Everquest is a vast stage. It is a game unlike any traditional single-player games we play. We might have moments in games like Baldur's Gate, Final Fantasy, or Knights of the Old Republic when we actually feel like our character. Perhaps, if our imagination is good enough, we can actually go deeper than the character we play. There is little reward for roleplaying in single-player games, however. No one else is there to appreciate it. It may get us deeper into a game just as digging into a character gets us deeper into a book or movie, but the lack of any interaction on the other side removes a lot of the fun.
Everquest is different. Now, when you find willing participants, roleplaying becomes its own dynamic storyline. To some, roleplaying is the breath of life in a game built from polygons, texture maps, and particle effects. Each of us is a character with our background, motivations, dialect. We are each one thread in a huge rope of epic adventure. We don't know where the story will end up. We don't know what the others are going to do. The stories build themselves around us often greater than the sum of their parts.
What does one need to do to roleplay? How can we break that social barrier that tells us that playing make-believe is for kiddies? Lets look at a few steps:
1. Get over yourself. You're playing Everquest at midnight on Friday night. You're already not cool. Get over the idea that you're playing with a bunch of dorks and accept that you enjoy what you enjoy and might enjoy it more if you dig into it. If you really don't want to roleplay because it's not fun, thats a fine decision to make, but some people who might enjoy it give it up because they got beat up in junior high school for doing something similar. Professional actors do this all the time and they get to marry (and divorce) Jennifer Andison. Forget about how dorky your high school friends might think it is and just enjoy it. You might be surprised. Typing out lines of in-character dialog won't turn you into the D&D guys from Reno 911.
2. Build your character. There are three basic steps to character creation I like to use for quick and simple characters.
First, pick a character in a book or movie and use it as your character's archetype. It doesn't matter if its Clint Eastwood in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly or Woody Alan in Annie Hall. If the character fits, steal it. Using this archetype helps you fill in your character's gaps. It helps you to react as your archetype would react when faced with a situation you haven't prepared for. Over time, this archetype will fade and what remains may be much different from the original.
Second, write a brief history. Where does your character come from? What did they do previously? How did they get where they currently are? With new characters, it's best not to overdo this step. No more 'orphaned by orcs' or 'left by mysterious forces in a glade near the elven city'. We're not all the main character; we're one of thousands of other characters, each just as important as we are. Pick a simple background but one that helps define your context for future encounters.
Three, write out your character's motivation. What does he or she want? Are you an adventurer or a greedy thief? Are you a spy for Neriak or the Sword of Mithanial Marr? What motivates you? Again, don't get too hardened to this, it will probably change as you play, but keep it flexible enough that it fits the type of game you want to play.
Those three steps help you build a quick character. They give you enough fuel to begin to roleplay but the more you roleplay, the more these will fade into the background and your true unique character will shine.
3. Roleplay with hotkeys. Hotkeys and macros are an extremely easy way to roleplay without having to type reams of dialog. Pick ten traits about your character, ten typical reactions to common circumstances, and add them to a bank of macros. Hit these macros as often as the situation presents itself. Here are some examples:
/me opens a great tome of lore and begins to read.
/me wipes streams of bright red blood off of his notched sword.
/me looks over the landscape ahead with wanderlust in her eyes.
/me cowers behind %T to escape the horrors ahead.
/me feels a great darkness closing in.
/me roars to Crom before attacking with furious might.
/me wiggles her fingers in preparation for a devastating spell.
/me feels her hands grow hot from the internal elemental flames.
/me keeps an arrow knocked and a keen eye seeking new prey.
These emotes are easy to set up and easy to use. They help build little bits of your character in the minds of others and often begin as an interaction between players. Some jokers may decide to play off of them with wacky puns, but just keep rolling with them and enjoy what they create.
4. Roleplay, and others will roleplay around you. While not so much a rule, it is one good reason to roleplay. Many people, once you fall into character, will see ways they too can fall into theirs. They may not even realize they are roleplaying, instead simply working along the story. For many, simply showing them that roleplaying is acceptable is enough to get them to at least give it a try.
5. Don't become a roleplay critic. The whole name of the game is fun. If someone breaks character, let them. Don't be too hard about when you're roleplaying and when you're not. Don't yell at people or criticize them for breaking character. Enjoy it while it happens and don't fret if it falls away. Each of us roleplays as much or as little as we choose. There are no strict rules we have to follow or punishments for breaking character.
6. Try roleplaying through obvious out-of-game situations. For a fun exercise, try roleplaying through events that obviously broke character. Did the server just crash? Perhaps a great ethereal wind just swept through the lands sending everyone into unconsciousness. Did a mob just despawn while you were fighting it? Perhaps rifts in the timelines created a paradox or the Gods, unhappy with your actions, removed the beast themselves. Back in the 80s, Marvel comics ran a contest called the 'no-prize'. If you found an obvious error in one of their comics, you sent in a description of the error but then a reason that the error wasn't actually an error at all. If yours was good enough, you received a book of hundreds of Marvel's previous errors.
Roleplaying isn't for everyone. Some people just want a chat room wrapped around a fantasy game. They don't care if the world lives or breathes as long as they are challenged and enjoy the gameplay. For others, however, roleplaying adds a whole new layer to the game-world we play in. Finding another roleplayer and having a truly entertaining roleplay session is often more fun than earning a bit of loot or raising a level. It is a whole internal dimension to play and massive online games are the perfect place to play it without getting an atomic wedgie.
14 January 2005