Monday, April 6, 2015

On Dying Well, Man Pain, and Bad Endings: What Final Fantasy XIV Gets Right

Warning:  What follows will include massive amounts of spoilers for Final Fantasy XIV patch 2.55 (and 2.4).  If you have not finished the main story quests in patch 2.55 along with the lengthy closing cut scenes, please proceed with caution.  This post will discuss the major events of this patch in detail and will spoil pretty much everything, so perhaps it's better to wait until you've finished the story before reading this.

I have never made a secret of the fact that I loathe the so-called "grimdark" genre of fiction, and I've come to feel that we're inundated by this desire from creators and writers to be "dark" and "edgy" in nearly every form of media.  Any television show I watch now I go in preparing myself for a favorite character's death, or for some horrific tragedy to befall them.  I cringe at every tragic backstory that's used to give insight into a character's motivation, or to explain why they're an asshole and why it's OK for them to be an asshole.  In video games, I tend to avoid playing ones that I know have endings where nobody really wins, or I have to prepare myself for it and make sure I'm in a good head space beforehand.  Hell, the first time I played through Dragon Age: Origins and lost Alistair at the end, it took me three years before I played through the game again and made the choices that would allow my Hero of Ferelden to keep him, even though I felt those choices were horrible and out of character for the Hero I created.

It's not that I'm young and naive and always want things wrapped up in a neat bow.  I want to see the good guys win the day and see evil vanquished from the realm more often because in real life, it just doesn't happen that way.  Also, it's that too many stories will inflict death on characters for the sole purpose of playing with their audiences' emotions and little else.  My life hasn't been one I'd call easy, and let's just say there's a reason I haven't been able to blog in the last year or so.  Why would I willingly want to play games or watch movies that remind me the world can be a pretty crappy place and that even the supposed good guys are assholes?  These are the things I watch/play when I'm not otherwise engaged in my real life.  I should get to see a world where things work out for the better at least some of the time if only because, well, it's what I want to see.

On the issue of character death in particular, it's not that I don't think characters shouldn't be killed.  If a character must die, I want there to be a reason for their death apart from giving a (usually male) lead fodder and motivation for revenge.  I want to mourn that character without being angry because I can find twenty ways to achieve the same end result without their death (looking at you, Person of Interest).  Again, in real life death and/or horrible accidents befall people for seemingly no reason leaving nothing but questions in their wake.  But in fiction we're not constrained by reality.  We can explain death or give a good reason for it, and, again, sometimes it feels like creators will kill a character just because it's supposed to be sad and tragic, and all too often the characters targeted are women.

Way back when, I wrote a post about Blizzard and women.  In it I talked about how women in Azeroth seem to have a higher than average chance of dying, and often their deaths are used to motivate or only to inflict pain on male characters in the guise of character development.  This isn't something unique to World of Warcraft or Blizzard, of course, and in fact it's been a problem that's plagued comic books, television shows, movies, and video games for years.  It's always disappointing to see a favorite female character disposed of in favor of giving a male character more story, and in some cases downright infuriating.

Like I often do when grappling with feminist and social justice matters, I've questioned myself a great deal after that post.  What sort of character death would I feel was, for lack of a better word, justified?  I didn't really have an answer for that, and that led to a bit of doubt.  Maybe I'd always just be angry to see any woman die regardless of rhyme or reason.  Maybe I really am childish and naive and just plain hate that characters in stories die.  Then I played through the main story quest in patch 2.4 of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn and watched a short-lived character by the name of Moenbryda die before my eyes.

Who wouldn't want to marry her?
And her death didn't make me angry.

Oh, yes, I mourned her because for the short time she was part of the story, she made such an impression that I made a comment on Twitter about her being my "future video game wife."  I wanted to see her hang around, but ultimately I was OK with her death.  I've been marinating in my reaction for quite some time wondering why her death didn't send me into a great feminist rant like Leza Farwalker's (formerly Dawnchaser) death in World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria did.  Was I being a hypocrite?  Was this sour grapes because FFXIV has overall better representation for women?  Or was it that I wasn't shocked because it's Final Fantasy and at least one character's death is pretty notorious even to people who've never played the series?

