Shortened from RETroactive CONtinuity, to Retcon means to change or revise what has previously happened when new information might oppose it. If your character had a bad encounter with water as a child, for example and developed a phobia, and later you discover, for wild example the entire next expansion and ergo all your guild’s roleplay is going to be in water zones and in and around water sources, you might want to Retcon that part of their back-story to make it a bit more functional to play, or at least recon the severity of the phobia so that the character is still playable in such zones.
People Retcon things a fair amount in MMORPG’s as it is difficult to gauge what is coming next in terms of content and lore in upcoming releases and expansions. If you were a writer writing a book and you discovered the story was leading you down a certain path that contradicts things you can always go back and edit it out before anyone sees it. In roleplay online you are not so privileged, your character and story is open to the public from the get-go so you can’t go back and change things so easily.
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
- Beyond Basics: Retconning
For or Against Retconning
With that said there is still contention over the topic. Some people feel like retconning things makes you a terrible role-player and equally some people see no issue with it. As with most things I prefer to keep to a middle line and avoid extremes. If you are retconning your character and their background left and right and center every other day then yes, that is a bad thing. That leaves your character unable to be solid and real it leaves people involved in their story-lines unable to grasp their concept and invest in it. If your character is changing every other day people won’t really Get Them or know who they are or why and it will make them hard to roleplay with. And sometimes people can retcon things for convenience that are perhaps just making things too easy and convenient. As I mentioned above, if something is going to write your character out of all roleplay then looking into retconning it might be a wise idea. If however you just happened to say the wrong thing to the wrong person and now they hate you? That is just reconning for convenience and it is frowned up as you are just using it to avoid responsibility for your actions when they could be roleplayed out.
With that said I think taking a hard-line against retconning is equally unproductive, as I said above we don’t know and can’t predict what way the lore is going with games that have not come out yet and we cannot as a species read minds, so I think some leniency needs to be given for things that might have been created under different awareness. But then again where you stand with retconning is entirely up to you. I know a lot of people got stuck when Blizzard decided to remove M’uru and their hard-line Light-Stealing Knights got left in limbo, as I recall a lot of people blurred some character lines back then and rightly so, because they could not have seen that coming when they created the character. And while yes you can argue that the character would not have seen it coming either and ergo should deal with it IC, it could put that character into a role and position that the player never intended or wanted to play and that is unfair, they are a player paying to play a game after all. I don’t believe immersion was irreparable ruined by the Knights that shifts after that revelation, in fact had they been forced into playing character they didn’t want to play I believe more damage would have been don’t. Some soft retconing allowed them to retain enjoyment of their character and plots and stay immersed in them and ergo keep that immersion with those around them. But that might just be my thinking.
How To Recon Small Scale
First of all work out where the information you want to retcon is on the scale. And the scale is not gaugd in terms of the size of the information as you might think but by the reach of its relevance. So regardless of how important the information is to you or your character what you need to ask yourself is this;
How many people outside of my character already know about it?
How far is it going to change his current situation and motivations?
If the answer is ‘Lots’ to either or both of those questions then it is a big retcon. If the answer is very little then you are just dealing with a minor retcon. The next thing you need to do is communicate. If it is something that other character know about IC then speak to them, explain your problems and explain your proposed solution and ask them if they would be alright with that changing. You might also want to speak to your guild master if you are in a guild and the retcon has chance of effect anything in that realm and maybe even if it doesn’t just as a show of good faith. If everyone involved or connected to the information, events or whatever else you are changing is aware and in agreement that a change is a good idea then you can just alter it and continue on as normal. So long as the people that knew of it know to act accordingly then all is well.
How to Retcon Large Scale
If loads of people know about what you are changing or it is going to change the directions and motivations of your character, for example, perhaps a class change (noted some are not so serious, hunter, rogue and warrior tend to get away with it, but paladins and warlocks might need some explaining) then retconing it is going to be a bigger issue. When it is a big things that lots of people know about just erasing it like flicking a switch off is not a great idea. For some things it cannot be helped, I imagine and in that case like above the best way to go about it is speaking to as many of he people involved as you can and being sure they agree before you do anything.
Otherwise however the best way to go about retconing or changing things IC on a large scale is slowly. Via a story. If you want to change your characters class, think of a plot to explain why that is changing. If you want to change a trait or characteristic for example the water phobia we mentioned before, then think up a story-line or plot that you can work through to have him over come that fear, learn X new skill or create a situation where they adapt or learn a new characteristic like patience or humility. If you can work out an IC means of reaching your goal and progress to that slowly to can alter the story in a smooth and realistic way that won’t throw people off or make the change come as a huge shock that might damage their immersion. Even if it is something you need to erase from the past at switch-flicking speed try and see if you can create an IC explanation for it, as it always helps other peoples characters move on from the face in roleplay.
Things To Avoid
The main thing to avoid is that if people say no, if they disagree, if you retconning what you want to retcon badly affects their characters and plots; try not to do it. Reconsider if you need to, try and think of other ways around your problem because as much as I can understand coming to need to retcon some things in MMO’s you absolutely do not want to be negatively affecting other peoples roleplay if you can at all avoid it.
Avoid the unnecessary. Retconning of any size can be a pain and it can be a hiccup in immersion and story-line so try to avoid it unless it is really going to cripple your character to keep them as they are and you cannot find any other way or means of solving your issue.
I hope your found this information useful. Let me know in the comments below if you have had any good or bad experiences with retconning.
You can always contact me below, or on the bar above if you are having these kinds of troubles yourself and would like some advice.