Saturday, February 07, 2009

Learning point of the day - RP

So my elder son is turing into a geek, what of it? He has recently joined the ranks of World of Warcraft players. Under the tutelage of an experienced friend, he has made excellent progress, and we hear all about his adventures as an undead.

He has been explaining about RP - roleplay. I would have thought that all these games were RP, and that this was how they were distinct from virtual environments like Second Life, but I would have been wrong. You have the option to control your avatar, but remain aloof from it, or to play AS your avatar. In the case of the former, your dialogue represents what you as a person have to say. In the case of the latter, all dialogue is in character as your avatar, unless you prefix it with /o, which means officer speak.

There are specific servers given over to this mode of play. Those who opt not to immerse themselves to this extent have the option to complete quests and the like.

So, in Second Life, my avatar is virtual projection of me - it takes on my character, and allows me to interact with others through their avatars. In WoW, my avatar is either a plaything (like a doll, in many respects) or I, conversely, take on its character. No doubt, there are people who role play in Second Life, too, since it affords them an opportunity to become something they're not: a different gender or race, thinner, more beautiful, a fairy, an (anthropomorphic) animal.

My husband and I were listening to our son talking and reflecting that RP wasn't so very different from the improvisational games we used to play as kids. Most of the time, you spoke in character, but, every now and again, in order to manipulate the way things were going, you could slip out of character and make an announcement.

In WoW, there are strict rules about RP. You may not play God. You may not say that you are killing everyone... or even inflicting some harm on them. You can only say that you are trying to do so, in order to give them the opportunity to respond. I'm not sure we articulated it as clearly when we played cops and robbers, but any child who declared that he had just killed us all would get shouted down by everyone else present - just as in life, everyone gets a say!

The line between controlling an avatar to complete a quest and playing as an avatar is a fine one, but very distinct. I only hope that I have explained it clearly!

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