Perhaps it sounds silly to some of you, but I did do a lot of soul searching over this.  For me, and many other feminists I know, challenging ourselves like this is part of how we grow and continue to change.  My stance on Blizzard and women never wavered, but I continued to be baffled by why FFXIV wasn't making me angry.  At first, I chalked it up to Moenbryda being a minor character and somewhat of a plot device, but after patch 2.55 and another beloved character's death, I think I have some answers.

In my post on Blizzard and women, I focused a bit on how characters die.  I said that women in Azeroth were passive in their deaths, that it was something that happened to them rather than them being active participants in it.  For example, childbirth or a stray rock thrown in a riot.  For male characters, there was often an element of self-sacrifice involved (Rhonin's sacrifice at the battle of Theramore).  The death of women served as fodder for male characters to drive them to depression and/or murderous rampages.  The death of men was something great and noble, and when women tried to seek vengeance, they were denied and/or villified for it.  In at least one case, the woman in question was given patronizing speeches by men to make her see the light.

This, I've come to realize, is where FFXIV got it right with Moenbryda, and then again in 2.55 with a major character death.  To understand what I mean, first I need to explain who Moenbryda was and how she died.


Moenbryda is a Seawolf Roegadyn who was an apprentice of the late Louisoux Levellieur.  She's introduced to us in patch 2.4 as someone who has been researching auracite, a type of crystal that the Scions believe can be altered to bring true death to the immortal (and evil) Ascians.  Rather than being some random scholar the Scions have never heard about, Moenbryda has a history with both Urianger and Yda.  When we first encounter her, she openly flirts with Urianger and makes the normally composed and stiff Scion rather ruffled and obviously embarrassed.  (Whether she flirts with Urianger precisely because of his reaction, or if she and Urianger have a romantic past is left open for debate.  I like to think they did, or that Moenbryda was hoping to start one.)  Yda also talks favorably of Moenbryda and obviously cares for her as a friend.

Though we've never heard of Moenbryda before, her presence doesn't feel out of place and her history seems natural.  Within these few quests we're able to see Moenbryda as a caring friend with a sense of humor, an intelligent scholar, and a fierce warrior who will defend her friends with her very life.  She's given depth and dimension some NPCs never see for entire expansions, which speaks volumes as to the writing and I feel compelled to give a kudos there.

Moenbryda understands.
At the climax of the arc, the Ascian Nabriales turns up at the Scions' base to steal Louisoux's staff.  When he threatens the Scions' leader, Minfilia, Moendbryda steps in with her axe, but is promptly impaled and thrown back by Nabriales's magic.  He then takes Minfilia through a portal and we're urged by a mortally wounded Moenbryda to go get her.  (At this point I feel compelled to mention that I will likely be discussing this part of the quest in a separate post focusing partially on Minfilia herself.)  When we return after saving Minfilia, another small skirmish ensues in which we're told to use the auracite to vanquish him.  Of course, it's not enough to defeat him, so Moenbryda, after a speech about finally understanding her mentor Louisoux's sacrifice, gives her life so that we, the hero, can kill Nabriales once and for all and save both the Scions and Eorzea.
Moenbryda accepts death.

Unlike in World of Warcraft, where heroes too often tend to die off-screen or in books, we watch Moenbryda step into the light and give up her lifeforce to power the auracite.  We see her smile as she says goodbye and see her find peace in her decision and knowledge that she is dying for the greater good, just like Louisoux.  It was a powerful scene, one that was made to tug at the heartstrings.

In the aftermath of her death, the Scions grieve, particularly Urianger and Yda.  In keeping with his character, Urianger is private in his thoughts, only explaining that Louisoux kept Moenbryda at arm's length after learning what he'd have to do in order to save Eorzea and he didn't want her influenced by his decision.  He's happy that she came to understand Louisoux loved her and only pushed her away to spare her pain.  Urianger does ask Minfillia for time away to grieve, and states he's going to search for the missing Students of Baldesion, an endeavor of which Moenbryda would approve.  There's no big dramatic scene where Urianger swears vengeance on the remaining Ascians, and he doens't fall into a deep depression and wallow in his grief.  He continues working, and he does that for Moenbryda.

