The Problem(s) with Roleplaying in SL

OK, dramatic title. Many people reading this… BWAHAHAHAHA! Sorry, that last bit amused me. Many people. If only.

Start again.

Dramatic title. Some people reading this will be incensed and think “I rolepay perfectly well in SL, you stupid man!”. Well good, I’m glad. But I don’t. Here’s why:

1) Lack of really immersive environment: Unless you live in a themed sim/sims then it’s hard to roleplay being vampire/Jedi/whatever with a lapdancing club next door and Spongebob cubes screaming above them. Even with a themed sim, you have little to no control who wanders in – from a lost newbie to some berk deliberately taking the piss out of the players, these can all go to ruining the roleplay. And then time dilation or script lag can ruin RP. Other dedicated games such as WoW, Eve or LoTR fair better because they are just that, dedicated to that roleplay game. SL is a creative opportunity where people try and overlay roleplay and it doesn’t always fit well.

2) A Million Stories: Arseholes and stories; everyone has one. Problem is, how do you boil down a million stories into a cohesive rolepayable whole? In dedicated sims, how do you manage an environment where everyone is a Baron or a Vampire Lord or Slave Master or Whatever As Long As Its Important? In the end, the sheer number of voices drown out almost everything.

The bottom line is that RP in SL is hard because of lack of immersion. Immersion is hard in SL because it is hard to control the environment and the environment was never built for roleplay games.

Leaving aside RPing in dedicated sims or communities, what about collaborative RP across blogs? Before I was part of the show, I found myself reading many, many blogs in the hope that in them I would find a new home. I found some good writing and some promising crossovers that hinted at wider community RPing, but almost without exception my attempts to ‘click in’ to them failed with my comments on posts either ignored or dead-ended. After many weeks of trying I gave up.

Take a look at how many blogs tell such tales and them look at the number of comments those posts have – usually around zero. Even on my blog where I get comments to most posts, The Lost Journal, The Island and Backpacking Burro posts get the lowest comments of all, with The Lost Journal getting almost none. It seems people either do not want to read such tales, or do not feel able to comment. Maybe the nature of the tale locks them out, in a way that silly posts or serious discussion-style posts don’t.

But that doesn’t answer question of why authors of such tales seem unwilling to answer comments left on their posts. Without doubt, some will be part of a clique and unwilling to allow others in, but not everyone can be like that. I really don’t know… it seems that most blog RPs are for either a closed community or the author alone.

Sigh, I just don’t think SL is the right place for a good, rich, deep RP experience. But then it never was, I guess.


p.s. I’ll tell you something for nothing – collaboration is fun, yes, but it is also hard. Really. I’m currently working with Darien Mason to complete the tale of the Lost Journal, but because of our time differences and Darien’s current RL commitments the relationship is mainly limited to bouncing ideas about. From my time with the troupe of TSMGO I know how hard it is to get together and actually thrash out a workable act, let alone a whole script. Trying to plan out a tale that involves more people than yourself, all of whom have backgrounds you know little or nothing about, is hard and requires workarounds or frequent pauses to check facts. Still fun though – you should try it. Find a blog you like and plan a tale together 🙂


  1. I agree. And did you know that the Harry Pooter RP sim wouldn’t let tinies come in and RP? I mean, seriously- where else are you going to have talking cats other than a sim devoted to magic. Hrrpmhf! Also? LAME.

    Hey, when are we going to look for Magellan? I’ve been practicing my tea leaf reading!

  2. Not that I’m an emmersive roleplayer… but I think SL provides a unique role-play experience….
    it provides that cartoon network flare to roleplay.

    What if all roleplayers were stuck living in the real virtual world together…. that’s roleplay in SL.

    the gorean has to pass the transformer on the way to get the daily newspaper. The vampire gets abuse reported if he doesn’t ask to bite first.
    I think SL provides a hilarious universe for roleplay. The biggest of the roleplay sims provide a bubble to suspend disbelief, and then there’s more beyond those sim walls if the roleplayer wants to venture beyond.

