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All the World's a Stage: The Art of Roleplaying

This week, David returns (again) to All the World's a Stage as a newly married man, feeling particularly happy and joyful, and overflowing with enthusiasm for just about everything he loves in life.

The relationship between rolelplaying and real life is a multifaceted one. If you have read this column before, you've probably seen some mention of roleplaying as a creative art form, but for some readers, it might be a bit difficult to imagine roleplaying as an art. After all, some might say, it's just a bunch of people sitting around, pretending their characters are real people, having real problems and real stories, all in spite of a game environment in which one's character can't actually affect the world in any way that matters. Problems of continuity, such as instanced dungeons in which many people can slay the same monster at the same time over and over again, make some people feel as though there's no story value to the game at all, and that anything roleplayers do is a waste of their time.

The trick for roleplayers is to think of roleplaying as something more like freeform play art, in which the main point of the art isn't so much the end product that results from one's efforts (as it would be in painting, novel-writing, or composing music), but rather the thoughts, feelings, and inspiration that come to mind when we actually engage in the process of the art itself. The closest parallel to another art form might be improv acting games, where the whole point is to make things up for you and the other actors to enjoy, rather than to deliver a performance for a separate audience; but if you've enjoyed something so simple as building a sand castle on the beach, then you probably have a good sense of what it feels like to roleplay. Fingerpainting, mandala-making or even just freeform music and dancing can all give a similar feeling like what you get in roleplaying: the sheer joy of creation.

Some roleplayers need no more justification for their art than that they enjoyed themselves. But others look at their own roleplaying careers and see certain things that they've taken away from their roleplaying experience over time. These things are usually not as solid as an actual painting or recorded song, but they still have a kind of solidity in the roleplayer's mind, as they positively impact his or her real life in several ways.

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

All the World's a Stage: Free your mind

All the World's a Stage is a source for roleplaying ideas, commentary, and discussions. It is published every Sunday evening.

Some people don't want to worry about staying in character; they just want to come home, play a game and chill out. That's fine, they have the choice to be a regular player and do what they enjoy. But for those of us who seek the path of the roleplayer, we ought not to stop there.

We spend a lot of time in WoW doing all the same things other non-roleplayers are doing, whether it's questing, instances, or PvP. In the process, it can be easy to let one's character slowly drift away from a genuine personality, and into a mere avatar for your own personality as a gamer in a computer game. After all, your character must do a lot of things in order to progress, many of which are game-oriented goals rather than story-oriented goals. You need boss loot, Badges of Justice, Arena points and a bunch of other things that don't always translate well into very interesting character motivations.

It's easy to rely on old standby motivations so much that they become excuses. We might say, for example, "I'm trying to help the Shattered Sun Offensive to prevent Kil'Jaeden from entering Azeroth!" or "I'm hoping to attack Pathaleon the Calculator and take from him his prized sword: The Sun Eater!" And these are fine reasons for characters to do things, but we must remember, there's nothing really new or interesting about them. Every one wants to prevent disaster, or acquire new weapons -- but what about such a desire reveals who your character really is? How can you make normal gaming goals and activities into an opportunity for interesting performance and immersion in a fantasy world?

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

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