Apart from that, we're not given much insight into Urianger's grieving process, which isn't to say Moenbryda is forgotten, far from it.  We attend a memorial service for Moenbryda, and time and time again Minfillia and others remark that it's unfair we have no time to properly mourn because there are many other dangers and enemies still left to confront.  This theme continues into patch 2.55 where we have a chat with Yda and bring flowers to Moenbryda's memorial site.  Yda's grief feels very real and natural.  She's continuing on, though it's obvious she's feeling lost and sad, and she talks about how her friend would be angry to see her in such a state, a familar sentiment for anyone who has ever lost a loved one.

And this is why I'm not angry.  Moenbryda's death was a good death, if there can ever be such a thing.  She sacrificed herself in a way normally reserved for male characters to die, and instead of having her die to push other characters to vengeance, she's remembered for her sacrifice and her friendship.  What's more is that her death isn't forgotten, we watch the remaining characters grieve for her and know that her death is allowing them to learn more about auracite and how to fight the Ascians.

But what about when character's don't sacrifice themselves?  What of characters whose death do drive a male protagonist to seek vengeance?

Nanamo and Raubahn

Nanamo and Raubahn
Sultana Nanamo Ul Namo is the leader of the city-state of Ul'dah.  Though she's ruler by bloodline, in truth she's more of a figurehead who must battle for power against the Syndicate, a council whose members are comprised of the richest merchants in Ul'dah.  To simplify things a bit, Nanamo is essentially a socialist while the Monetarist faction of the Syndicate are capitalists who are always looking for profit over the social welfare of those less fortunate.  Early in ARR, after a memorial service for those lost in the Calamity, her military commander Raubahn Aldynn explains that Nanamo understands her people's suffering and has been trying her best to ease that suffering, but every attempt to aid the poor and the refugees of the Calamity are thwarted by the Syndicate time and time again.

Throughout the main story quests we're given glimpses into the politcs of Ul'dah and see Nanamo struggle to make the best decisions for her people.  We also see how devoted and loyal Raubahn is to her.  Raubahn, a former gladiator who purchased a spot on the Syndicate and reinstated the Immortal Flames company to serve as the Sultana's army, believes in Nanamo's vision for Ul'dah.  His military genius and her compassion make the two of them together a good force for Ul'dah.  He's also one of her closest confidants and a true friend to her.

Alphinaud explains Ul'dah's sigil.
Due to her continued struggle with the Syndicate and the discovery of treacherous plots happening right under her nose, Nanamo comes to the conclusion that the best chance for Ul'dah's is for her to abdicate the throne.  In 2.55 she calls for a private audience with the Warrior of Light (the player) and reveals her plan.  She speaks of making Ul'dah a "true republic" that is "ruled by the people" and not only those with enough money to buy power.  In return, she requests that we help Raubahn in the trying times to come so that he can establish this new Ul'dah.  Following this revelation, we're left to watch helpless as Nanamo drinks a glass of poisoned wine and dies before our eyes in a fairly disturbing cut scene.

While we're being framed for her murder, the Monetarist leader responsible for her assassination publicly taunts Raubahn, an action that turns out to be very hazardous to his health.  Raubahn kills him and then later engages in a battle with his former friend who claims responsibilty for Nanamo's murder, losing his left arm in the fight.  Raubahn continues to fight so that we can escape with the Scions.  At the end of 2.55, we see him imprisoned behind bars with a bandange on what's left of his arm while his face is contorted in what can only be described as an expression of sheer rage.

Yes, Nanamo's assassination provided Raubahn with pain and will serve as his motivation for vengeance against those responsible.  Of course, he'd already promised to take the Monetarists down prior to Nanamo's death, it's just now the gloves are off and feels he has nothing to lose but his life.  But just as Urianger's reaction to Moenbryda's death was in keeping with his character, Raubahn's violent reaction is in character for him as well.  He was a refugee whose people were displaced by the Garlean Empire, and he became a gladiator to survive.  Violence is how he lived, a violence that was tempered by his love and belief in Nanamo.  Also, it wasn't only that Nanamo was killed, it was that Ul'dah is now completely within the Monetarists' control.  He has very few options open to him except flight or fight, and well, he's a fighter.