  3. Many good points regarding role-playing. I’ve opined along the same lines. It’s a tough world out there anyway, between RL, time zones, other SL interests, creative differences of opinion, and the like. After a while, it saps willpower.

    Regarding comments…I read a lot of blogs, and I struggle with the question of when to comment. If I think a blog post is interesting, does the author really want a comment that says just that, or does he prefer comments of more substance? Does it matter if the blog is new or established, with many readers? When does “Hmm, interesting post” get old? On the other side, it takes a little time to type out and send a comment. Just because folks aren’t commenting doesn’t mean they’re not getting pleasure out of the blog. (But I’ll confess that positive feedback is always nice. 🙂 )

  4. @ Doubledown: You are totally right – the over riding immersive experience of SL is normal life – well, as normal as life can be in SL. But in a world where the gorean passes the robot talking to the dragon next to the newbie shouting out for SEX!!!1! how can RP really survive ither than in small does and rareified hothouses that spill over into blogs?

    I *love* SL for the variety it offers – indeed, it’s that variety I have chosen to immerse myself in rather than a specialised sim or RP setting – but all the ame, I do miss somewhere I can go and not be me for a while.

  5. @ Rhianon (beautiful name – did you take it from the Welsh myths?)

    RP: I still need to do some thinking – not everything I wrote says everything I feel, but yes sapping is a good way to describe RP in here. I ran a very good Call of Cthulhu Play by Email game for 3 years and that was a far better immersive experience in many ways even though it was entire text based.

    Comments: I’m on records as being a needy comment whore! I *love* comments and reply to pretty much everyone, even if they are just “Well done!” types. For me a blog is a cold place for 1 person – anywhere is, but that just how & who I am – so I need to have those channels of communication. I’m not into controversial posts so very rarely do I get angry comments and I don’t do the arguing and trolling thing. But at the same time comments are not just about an ego-boost either. For me, and I can only speak for me, they are chats with friends or like-minded people and I love them 🙂

  6. *giggles at ‘comment whore’ in the reply*

    I’m not a comment whore, to use your term, I’m always weirdly surprised when something I post *gets* comments. Even after all this time.

    How’ver, on the topic of RP, I’ve lived on RP sims (three of them, at this point, more if you count Caledon as RP, which I really don’t). You get *somewhat* more immersive experience, being “on the ground”, so to speak, but even with that, you’re right about the wandering newbie factor. Or even people committed to the same concept you are, but who have a radically different take on things.

    I think that the opportunities for enhancing RP are definitely there, and RP *props* abound, which can be helpful–but that roleplay on SL, essentially, is pretty much freeform improv, without an audience to suggest topics.

    If I have good writers, or even good roleplayers, then I can pretty much work around anything I’m thrown. But if I have someone who’s got a radically different storyline in mind, or a group of people whose whole concept of RP is “lol I’m an elf lolol”…this is generally when I decide I have something better to do. Like mending. Or flossing the cat.

  7. “roleplay on SL, essentially, is pretty much freeform improv, without an audience to suggest topics.”

    Emilly, that’s an appropriate way of thinking of it, and certainly lots of folks have commented that they look at rp in SL as improv theater. However, rather than seeing it as improv with no audience, some look at it as improv in which the players are both the actors AND the audience. So in an ideal situation, the actors/audience should feel like they have the latitude to “shout out topics” and see what people can do with them to entertain ourselves and one another.

    Unfortunately, as HBA says, even this only seems to truly work in a “hothouse”–a sim with a dedicated theme, rules, and some means of filtering and orienting greenhorns to minimize the impact of that “lol I’m an elf” factor. And yes that’s frustrating, because while hothouses are good and useful things, the diversity of the grid is one of its remarkable strengths. When me make those “hothouses” in order to carry out specific experiments, we potentially cut off much of the potential of creative cross-fertilization within the larger population.

    No good answer yet. Guess we keep experimenting?

