Since I’ve been tasked recently to write a couple of blog columns about roleplaying (or anything else, really, but I figured roleplaying would be a more relevant topic that leads back to the roleplaying forum in question), I may as well get some practice at writing about roleplaying, which I find I haven’t been doing. One main reason for that is because roleplaying itself is so difficult to explain to somebody who has had no experience. It unfortunately shares the same name as RPGs, which can be tabletop or computer gaming — which themselves have a vast difference. Up to now I have not been able to develop a comprehensive explanation of the kind of roleplaying that I am envisioning, and the looks of confusion on people’s faces make me think that what I’ve been doing must have been some kind of dream, or something that hippies do. And so I gave up on ever talking about roleplays.
However, I shall skip the trouble this time around and assume my readers know the kind of roleplaying I’m talking about (for easy reference, visit a roleplay forum, which you can Google). And I’ll go into some challenges people may face about roleplaying, and also the rewarding parts that cannot be found through solitary writing.
One big challenge is of course the loss of control over the storyline. Many times the eventual roleplay looks nothing like what any of the individual roleplayers expected. You cannot predict what other roleplayers will do. A few roleplayers do try, though, by structuring a gist of how the roleplay should go, but they do this at the risk of restricting creativity. Roleplaying can sometimes be an example of “too many cooks spoil the broth”, and I daresay the quality of a roleplay will never beat the quality of a story written by a professional author, or even just the best of the roleplaying group. If you’re looking for a great final product, roleplaying is not the way to do it (it could be, but it is a more convoluted route that defeats the point, which is the experience).
Sometimes you don’t even have to expect a great final product, because there isn’t a final product at all. So many roleplays just end halfway through because they die from inactivity. Some people also plan roleplays without considering the ending, and they can go on for pages and pages, if you’re lucky. Some roleplays have gone on for tens of pages without showing any sign of ending.
Last of all is the greatest tragedy of roleplaying, which is when you simply lose interest in the tale and cannot imagine what made you so excited in the first place. This is one big reason why roleplays get inactive, aside from lack of time, and it is a lot more likely to happen when people can wait days between posts. Sustaining interest gets more and more difficult in this era of instant gratification and quick distractions, and it requires a lot of commitment to keep this going and invested over the long term.
With these bleak and gloomy disadvantages out of the way, I’ll go into why people still do it despite these costs. The main reason is of course the fun in making a character and casting them in unexpected situations. You don’t know how others will interact with your character, or what romances or conflicts will emerge. You don’t always have a killer plot idea that can tide you through an entire novel, but sometimes you just feel the urge to write and go wherever the encounter takes you.
In addition, the human interaction makes roleplaying much more fun. It’s a collaborative exercise — almost like a game — where everyone gets to exercise their individuality and hopefully take the story on a positive route. You get to make friends, share ideas, sympathise when real life makes it hard for people to post. And you get to learn the writing styles of others, so it helps your own development too.
As you can see, roleplaying is more about the process than the product, and a lot of the time, the process can be the product. It is an activity with its fair share of obstacles, and can ask a lot of time and effort in a person, but you’ll find that your commitment is well worth it, if you meet the right people.