Yet, Nanamo's death isn't just about Raubahn.  Nanamo wasn't killed to get to Raubahn or to just to piss him off, she was killed to stop her from doing something that would have completely foiled the villains' plans.  While her power as a ruler was all but crippled, her ability to give up her throne granted her more power than the Syndicate and Monetarists could combat.  What's more, she was opening the door for all those impoverished citizens and refugees to become equals to those with wealth and influence.  By himself, Raubahn wasn't a big enough threat to the villains for them to take him out directly, and the fact that he is allowed to live albeit behind bars, shows Nanamo was the more powerful and important of the two.  His rage and anger are a by-product.  (Granted, you know the bad guys are going to regret letting Raubahn live because that's just how these things tend to work out in the end.)

Bad Endings

As you can probably guess, patch 2.55 brought about a lot of changes.  After watching the hour's worth of cut scenes, I was left in a puddle of emotions in my chair.  The end to ARR is not one that can be called a good ending in the sense that the good guys come out on top.  In fact, it's quite the opposite.

Borrowing a page from the Kobayashi Maru, SquareEnix gave their player base a "no win" scenario.  Framed for the murder of Nanamo and with the Crystal Braves no longer under Alphinaud's command, we're unable to prove our innocence to a corrupt system controlled by our enemies.  To stand and fight means a certain defeat and will assure the villains' victory.  We flee Ul'dah with the Scions who sacrifice themselves one by one to ensure our escape until we're all that's left.  With little more than the clothes on our back, few allies, and fewer safehavens to go to, we arrive in the cold of Coerthas with the realization that everything we fought for throughout A Realm Reborn has been for naught.  The final chapter before Heavensward ends with Tataru reminding Alphinaud and us that hope yet remains and it is that hope we must hold onto if we're to survive the coming journey North into Ishgard.

In most other games, this sort of ending would make me incredibly angry.  As I said at the start of this, I like to see evil doers vanquished and the heroes win.  Yet, oddly, despite my heartache over the loss of Nanamo and others (who may or may not also be dead), I came away feeling sated.  Sure, the knowledge the story will continue in the next expansion helps, but it's not just that.  The ending felt authentic and, in a way, congruent to how ARR started.  There was no Calamity, but we have been torn down in a different way this time and must rebuild from scratch, this time without the assistance and knowledge of our enigmatic friends the Scions.

With constant civil unrest in Ul'dah, primals summoned left and right throughout Eorzea, the imminent threat of a Garlean invasion, and Dravanians reigniting a centuries' old war with Ishgard, there was no way for ARR to wrap the various story lines up in a neat little bow.  Plus, going into Ishgard essentially alone is a frightening prospect.  We are the Warrior of Light, but our image is tarnished.  While many know we're innocent, others may not be so easily convinced.  Add to that we are but one person facing the possibility of war with not one, but two armies.  It makes me eager to see how we're going to resolve this, and how the friends we've made in ARR will change and what will become of them in Heavensward.  I think, in the end, it would have been highly unsatisfying if everything had somehow been wrapped up neatly for Heavensward.

None of this is to say that FFXIV is a perfect feminist MMO utopia, far (very far) from it.  There are issues within the game, ones I hope to discuss in other posts to come.  However, I felt it important to document what FFXIV did different, and in my opinion, better than other games have when it came to handling death.  It's not often that I truly get to laud a game like this, especially when it involves events and tropes I usually hate.  It was also a good opportunity for me to blow the dust off this blog and return after nearly a year of silence.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

On Being Gender Blind

Yes, the roleplay guide posts will resume shortly, possibly this week and next week.  I've been dealing with fun things in real life involving giving my blood to strange people so they can tell me all the things wrong with me.  (It turns out there's not much apart from inheriting my father's stubborn veins, thankfully.)  Of course, not having the time/energy to do the RP post doesn't mean other things aren't coming across my radar that I'd like to talk about.  This week the stars have aligned in such a way that something pinged more than once and I wanted to touch on it.