  8. @ The Fragrant Miss Emily Orr: I’m alwyas disapointed when a post gets no comments – I write things I always imagine will have people gigggling away and unable to stop themselves leaving a comment. I’m a deluded soul 🙂

    @ Miss Orr and Dio: I’ve never done the RP Sim thing. I’ve tried with quite a few but never found one I managed to get to grips with. I read the rules and backgrounds and took time to study how they were structured before jumping in, only to find that the sims were virtually empty and had no signs of RP going on. It seems to me that more actually RP takes place outside in blogs and nings and the like, whilst in the sims mini-games/sceanarios were acted out that excluded (I don’t mean excluded in pejorative manner, altough cliqueism does happen) a wider player base.

    It seems to me that careful planning is needed – this shouldn’t be a shock to me really, but it sort of is. I’ll expand on this in a new post today.

  9. Interesting how this topic circles back. I’m having a deja vu moment.

    Dio–Diogenes Kuhr, I believe, if you want to look her up–is involved with Deadwood, a *very* authentic RP sim set in 1876 South Dakota. Very gritty, very real, limited to the ruleset *of* reality: but if you can pull on a human skin and ask for a tour, you might get an idea of what she means.

    Places like Deadwood operate in more theatrical means; I like the concept of both actors *and* audience. Most RP on the grid (all those “dark rp” places people whisper about) is freeform and centered around kidnapping/oh-no-save-me/oh-you-dastardly-villain motifs, with occasional slaying of monsters, despotic takeovers and spreading-plague action.

    In between you have folks like the Europans, who seem to happily operate in and around the freeform, but do follow up major thematic arcs between individual blogs, with the wondrous SL backup of photographic diorama, for lack of a better word. (For which I think SL is ideal.)

    And it depends on what you’re after–if your intent is to rigorously control the overarching arcs (to the extent one can, in SL), then yes, careful planning is *essential*. And you can get some very committed folks on your team, so to speak. If you’re just interested in a fun play space for people to come and help you pay tier–well, those places are fun while they last, but they nearly always fail, more’s the pity.

  10. Hello Miss Orr,

    Interesting points that I decided to cover in the follow on post, but worth covering again here.

    I think it is possible for dedicated RP sims to work, but only with the sheer ballsy will of the person or people in charge – they have to power it on relentlessly, driving it forward whilst endlessly nudging it back on course.

    Much easier (in terms of SL’s limitation, not in terms of player skill), and therefore more prevalent, are the small groups of friends who RP in where ever they call home and then write multiple blog tales.

    I don’t wish to imply either is better than the other as both appeal greatly to me, it’s just that both have issues about them imposed by SL’s limitations that prove… challenging.

    An issue I have negelected to blog but have raised over on Hotspur’s blog is that of rewards and progression . In other RPGs (whether online or not) you move up any number of ladders and this simply doesn’t seem to happen in SL. Maybe this can be written into a HUD system, but I fail to seem how gaining experience in Deadwood (for example only) could alter your charcter – you can’t be faster or smarter or a better shot than before. Playing with friends and writing a few blog posts seems to be the only reward and that stays the same. This will cause many RPers to move on I think, looking for new, different rewards.

  11. Hey HeadBurro,

    I saw your post about this idea over on OToole’s blog, and I think you bring up a real interesting point, about the desirability of a sense of progression being possible–which I think comes down to not just individual players needing to be able to feel that they have opportunities to move ahead and gain an edge that will be useful in conflict and general interaction, but also that the environment as a whole evolves and shifts–otherwise people and the setting will sooner or later get stale.

    The problem of course is that the nature of SL has limited means to provide a progression/reward system through technical means similar to what many rpg type games have built in (“Eef yoo keel sixteen snow moose, you get beeg shiny Magick Helmet!). We have in fact tried that in some ways in Deadwood where you could work in the mines and slowly accumulate gold nuggets that can be exchanged for improved, high end weapons and accouterments. But it’s not like breaking prim rocks can provide you with advances in your status in the sim or the “level” at which you function and interact with others.

