Roleplaying is exactly what it sounds like: playing a role. Imagine a person with a different personality or, at the very least, a different history than yours. Act like this person to the best of your ability. Immerse yourself in the game and pretend the real world does not exist. That's all it takes to do some basic roleplay. For more information on the basics, read the Roleplaying 101 help file.
With the definition out of the way, it's time to talk about best practices! Different games and different people will have different opinions, but this help file describes the methods that we favor here.
IC AND OOC
There are two sides to the player/character relationship: in character, or IC, and out of character, or OOC. If you are playing your role, immersing yourself in the game, and pretending real life does not exist, then you are in character. If you are not doing these things, if you're acting and speaking as the person behind your character, the person at your computer, then you are out of character.
Being OOC is not always bad. Sometimes it's necessary. If something drew you away from the computer unexpectedly and there's no plausible way to explain it, telling the people you're with what happened OOCly may be the best way to handle it.
However, aside from that sort of situation, you should avoid being OOC. You should strive to be in character as much of the time as possible.
WHEN YOU'RE TOO CLOSE
Many players will say, "I'm not that good at roleplaying, so I just play myself." The problem here is that playing yourself is not roleplaying, and just changing sex or age does not necessarily mean that you're not playing yourself. Whenever your IC and OOC beliefs and motivations are exactly the same, you are far too close to the game for roleplaying to be able to occur. Mishaps your character suffers are taken personally instead of adding to the experience of your character's story. When other characters give you trouble, you will dislike that character on a personal level and be tempted to seek their downfall both IC and OOC, either by appealing to the hosts or by spreading rumors about the player outside of the game. Often players will lie outright about other players, both in the game and out of it, in an attempt to get others on "their side."
Remember that a roleplaying game is a cooperative experience. There should be no sides, no tribal-style blocs of players that ostracize others. Even if your character does not like another character, they're still part of your world and they should be someone you can interact with. Negative interactions are roleplaying too! It does not have to mean that you hate the player behind that character. Refusing to interact with a character/player you dislike makes your character act strangely. You will tend to go quiet when that character speaks, let your character idle out of the game, make a swift non-roleplayed exit, or just quietly disconnect. Later, you will often "roleplay" (in the loosest sense of the word) about what occurred with the few people you do interact with (usually out-of-game friends), often blaming the other characters for your own need to never interact with anyone but a small group of self-affirming friends.
This all sounds like an extremely specific situation, but the reality is, it tends to be very, very common. The temptation is great to only interact with characters played by players who you know will approve of all of your actions. But don't compartmentalize your roleplaying in this way! It makes your character look strange or neurotic, sometimes it's outright OOC, and overall it indicates that you don't have the proper separation from your character to be actually roleplaying at all.
Don't get too close, don't let your out-of-game friends become your character's only in-game interactions, and don't compartmentalize or segregate your roleplaying from the game as a whole. It's a whole universe, and it only works properly as a cooperative experience.
It's important to separate IC knowledge and OOC knowledge. Just as an example, sometimes the staff will announce times for upcoming plot events. Announcements are meant for you, the player, and usually do not occur in any IC medium such as message boards or news readers. Therefore, since your character is not psychic, he or she does not know anything is about to happen. You might choose OOCly to have your character around at the proper time, but ICly he or she has some other reason to be there and does not know anything important will happen. This is separating OOC knowledge from your character and it is a very important skill to have.
This can be very difficult when you learn something OOCly, like via instant message from another player, about something another character is doing or is about to do which you would very much like to have some sort of response to. For example, imagine learning OOCly that your in-game boyfriend is cheating on you. Unless you also learn of this ICly, your character does not have this knowledge and you SHOULD NOT act on this OOC knowledge or you are not actually roleplaying. It can be very difficult, but have willpower!
WHEN TO BE OOC
While the ultimate goal is of course to be IC 100% of the time, it is not realistic. There are some situations that can only be refered to in OOC ways, such as a game crash, which some people have tried to mention ICly as some sort of universal problem; or an individual loss of connection being treated as "narcolepsy". While inventive, these explanations do not really fit ICly into the game. Narcolepsy, for instance, would probably make it very difficult or impossible to gain a pilot's licence, and if it was not mentioned in your character's profile would not be valid anyway. Another example would be a person being in a coma, or "sleeping for a week" if they have not been around. People don't sleep for several days at a time, and a coma is still a serious medical condition. If someone has not been seen, at best they are just not on comm, or they may have requested a pass to visit friends or family planetside.