It started Monday with Brian Patterson's webcomic D20 Monkey.  The comic that day concerned one of the regular cast members, Jeannie, a woman who is, naturally, a gamer.  While by no means anything I'd term a feminist comic, Patterson does occasionally poke at the problematic elements of gaming and geek culture, and Monday was one of those days.  This time it concerned Jeannie's personal experiences as a table-top GM trying to put together a campaign.  It's pretty funny and, sadly, a bit spot-on regarding the sexism and immaturity many women have experienced, but it was the middle panel that got my attention the most.

D20 Monkey
Then, yesterday on Twitter someone lamented the fact that people feel the need to identify what sort of gamer they are by gender (and sometimes sexuality).  "Why can't we all just be gamers?" they asked.  The ideal gamer, the "good" gamer shouldn't see race or gender.  We should all be able to enjoy a game without mentioning our sexuality, our race, or our gender.  Sounds like a great idea, right?  It's not.

In social justice circles we often encounter the concept of color and other types of "blindness."  It's intended as a way of saying we're all equal and we're all human and should be treated based on our merits and accomplishments rather than the things that are beyond our control.  While definitely a laudable goal, this type of "blindness" ignores the very real fact that we can see skin color and gender.*  In fact, colorblindness is a form of racism because it ignores the historic and continued impact of racism in our society.  To be colorblind is to be in a position of privilege since those who claim colorblindness are often white and, thus, do not experience racism and don't always see the many ways racism affects the day-to-day life of non-whites.  Likewise, to claim you don't see gender in gaming is to ignore the very real fact that women must endure sexism and misogyny at every level in the gaming industry.

From artwork, to development, to stories, and even to the players themselves, feminist gamers see sexism and misogyny on an almost daily basis, not because we want to or we're looking for it, but because it's an extension of our culture.  It's more apparent to us because we've experienced it and can see a pattern, and we also know that sexism isn't always blatantly obvious to those who never have to worry about it (namely men).

The problem with asking me to shut up about being a woman who enjoys gaming is that there are men out there who genuinely believe women don't play video games, or that if we do, we're a small minority.  The reality is that we make up half the gaming market, but that is in no way reflected in the mainstream gaming industry.  Right now, I know women who hide their gender online because they fear harassment, and there are countless accounts from other women to provide more than enough validity to those fears.  And even when men in the industry are caught sexually harassing a female developer in such a way that no one can deny it happened, they are able to continue their careers with little or no penalty.  The issue isn't that these women exist in a way that makes it obvious they're women, the issue is that sexism and misogyny exist and that we allow it to continue.

When you say we shouldn't bring up gender in our identities as gamers, what you're really asking us is to pretend we're men.  You're really saying, "It makes me feel uncomfortable to acknowledge there are differences in how we're treated, bur rather than address the inequality I want you to act like it doesn't exist."

Pretending we're equal doesn't make us equal, and in doing so we only reinforce the status quo.  We must acknowledge the problems in our community, and we must address them if we want to see change.  If it makes you uncomfortable or maybe makes you feel somewhat culpable for not calling out the bad behavior when you see it, then good.  I want you to be aware of it.  I want you to feel icky because it means you're listening and you're realizing there is a very real problem.

It's important that I'm here as a woman.  I want game developers and creators to see me enjoying their games, and I want them to see women characters as more than plot devices.  I exist and that deserves acknowledgment.

* = I recognize not every person identifies as male or female, and that there are non-binary genders.  I'm addressing the fact that people assume gender on the basis of appearance, which in itself is an issue.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The 101 Problem

“And it took a little out of me too, let me tell you.  And after that little effort, I tangled with a fella who knew a little something about fencing.  And after that, I spent a few happy moments grappling with a giant.  And after that, I had to outfake a Sicilian to death when any mistake meant it was a knife in the throat for you.  And after that I’ve run my lungs out a couple of hours.  And after that I was pushed two hundred feet down a rock ravine.  I’m tired, Buttercup; do you understand tired?  I’ve put in a night, is what I’m trying to get through to you.”'
- The Princess Bride by William Goldman, 1973

I'm going to take a brief break from my roleplay guide to discuss something that's been bothering me for a long while now, and after yet another controversy in the Blizzard community centered around sexism, I feel now is the best time to address it.  This is going to get a little ranty, so bear with me because, as I said, this is stuff that's been percolating in my head for a few months.

