Role-playing

I’ve been having a lot of fun (and spending a lot of time) in Second Life. My original avatar, created on November 20, 2006, is Otenth Paderborn. Otenth has dabbled in land speculation, done a fair amount of shopping, and created a Quaker meeting in SL (First Friends Church of Second Life, SLurl: Quaker/155/22). He’s about to teach a four-week Quakerism class.

I’ve also created several alts, including one for work purposes named Thoreau Alcott. Only one of my alts is active, however—but she is very active. Hermione Fussbudget was created on January 22, 2007 in order to try out a new part of the orientation experience. Due to technical glitches, I wasn’t able to do that, and I thought, “oh well.” (Part of Hermione’s genesis is the result of how one creates an account in Second Life: You are presented with a limited number of surnames from which to pick; you can then add any forename that results in a unique combination. How could I pass up “Fussbudget”? And “Hermione,” well, I have very fond memories of Hermione Gingold on talk shows when I was a child, and it’s a killer combination. My friend Sonja then helped me create a realistic female shape, in contrast to the many, many Barbie-doll figures found in SL.)

Hermione was on her way to the inactive list with my other alts, until I discovered Caledon, a multi-sim, privately-owned area with a Victorian Steampunk theme. It’s a beautifully executed environment, less cluttered and more manageable in size than the mainland, and with a thriving social community. And thus Miss Hermione Fussbudget found an engaging home and secured her future.

One of the activities in SL is the Second Life Relay for Life (SLRFL), an adjunct to the American Cancer Society’s annual fundraiser, the Relay for Life. It’s a major activity in Caledon, and there are many fundraising acitivities. Hermione invited Miss Ida Keen, the creator of very fine animated knitting needles, to create a special set of needles for Caledon, and she really outdid herself, creating needles that, when worn in SL, actually result in clothing and objects that you can give away. (You can get a set from the SLRFL vendor beside Hermione’s house in Caledon Tamrannoch.)

So, this year’s meta-theme for the Caledon SLRFL is a “war” with Port Neualtenberg, another region on the mainland of SL. So far, so good. Hermione’s knitting fundraisers used the trope of “keep our boys warm,” appropriating images used by the American Red Cross during the First World War. She also bought a commission in the Caledon Militia, along with a suitable uniform and weapons (She is, apparently, not a Quaker!). So far, still so good!

But the people organizing the “war” events held an event last night that took a bizarre and, to me, offputting, turn. There was a Reconciliation Ball to which all the militia were invited, as well as Neualtenbergers. Broad hints were proffered that all was not as it seemed. And indeed, explicit instructions were delivered that a machinima was being filmed and that principals in the event had scripted roles. Since the war talk had been going on for quite a while, I thought it a good idea that some slight would be offered one way or the other during the ball and that, finally, we would arrange a straightforward shooting melee at some civilized, appointed time. I was happy for Hermione to attend the ball and, in effect, serve as an extra.

What happened, though, was a complicated (and long!) bit of scripted interplay that involved armed conflict between citizens of Caledon, with a confused conclusion.

As an inexperienced role-player, I don’t know what to make of it. I’m happy to role-play a slightly saucy Victorian spinster. I’m happy to be an extra in a machinima (albeit that part was extraordinarily boring!) I was happy to make low-key war talk in a good cause. But I’m not happy, as the real person sitting at the computer enjoying myself in SL, to be made confused and at loose ends by some unknown group’s script. As a bystander last night, Hermione saw one of her neighbors in Caledon act reprehensibly as part of the scripted RP. What does an RPer who isn’t in on the larger picture do? Ignore it all until there’s another scripted event? Write and play my own script? Shun the neighbor?

I guess what I’ve discovered about myself is that I do not want, personally, to experience confusion and conflict that was created on purpose by other people RPing in SL. I felt like I was used as an object for other people’s enjoyment, rather than as a participant. (Once the scripted violence started, we were instructed to move back and shut up, in effect.) And I’ve discovered that I’m not sure how I feel about creating a mock war as a fundraiser. (War as a metaphor is fine. Even defined as “armed conflict against an enemy,” I don’t think all weapons are physical. The Lamb’s War is a sadly ignored concept from early Quakerism.)

And now I’m rambling, so I should end!

(P.S. Otenth and Hermione share a blog: Tenth Life.)

7 Replies to “Role-playing”

  1. One could find the role play of your various avatars disturbing, or take it as I do as a part of the game. Perhaps it would have been easier for others to understand that it was just a game (intended to generate further interest and awareness in a worthy charitable cause), but unfortunately the technology is still a bit unpredictable.

