This is a forever tricky topic In the battlefield of MMOs. It is difficult because there is not really a set right or wrong answer; there are things that are right and things that are wrong, and the truth of the matter lies in balancing the two. As always, this what most people struggle with. Here are some signs and symptoms and tricks and tips for weaving this particular minefield in-game. But first let’s get down with the lingo;
OOC – Out of character
IC – In character
IRL – In real life.
More Articles in the Beyond the Basics Series:
- Beyond Basics: Loaded Lore – The Horde Part 1
- Beyond Basics: Loaded Lore – The Horde Part 2
- Beyond Basics: Roleplaying Bar Staff
- Beyond Basics: Balancing IC and OOC
- Beyond Basics: All Kinds of Canon
- Beyond Basics: Six Good Roleplay Habits
Above all, IRL
Nothing in game matters as much as your own life outside it. It is always wise to be able to take a step back from any RP setting and gauge how it is affecting you in your life. If any RP story, character or setting is making you stressed, feel down or having any other negative impact on your life you need to reevaluate your being involved in that RP on an OOC level, regardless of the IC reasons. Sometimes things happen with other people removing themselves from your RP in means and ways that make no sense IC, and there is nothing you can do about that but to try and find a way to make it fit or gloss over it and move on. So it is useful here to have both the ability to step back and see OOC reasons where you need to and to understand other people needing to do the same for whatever reason, and being able to pick up your own RP and adapt. Nothing is worth letting things affect your health and life outside of the game.
Below that level, however, there is much debate about where this line is best drawn, dividing people into camps over the matter.
Camp One: Keep it IC!
These guys are the hard-line: ‘IC is IC and nothing else exists’. Which sounds good in theory, but tends to be taken too literally and strongly. The people that believe and live in a world where everything is IC and everything must be dealt with IC tend, in my experience, to limit where and with whom they RP, with a great deal out of fear of having to deal with something difficult IC. Which is a form of ever abhorrent elitism. Dealing with things IC is great, and I would be in this camp myself if the line was not so hard. That is to say my preference lies with keeping things into the role-play as much as possible and resolving issues IC where you can, because at the end of the day that is more immersive and true to the character and the setting, you cannot gauge what kind of morons will walk down the street in real life, for example. You just have to deal.
Camp Two: My Enjoyment Wins
Camp Two are the ‘OOC-rules-the-roost folks’, they pay to play like everyone else and ergo when they are not enjoying a particular scene or character they can get up and walk out; mic drop and bail. Which is fair enough, but sadly they never seem to remember that the other people in that scene are also paying the same amount to be there. To these folks they are very much playing a game, which often leaves them a little aloof and un-immersed. Their character tend to be vessels for them personally rather than stand-alone characters and just a tools and means for them to use to playing a game with their friends.
These guys honestly scare me, they scare me a whole lot. These are the guys that balance, but…overdo it. They blend IC and OOC so heavy it looks like a four year old with oil paint got at their RP. They are fully merged with their character, when their character is back-talked they get insulted, when their character is hurt they are the ones crying. I have honestly known people that get so worked up and into their character’s story-line that when things went wrong for the character they stopped playing them. They could not separate IC and OOC at all, and that causes a lot of problems. It tends to bleed into those characters being unable to be wrong and unable to be hurt for one, but also it makes them incredibly difficult to write into plots and stories: you know that should anything go wrong there will be crazy amounts of drama to deal with not only IC (which is fully acceptable) but OOC as well. These guys have a whole world of problems with relationship RP too, as you can no doubt imagine.
Being connected to your character is not a fault. I love my characters; I’ve spent years creating stories with them and they are my creations, my babies. But while I love them, I am not bound with them. I do not take personal slight if someone insults them IC, I do not cry myself to sleep if their sweetheart breaks off their fling. Because in the end it is all just a story. Instead, I end up staying up for hours twirling my invisible mustache and plotting how to use this plot twist to craft an even better story, where this new road will take them, what will come of this twist and their ignited emotions. It is all plot fodder. Which is the delicious opportunity provided by being able to separate IC and OOC.
It all really comes down to the simple idea that role-play is just role-play. It takes all shapes, forms and sizes. Sometimes it is good, sometimes it is bad, sometimes you love it, sometimes you cringe. It’s a mixed bag and that is often what makes it fun. So yeah keep things IC and more so be aware that anything that happens IC is just that, happening IC, to your character, to their plot-line, not to you; just like a book. RP is a book you are helping to write in real-time, try not to attach anything more to it than you would any other novel you were reading. Try and keep it about making the best story possible. Stay aware that if and when things start affecting your well-being in your real life it’s time to step back and look again.
When is OOC steering a good thing?
That said, OOC direction is important when in the right places, because RP is, after all, a source for you to find enjoyment for yourself. It is vital that what you are RPing is, at least 90% of the time, things you are enjoying and finding immersive. Arranging that OOC, in a manner that is not rude or awkward for other players in the game, happens in character creation. It all depends on the character and the story you start out with. If you do not like sparring RP, military rules, and limits and combat RP, don’t roll a soldier. If you loathe the constant patrols and nagging presence of would-be criminals trying to stab-your-shit-up, don’t roll a city guardian-type figure. If you have no time for people that play young characters of the ‘’I’m 18 but I act 8’’ variety, don’t roll an overly compassionate and caring character. Similarly, if your interest lies in magical RP, rolls an arcanist or someone whose story can weave into that in other interesting ways. If you are interested in healing and medical RP, roll a character that can get involved with that. Create a recipe sheet for the kinds of RP that you like and enjoy, as well as those you have a distaste for. That way you can steer things OOC in a smooth and natural manner, and should things come up IC that you are not happy or comfortable with OOC, skirting around them will be a fully smooth and IC process.
This is another off-shot topic from this debate and often where it gets started. Do you ask someone OOC before you do X, Y or Z with their character? I always say yes. If you’re going to do anything that affects someone else’s character in any serious way you should always ask and get their permission first. It is only good manners. The claim that such things destroy the immersion of the RP is, in truth, nonsense.
For example, I am running a plot for my guild, I have poked a few of the folks I had planned to involve as central figures and said ‘’Hey listen, I am planning this plot with X character and I wanted your guy to be involved. Now it might mean that down the line X or Y could happen to them, then again it might not come to that, are you cool with getting involved?’’ and I have never been refused yet, it means they know the possible effect it is likely to have on their toon so they can gauge if that is indeed a road they want to take with them without having the plot and story ruined in the doing.
More commonly, this practice comes up if you are planning to rob or harm someone in the street. In that case, yes, it is a little more revealing of your intent, but you should still ask as you are still affecting their character. I know anyone that asks me of they can rob Theo beforehand gets a much more interesting grab than anyone that surprises me with it because I can plan it a little, and get a little more creative with the emotes. Anyone that jumps it on me gets a very basic and plain response. Also, that kind of RP is always going to be three or four lines at best, the point of the scene it to be a catalyst for what follows and what, dear readers, is reactionary. There is no way you can ‘ruin’ that by asking first; i n fact, asking first might give that person some chance to drop an RP hook into the pocket for the purpose and make it a little more than just a three or four lines RP scene.
What do you think? Has this topic ever caused you trouble before?