It starts the same every time.  In one community or another, a social justice/feminist issue arises.  Feminists and/or those who experience marginalization related to whatever the issue is begin to talk about it and express anger, disappointment, concern, or all three.  For the majority of people involved, it's not the first time this issue has come up and it (sadly) isn't likely to be the last.  Most of people involved are well versed in the issue and the problems and history surrounding it.  A conversation starts and those involved use the discussion to vent and to try and discover ways to address the issue so it doesn't happen again.  Yet, they never get very far before outsiders, usually those who are privileged and never experience the prejudice being discussed, barrel into the conversation.  The outsiders start asking questions.  What is this problem?  Why is this a problem?  Then, no matter what answers the outsiders get, they start demanding evidence and asking more questions, some of which have absolutely nothing to do with the issue at hand.  The outsiders then appoint themselves as arbiters of What Truly Matters(TM), declare there's not a problem and that everyone should just move on, and then they gleefully pat themselves on the back for being Rational and Logical while telling the other party they're Hypersensitive and Overly Emotional.  If the outsiders can't see the problem, then clearly there is none.

After that, the conversation dwindles to nothing because the originators are effectively silenced and virtually everyone involved is angry, hurt, and/or exhausted.  A few days or weeks later, the same issue (or another, similar issue) crops up and folks in the social justice/feminist circles strike up a conversation.  Outsiders jump into the discussion and start making demands.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

Every single time someone at Blizzard (or another entity not necessarily related to a game company) steps in a pile of sexist shit, this happens.  Every single time feminists try to talk about the issue, demands are made of us to educate everyone on the very basics of feminism and social justice and then we're also tasked with bringing up every piece of evidence that has ever been collected on the matter.  Then, as if that's not enough, we must do all this while practicing complete emotional detachment lest we be accused of being angry or mean or toxic.  After all, our lived experience is only validated so long as we don't get all emotional and touchy-feelly about it.

I've seen people lament that the community is sluggish and resistant to change, and that's true.  There has been change, little bits here and there, but overall progress has been virtually non-existent in certain key areas as yesterday's response to the WoWInsider post about Blizzard's horrible draenei April Fool's joke showed us.  I spent a little time yesterday delving into the very basics of feminism on Twitter and saw, yet again, feminists having to educate others on why the "joke" was problematic and why many women were upset by it.  I saw the same, tired requests to "be nice" and reminders that "it's just a game."  I saw accusations from one set of feminists calling another set toxic because they believed they were being treated awfully for saying the joke didn't bother them.  By the end of it, people were unfollowed or blocked on Twitter, and there were a lot of hurt feelings and aggravation because, hey, didn't we just have this same conversation a few weeks ago about something else?

I've come to believe part of the reason the Blizzard community (among others) has been so resistant to change is because we are constantly bogged down in Social Justice 101 lessons.  We can't have a nuanced conversation that addresses the crux of the problem due to this constant need to remind everyone that, yes, sexism and misogyny does exist in gaming and is a very real problem.  Nothing is ever going to change if we must stop every time to take privileged folks by the hand and educate them as to the whos, whats, wheres, and hows of social justice.  To demand oppressed people educate their oppressors is asinine, and yet we constantly do it.  The reason it feels like we're repeating ourselves is because we are, over and over and over.

To quote Westley from the novel version of The Princess Bride, I'm tired, Buttercup.

Personally I'm ready to move beyond the 101.  I've been here for years and, quite frankly, I'm sick of waiting for everyone else to catch up.  If a person can't come into the conversation accepting the very basic premise that sexism is real (as are racism, homophobia, and transphobia), then I don't have time for them.  If a privileged party can't engage in discourse without knowing why it's offensive to request marginalized people not express anger or emotions in general while discussing emotionally charged subject matter, then they don't belong in the conversation.  If a person demands I educate them on very basic tenets of feminism despite the numerous resources available and can't be bothered to do a simple Google search, then I'm going to ignore them.