    Consequently, the only ways you really can provide that factor is through other types of systems–such as social factoring–which just aren’t as clear and tidy (nor ultimately as fair) as a reward system that is based in the software itself.

    For example, in Deadwood, a sense of progression is achieved in part by the fact that the town moves forward in time (it started in 1876 and now its 1878) and early structures (tents and shanties) are gradually replaced by new more sophisticated structures (some that the owner comes up with, and some that are suggested by the players). To some extent you just surviving and building up your resources within the long-term series of shifting scenarios is a reward.

    Within this evolving environment, the residents can come in and ideally advance in terms of what they are capable of–in effect they must learn the ropes (including learning how to best use weapons or hand to hand fighting skills that are built into the combat system we use), but more importantly they gain respect, influence and connections, through social means.

    Over time, everyone makes friends or enemies that can work for or against you, and both the criminal and lawman types make alliances or arrangements with others on both sides of the law. Other residents work to get elected to town council or county sheriff, and many start a business or add more businesses to their growing little empires, Ultimately one is rewarded though gaining respect and influence, and one does that by interacting creatively and effectivley.

    Another way of showing that you have chops and gaining influence and respect is by suggesting and organizing events or scenarios–and following through on your committments and generally not being a whiny putz in your non-rp interaction with the rest of the community doesn’t hurt either.

    So you earn the “rewards” of influence and respect and connections by both showing you are “game” (willing to take part in other folks scenarios as well as initiate some of your own designing), learning how the town works and who is who, and making smart decisions in how you interact.

    You also gain respect and influence and responsibility in sim by showing you are a good story-teller as well as a good story-maker. Creating a character that is interesting, fun to be around and who evolves gets you ahead in the sim. But at the same time you can’t just show up and put on a tag that says “uber-super lawdog” or “Criminal mastermind and Overlord of all that is evil” and expect people to respect your character or to automatically interact with it in the context that you have chosen for yourself. You have to earn it.

    Yeah, I know, it’s actually an incredibly messy system and it simply can’t be as “fair” as a rewards system that is strictly based on the technology side. But then as an Ethiopian friend of mine used to say, “Hey, life is not fair and once you accept that, you’ll find you get by in the world much better.”

    Seriously though, even with that in mind, and knowing it’s not tidy or entirely fair, we do try to keep improving it. it’s like Aldo Stern always used to say, “SL isn’t just a transitional product it’s a product in transition,” meaning that yes, someday something better WILL come along, but until then the ways the product works and how we use it continually keep changing. It’s an experiment and what we are doing in it are experiments, so it would be a shame if we give up and stop seeing what we can do with this turkey.

  12. An excellent and really well crafted reply – thank you for the time it obviously took to write.

    I actually think that Deadwood seems to have a genius ‘rewards’ system – the growing of a community and of your status within that comm unity is a powerful goal that SL might actually do better than some dedicated RP games like WoW. They will focus on character development interms of skils – SL almost forces you to think of character development in terms of relationships.

    Although the wild west of Deadwood is not for me (Antfarm, PI doesn’t it…) I do think that the systems emplyed in Deadwood would be the ones I’d look to join.

    Is there a Deadwood blog or site I can follow along or just find out more on?

  13. thanks HB,

    go to

    I’d also point out the sim is in two levels:

    there is the “Yankton” area where you tp in, which has vendors, a lecture area, a theater for performances , and a branch of the Deadwood library with sources for information and such. Then you tp down to the actual “Deadwood” rp area where folks are required to stay in character in open chat, take on a human form, wear the period clothing and act like its 1878.

    Up in the non-rp area, anyone and everyone in any form of avie or type of clothing is welcome. Anything can be talked about in open chat, and if you though you might want to stop by and visit, give me a holler, and I’ll try to be up ther when you stop by. I can show you some of the stuff there and we can talk if you like.

  14. Thanks Dio – I’ll check the link out right away. And thank you for the invite – I’ll be sure to pop over and look you up. It’d be nice to have a friendly guide 😀

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s