If no plausible in-character explanation exists for something that happened OOCly, the best thing to do is not to try to mention it ICly at all.
WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS?
Continuing from the previous section, really think about the implications of what you have your character say. For example, when a player experiences lag, he might be tempted to announce over the comms that his starship's controls froze up for a few minutes.
So it has now been stated in character that a starship had a complete control failure, perhaps in the middle of battle. This can have several IC implications: 1) Starships have been improperly designed and are unsafe, meaning that the manufacturer is criminally incompetent. 2) An enemy is utilizing a new weapon that disables control, rendering any starship a sitting duck at will, but they choose to employ it only infrequently and randomly. 3) The character is lying and merely covering up his own incompetence, which would be a poor career move.
Which is it? Chances are you have no idea, because you weren't considering any of that. Your intent was not to communicate any IC implications at all. Instead, your statement had only OOC implications -- you meant to communicate that your connection had lagged but you did not wish to use those particular words. As a result, your character is speaking without any IC intent, and other players will react to the statement with only the OOC implication in mind, and their characters will appear to be unconcerned with the prospect that their ships might randomly fail for no reason. None of this will make any sense.
Some things just aren't IC. If your character's statement has only OOC implications, then you are being OOC, regardless of the words you have chosen. OOC statements must be made either in an OOC aside (using the OOCSAY command) or they must not be made at all and instead simply glossed over. Replacing some words with other words does not necessarily make a statement IC.
KEEP IT IN GAME
We have many players here who can't meet another character without immediately wanting to know a way to talk to them in instant message. THIS DOES NOT HELP YOU ROLEPLAY. Talk to that person in the game, in character, and get to know them character-to-character. If you get to know that person and feel like you might like the person behind the character, that might be the time to ask to speak OOCly. But it certainly should not be the first thing you do. Not only does this make it impossible for you or that person to actually interact in-character, it brings down the overall quality of roleplaying for the entire game. When a lot of your interaction with that person begins taking place outside of the game, it means that changes in your relationship and decisions you make together start occurring within the game for what appears to be no reason.
Most players, we suspect, tend to have a particular thought upon being told this: "Well, maybe that's true for most people, but I'm pretty sure I can have lots of out-of-game contact and still keep everything separate." Everyone thinks they're the exception. But the truth is, everyone struggles with properly separating their character from themselves, and if you intentionally make it hard on yourself with lots of out-of-game contact, you will swiftly fail to keep this separation.
Roleplaying is a bit like recycling: it doesn't make a difference if it only happens on Earth Day. It has to happen all the time, even if it's just a little, to raise the overall quality of the effort. Roleplaying is not a special occasion or the exception. You should be roleplaying nearly all of the time you're in the game.
DON'T BE ONE DIMENSIONAL
Real people usually have at least a few things going on. Real people change over time. Real people have flaws and weaknesses, good points and strengths.
One way in which people sometimes fail to have an interesting character is to seize on one unlikely gimmick and base the whole of their character around it. For instance, perhaps your character studied medieval swordfighting for some reason. This is something your character brings up constantly. He emotes pulling out a practice sword and swinging it around in the middle of unrelated conversations. No one really knows anything else about him, and indeed there is probably not much more to know. This is not an interesting character. Do not focus on "unique," focus on "real." Real people are unique and interesting simply because they are individuals.
Another common way that characters are not interesting is when they're used primarily as outlets for stress and aggressiveness. When a character is guilty of this, she often hates everyone except herself and perhaps a tiny circle of friends, invents reasons for this attitude after the fact or seizes on slimly validating bits of otherwise inconsequential theme information, takes advantage of game mechanics to harass or negatively affect other players while remaining anonymous or otherwise denying any possible opportunity to roleplay about it, and, perhaps most importantly, never changes her attitude regardless of the game's evolving plotline or the attitudes of other characters. Distrust is not the same thing as passionate hatred, and demonstrating hatred in a manner which denies any chance for anyone to properly react to it or roleplay about it is unlikely to be strictly IC, and is perhaps closer to the concept of trolling.
In essence, complex characters have several strengths, several interests, but also deliberate flaws. They also evolve and change over time. You may, of course, choose to play your character as an unrepentant jackass, but this attitude taken too far verges into out-of-character trolling territory and, in general, has a negative effect on the game and on how much the players around you enjoy the game. We will, in general, not punish people OOCly for anything that appears, at least on the surface, to be legitimate roleplaying, but characters like this will eventually face in-character consequences. More passive gimmick characters usually require no intervention, as the game is inevitably less interesting for these people and they tend to flame out rapidly on their own.