Furthermore, it's time to disabuse ourselves of the notion that we have to play nice.  I don't mean we have free license to be assholes; however, we don't have to be friends with everyone.  We talk about these things like they're important because they are important.  Sexism and misogyny aren't just restricted to the games we play or the movies we watch, they're a truth of our everyday experience in the real world.  We live this, so yes, some of us are going to be angry when we talk about it.  We're especially going to be angry if you're rude enough to approach this as a hypothetical and not accept it as real.  Kudos to you if you only have to experience sexism as a theory.  It's not a theory for me and me not being Emily Post and offering you tea and crumpets in the face of you trying to invalidate me doesn't change that.  Oppression exists independent of the emotional state of the oppressed person.

For other feminists we need to remember that we are, each of us, human and that means we all come to the table with different experiences and interests.  Within our own group we aren't free from the racism, transphobia, or even the sexism and misogyny we fight against and some of us have our own privileges we must be aware of.  Feminists are not required to agree on every single topic, and it'd be a bad thing if we did agree 100% of the time otherwise nothing would ever change.  Just because you don't view something as problematic doesn't mean the other feminists who do are "toxic" or bullying you.  (And please, please, please take note that saying "I'm a woman/feminist and [issue] doesn't bother me," can be viewed as a silencing tactic.  Either don't engage or simply explain why you don't think it's an issue and try to understand why the other party thinks differently or know that their lived experience might differ greatly from yours.)  No one is a gatekeeper and no one gets to decide which matter is more important for the whole.

Finally, to the people who identify themselves as allies, or who want to be allies, when you join in a conversation please try to remember it's not about you.  A huge part about being an ally is learning when it's time to speak up and when it's better to, in the immortal words of MC Hammer Vanilla Ice (oh geeze, of all the things to screw up), stop, collaborate, and listen.  Take the initiative and educate yourself.  Read, read, and when you're done reading, read some more.  Ask questions if you must, but don't interrupt a conversation or ask a question unrelated to the subject being discussed.  And, for the love of fluffy kittens and pudgy puppies, accept that you don't get to tell people what is or isn't offensive.

Meaningful and respectful discourse can't occur if one party insists the problem isn't real.  Change isn't going to happen so long as we are required to play the part of the educator and are never allowed to move beyond the 101 level.  We never get around to addressing and fixing the problems in our community because we can't even get to the conversation about how to solve it.  Our words never reach the ears of the people who need to hear them because they never escape our circle and the ones trying to silence us make it look like it's unimportant and childish bickering.  I'm done with holding 101 lessons for people who obviously don't care to go to the next level and don't want there to be any change.  This is my line in the sand and I'm telling you to come to the conversation prepared or pack your bags and go home because I've heard it all before and I'm ready for something new.

I'm going to end this with a list of links to blog posts you need to read all of which encapsulate the many problems that flared up yesterday and anytime there's a new "controversy" in the WoW community.

Further Reading:

Tzufit - Rules of Engagement: A Primer for Discussing Sexism in WoW - Excellent post specific to the WoW community, yet full of helpful links, terms, and advice for navigating conversations regarding social justice matters.

Apple Cider Mage - Feminists All the Way Down - ACM talks about internalized sexism and misogyny in women and her personal journey to feminism.  There's been quite a bit of internalized sexism happening of late.

The Gender Bender Blog - Another 101 Fact: There is no such thing as reverse sexism. - For all the ones who say "Men have it just as bad!" or "You're being sexist against men!"  Additionally, Racialicious's "Reverse Oppression: A Fad that Needs to End" breaks down the problem with "reverse bigotry."

Shakesville - #IAskedPolitely and the accompanying Twitter responses (WARNING: Some of the tweets are inappropriate, gross, and/or miss the point of the hashtag entirely.) - People on twitter shared personal experiences to demonstrate why being nice and polite often isn't enough.

Derailing for Dummies - A Guide to Derailing Conversations - A satirical guide covering the common ways people derail conversations regarding marginalization and oppression.  (In case I have to spell it out, this is NOT a how-to guide, unless you intend to be an asshole.)

Geek Feminism Wiki - Privilege - Many people fail to understand what feminists mean when we say privilege.  If someone says you benefit from privilege, they don't mean your life was easy or that you never experienced tragedy, they are specifically referring to ways in which your skin color, gender, or sexual orientation benefit you in our society.

