Let us preface this by saying that, in our estimation, the majority of players do just fine in this area. For most of you, this shouldn't be considered a lecture or admonition, but rather something educational and hopefully helpful.
It is always the case that some people, a small minority, seem to retreat from engagement with others. This is often noticed directly by us, and also rarely escapes the notice of other players. We've always said that a roleplaying game must be a cooperative experience or it doesn't work, and what's more, isolating yourself from the game world tends to increase burnout and lead to increasing divergence from theme, making it harder for your character to succeed.
So what can be done? Well, if you're a community channel founder, a leading voice in your alliance, or even just a concerned friend, then your first step is to learn to recognize the signs. Once you know what this self-isolating behavior looks like, you can seek to correct it in yourself, provide a good example to others, and gently encourage those around you to roleplay better. Isolation, paradoxically, is usually not achieved alone -- it usually happens with a small group of people who become each others' only source of socialization, who constantly reaffirm each others' preexisting beliefs and enable isolating behavior. But the flip side of this is that if one person in that insular group can break this self-reinforcing cycle and demonstrate the benefits of engagement, the others in the group may come around too.
So, using almost two decades of experience in managing multiplayer games plus a little research, we've put together a couple of lists.
Signs That You Are Isolating Yourself From The Roleplaying Environment
1) You avoid public places and dislike encountering anyone you didn't expect to see.
2) You find yourself grown distant from people who were previously friends who are not in your current group.
3) Everything you do is only with others in the group if at all possible.
4) There are a number of other characters you dislike, and you find yourself not interacting -with- them, but choosing instead to frequently interact -about- them with others in the group.
5) If you do encounter someone outside the group, you will usually go silent and possibly even wordlessly leave the room rather than interact with them.
6) You have frequent, even daily, conversations about people outside the group that reaffirm that you're better off not interacting with them.
7) You don't think critically about what others in the group tell you or seek other perspectives -- the word of anyone in your group is gospel.
8) The knowledge or conclusions of anyone outside the group are usually discounted and disregarded. You don't need them -- you, or perhaps a leading figure in your group, have all the knowledge needed.
9) Whenever someone outside the group questions or criticizes you, you can't help but perceive it as persecution, and your resentment of that person grows.
10) If anyone leaves the group, you are certain they were not justified in doing so.
11) Others outside the group can do no right -- just seeing their name, regardless of what they're saying or doing, usually makes you feel some amount of resentment.
12) There are people outside the group that you find yourself thinking about or resenting almost daily, but it's been many days since you interacted with them directly even though you could have.
13) People outside the group are collectively given an insulting label by those within it -- they're all morons, snobs, idiots, or something similar.
14) You find yourself often speculating about the motivations of characters outside the group, but that doesn't lead you to try to find out from those people directly.
15) You would be happier if certain other people were just not playing the game anymore.
It's possible to exhibit one or two of these behaviors and still have overall good roleplaying practices, but doing most or several of these things is unhealthy behavior in any context, and a multiplayer roleplaying game is no exception. The key issue here is that exhibiting this behavior usually means that you are too close -- things that happen to your character are taken personally by you, the player. Similarly, dislike of another character tends to become dislike of the player. For these reasons, people exhibiting these behaviors are usually also doing at least some metagaming, and in the most extreme circumstances, may be guilty of slandering or harassing the people they dislike. If you've realized through reading this list that you've been exhibiting most of these behaviors, it's time to do some introspection and try to gain some distance from your character. The best thing to do may be to take a break and come back when you feel more grounded and able to take things less personally. It's just a game, and investing your identity into it will lead to unhealthy behavior.
Of course, some of these things can also be deliberate, as a direction in which to consciously take your character. A character behaving irrationally as a conscious, rational decision by the player is often good roleplaying. But even if your character is behaving this way as a conscious choice -- and in our experience, that's a big if -- such a character concept is usually not a good fit for a multiplayer roleplaying game and will lessen the experience in the long term. And it's also not fair to the other players. If a character is constantly being slandered, isn't it only fair play that they get the chance to react to that now and then? Characters can and should occasionally become antagonists to other characters, but the game still must be a cooperative effort between the players. It's perfectly okay for your character to dislike another character, but roleplaying isn't happening if it's always just one way.
So what does good, participatory, cooperative roleplaying look like? Here is a list to contrast with the first one!
Signs That You Are Participating In The Roleplaying Game
1) You spend a good amount of time in public places where you can't control who's around you.
2) While you probably have a small group of close friends, it hasn't prevented you from befriending people outside that group or keeping old friends.
3) Generally speaking, you don't mind doing things with others outside your immediate group of friends.
4) You are generally willing to interact, to play the game, with all characters, even if that means roleplaying an argument. You can roleplay with everyone, not just a few.
5) As circumstances allow, you'll stay active and keep interacting no matter who is around.
6) Conversations about others tend to, sooner or later, lead to an interaction with those people if at all possible.
7) You think critically about what you hear from others within your friend group and are willing to point out inconsistencies without animosity coming from either side. You also seek other perspectives.
8) You find that people outside the group often have valuable input.
9) In the end, you can admit your mistakes without resenting the people who discovered them or pointed them out.
10) If someone leaves the group, while you might momentarily resent them, you can accept that they probably had their own reasons.
11) You don't feel much one way or the other about what people outside the group do if it doesn't have to do with you.
12) When there are people outside the group you dislike, in the end you would rather fight with them or work it out rather than refuse to interact with them at all.
13) Generally, you consider people outside the group to just be other people each doing things for their own reasons, rather than a force working against you.
14) If you find yourself speculating about why someone is saying or doing the things they are, you will probably just ask them before long.
15) You would be happier if certain other people would just roleplay with you more.
Everyone struggles with being too close to their character. That's just an unavoidable fact of roleplaying. What's important is self-awareness -- being aware of when you're slipping into unhealthy behaviors and seeking to correct your character's trajectory. If you want a healthier, happier experience in the game, or in any environment, then trust us, you want to exhibit behaviors like those in the second list and avoid the behaviors in the first one. If you want help with this, please tell us what you need. If you need a break, we'll make sure your character and their items are retained. If you need advice, we'll do our best. If you just want to vent and think "out loud," that's fine too. Use that SUPPORT command and we'll do what we can!