaying ideas, innovations and ironies. Let us help you imagine what it's like to sacrifice spells for the story, totally immerse yourself in your roleplaying or even RP on a non-RP realm!

Filed under: All the World's a Stage (Roleplaying)

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