USE THE STAFF
Wondering how your character and his or her interactions hold up to our standards? Want to make sure some part of your story that you didn't think to include in your profile can fit into the game's theme? Wondering about some obscure aspect of background information or history that we either don't mention anywhere or have just never thought about? Ask the staff! Use the SUPPORT command! We'll talk about it, make a decision, and get back to you. Anything we tell you will be completely canon, meaning that it will become part of the game's ongoing theme and you will never go wrong talking about it. If it's justified by your roleplaying, we can help you add something truly unique to your character's story or share something truly new with other characters. You just have to ask.
BE PROACTIVE, NOT REACTIVE
Games like this can be, and often are, played passively on the part of the players -- the staff put a plotline before the players, perhaps with a few token decisions, and the players are led through the proper course of action until they get to the predetermined endpoint. This is not inherently bad and can often be enjoyable, leading to epic setpieces with explosive conclusions. However, it's a bit like watching television: While you can shout at the screen all you like, the plot is going to play out the same way no matter what you say or do.
Often our plots instead rely on players being proactive. If you know what needs to happen in an ongoing storyline... then try to make it happen! Cooperate with other players, contact NPCs, or do something else to take action. Many of our plots can branch in many different directions, and the outcome relies on the choices made by the players -- and inaction is most certainly a choice, and often not a very good one.
Remember that your character can take almost any action that you can conceive of, as long as it's thematic and consistent with your character concept. If you're not sure what to do or want to explore your options, feel free to open a support ticket with the staff, but keep in mind that it would defeat the purpose if we tell you exactly what to do. Put yourself in your character's head and do what makes sense for them.
- Play a consistent character that is different from yourself.
- Keep OOC and IC knowledge separate.
- If something can only be plausibly referred to OOC, try not to mention it ICly at all.
- Roleplaying never happens outside of the game. Sign off Skype, exit the IM program, and forget about Twitter while you play for the best experience.
- Try to roleplay all the time, as much as possible!
- Roleplay with the entire world, not just with a few players you like. Don't compartmentalize your roleplaying.
- Play a character that feels real.
- Things that you do in the game will have consequences. Play accordingly!
- Be proactive! Don't just wait for things to happen to you, make them happen for you!
MORE TIPS FOR ROLEPLAYING
- Use the EMOTE command to add flavor to your dialogue or to highlight the unique body language of your character.
- However, don't use the EMOTE command to "think" or "wonder" things. Other characters are not psychic!
- Don't OOCly plan out future in-character interactions with someone else. Just do it!
- If you've said something OOCly more than twice in the past minute, you're using OOCsay too much.
- Don't emote about what other people do. For example, "Bill punches Bob in the nose, and Bob grabs his face and falls over and cries" does not give Bob a chance to craft his own reaction to the situation.
- Similarly, take a hint from another character's emotes and respect the player behind him or her. If he or she "pulls away" from you, don't immediately emote about overcoming their effort and keeping them held to you. Give the other player a chance to direct the interaction.
- You can roleplay negative interactions too. Seeing someone you don't like and silently leaving the room, then complaining to a friend later, allows no opportunity to roleplay with the character you dislike. Instead, emote glaring at them as you stand to leave and see what happens! It's all part of human interaction and should not be avoided. Roleplay WITH other people, not just ABOUT them, or it's very unfair!
- You can make things up about your character, but you can't make things up about the game world. Crafting a history for yourself is fine, but crafting a made-up history about your planet or your alliance is beyond your bounds and will almost certainly interfere with the "reality" of the game world.
- Similarly, make sure your character belongs in this world. It might be exciting for your character to once have been the first mate of Space Blackbeard who ended up eaten by insectoid aliens, but none of those things have anything to do with Star Conquest.
- Ask staff for help. Need to know something specific about the game's theme, its history, or anything else that's not mentioned or we haven't thought about before? Ask us! We'll give you a definitive answer and then you can spread that knowledge far and wide through your roleplaying.
- If you think your character would know something ICly that you don't know OOCly, you can ask another player in a quick OOC aside, or ask a host.
- Remember to have character flaws. No one knows everything or is good at everything. In fact, this would make your character quite boring.
- Real people, and realistic characters, change and grow over time. Craft a story for yourself.
- Craft a character that you can have fun with and enjoy your roleplaying.