    I am someone who, in real life, spent 3 years ordained as a Buddhist monk in Thailand (my second home, so arguably a part of my culture), so I am both conscious of donning various roles, and also of the bad results of violence and of advocating violence (“karma” is from the Sanskrit root word for “action”…bad actions bring bad results, good actions bring good results).

    Regards,

    Excalibur Longstaff
    (Jay Riley, IRL)

  2. Part of the adjustment for me is that I think of Otenth as “me,” as an extension of my life and personality into a virtual world, whatever my avatar looks like. I haven’t, as Otenth, ever felt myself to be playing a game. It doesn’t yet feel as clear with Hermione, but my basic impulse is still to treat Hermione as an extension of myself, even though I’ve enjoyed developing a very modest amount of backstory for Hermione (her relatives recently died in a molasses flood).

    Clearly real life is filled with people playing out their stories in ways that can be confusing and disorienting, that are mysterious to me and not subject to my control or even influence. Becoming not attached to my own scripts, or to my expectations for others’ is a continuing effort. I guess I shouldn’t complain that SL is yet another place to practice!

  3. A molasses flood! One of my favorite historical tragedies!

    Er, I mean, Dear Miss Fussbudget, I am sorry for your loss.

  4. I have found the RPing is a lot like the game “kickball” in the playground. A good game of kickball has everyone involved contributing what they can – everyone is “in” on the game, so to speak. In that case it is a fun, fulfilling experience and usually leaves 80-90% of the folks eager for more.

    “Bad” roleplay usually makes on of the following mistakes:

    1. There is the “in crowd” and “everybody else” – Now there is going to be a little of this due to people knowing each other – and some “RP relationships” where the played characters have some history together – at no point should it be alienating! (The “stand back and shut up” you mentioned in the post is just this sort of thing – if you invite everyone, then everyone needs to be part of the Role-Play!)

    2. Too much scripting. When folks know the exact outcome ahead of time – it isn’t so much role play where things can and will sometimes take an unexpected turn (which is most of the fun – improvising a response of your character to an unexpected situation and everyone else doing the same!) – as “play acting.” Good RP rarely if ever play acts, at least as the main event. Looks like the Caledon folks were play-acting by my definition, and it was not RP by very much. The Machinima cameras would have been the giveaway.

    3. Keep the RP environment and non-RP environment as separated as possible. Meaning – Caledon itself is not so much a light RP environment, as a themed SIM collection. It is not about RP, though some characters are involved in some light RP (such as Herm), but no more than anywhere else in SL. Note in SL all the heavy RP places are explicitly clear about it which serves 2 purposes: A. It allows the preservation of the environment, and B. Keeps the RP consensual. Nothing is worse than being forced into a situation you didn’t intend to find yourself!. This dance did none of that, if you had gone thinking there was a themed dance, despite the rumors, you were forced into play acting for the people in Caledon! Not only is this bad, it violates everyone at the dance who wasn’t “in” on it and also didn’t want to be the “shut up and stand aside” crowd of onlookers!

    Methinks, Kenneth, the Play Acting of Caledon was rather alienating, and while purported to follow RP guidelines failed the “kickball test” we all knew about in the playground!

    This is way too long winded, but in essence, RP is like casting a play – and the dweebs that go around with cameras forcing people to be part of their film are on the same level as the Caledon folks. Thank goodness they took no random hostages from the crowd or made fun of them! >:(

  5. The machinima (at Oolon Sputnik’s blog), comments on the Caledon Forums, and further in-character intrigue and drama on various Caledon blogs reveal the depth of preparation and creativity involved in the effort. I’m still unresolved about how to proceed (in or out of character), but I am much more likely to remain involved now that I have a fuller understanding of what is going on — whether it is RP or play acting is not so important to me.

  6. My sympathies, I’ve been in a few role-play scenes where my character was forced into a path they never would have taken of their own volition, and often I felt expected to come up with a reason why they acted that way, it’s no fun at all. Depth or complexity may give some excuse for it, but whatever the depth and complexity of the script it’s always a painful mis-step for the player of the forced character. I am surprised they invited Caledon military characters and then prevented them from getting involved. I’ve more or less made up my mind to protest the next time this happens to me, in character or out, but I daresay I shan’t.

    Aklev isn’t a well-developed character yet; funnily enough he’s another once-abandoned alt who’s been rescued from inactivity to play in Caledon, and I find myself wondering what he would do were he in Miss Hermione’s position. Assuming he was in the military in the first place I would likely pretend that he had been forcibly restrained from getting involved; an over-reaction perhaps, but one which lends itself to in-character protest.

    As to what Miss Fussbudget could do about her neighbor, may I suggest the pointed ignoring of him at every possible opportunity?

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