Lipmag - Broadening Feminism[s]: Intersectionality 101 - An important read and reminder that it's possible to experience both oppression and privilege, and why it is that one group might see marginalization while another doesn't.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Folami's Guide to Roleplaying for Noobs (Part 3)

Part 3: Roleplay Add-Ons

MyRoleplay (MRP)

MyRoleplay (MRP) is an add-on popular with many, many roleplayers.  It's small, easy to use, and allows you to provide other players with information as a means of advertising your character and your desire to roleplay (or, as you'll see, your desire not to roleplay at any given moment).  MyRoleplay is not the only add-on for roleplayers, but it's the one I've found simplest to learn and one I feel is great for beginners.

First things first.  If you've never used an add-on, here's a picture guide on how to do it.  If that's not enough or you're not a Windows user, googling "World of Warcraft how to install addons" will bring up a wealth of helpful links.

MRP Basics

For the purposes of this portion of the guide, I'm going to be using my draenei priest Kryses.  She's someone I've had in my stable for a long while, but I never quite got around to filling out her MRP profile.  Hey, thanks for being my inspiration for completing this task.

At any rate, once you've installed and loaded the add-on from your log in screen, log into the desire roleplay character and bring up their character screen.  The default keybind for this is "c."  There will be a new tab added to the default tabs at the bottom of the window labeled "MyRolePlay."

Clicking on that tab will open bring up the screen from which to edit your MRP profile.  From here, it's just a matter of clicking on the red bar to bring up an edit window for that section.

In the previous entry, I talked about creating a character sheet.  As you can see, much of what was covered in that entry is also applicable here; however, the character sheet is for your reference.  Your MRP profile is for other players to get an idea of who your character is.  You can put as much or as little as you like in each of these sections.  At the very least you should fill out the top section and consider tossing a couple of sentences into the description section.

For Name, be aware that when you set your character status to indicate you are in character, your name in the chat window will also change.  Here's what happened when I put the name Jane Smith into the Name field and set my status to in character.

I'm creative with names.

This change is only seen by you and other players with MRP (or other roleplay add-on) and will only work for your realm and for people in your faction.  (Note: I'm unclear to how this works with connected realms, but I assume it treats it as though you are on the same realm.)  Players without MRP, members of the opposing faction, or players who are on another realm will still see whatever name is on the armory.

In the default UI a little window pops up whenever you hover over a character's avatar or their nameplate listing their name, guild (if they have one), class, and level.  MRP takes that window and adds to it depending upon what you put into each section.  Here's how each of these sections correspond to your window or "flag":

Click for larger image.

Before I get into what each section means, I just want to note that blank sections won't appear in your MRP flag, so it's fine if you don't have a nickname or don't want to share it.

Now, what the heck does it mean by Title or House?  As you can see, Title differs from titles you earn via in-game achievements.  For Kryses I chose Anchorite as that is a title applied to priests in draenei culture (as Vindicator is given to paladins).  As with nicknames, not every character will or should have a title and each race might have different rules or even different sorts of titles for various classes or social level.

House is something I see used more among blood elf roleplayers and humans.  My impression has always been that this is more for races where noble families are prominent and there's something akin to a medieval feudal system in place.  The best example I can give is if this were Game of Thrones, your character might belong to House Stark or House Lannister.  I typically leave this blank as none of my characters belong to any such group or guild.

The section marked Currently is to let other players know what your character is currently doing in character.  Some examples are, "Grabbing a drink at the Pig and Whistle," or, "Browsing the wares in the Bazaar."  Other players will use it to note something specific about their appearance that's not normal for them or is temporary not worth changing their description.  "Her arm is in a cast," or, "His left eye is swollen."  If you're looking to encourage other roleplayers to engage in conversation with your character, offer something like "Is staring at a map and appears lost."

Roleplaying Style

The bottom two parts of both the flag and the MRP edit window tell other players what sort of roleplayer you are and whether you are in character (IC) or out of character (OOC).  First, let's talk about roleplaying style.

Click for larger image.

Hovering over each of these options will tell you what each typically means, so use your best judgment when selecting your style.  You can also choose a custom setting which many people use to express interest in a specific type of roleplaying style.  There's no universal list of terms to refer to and one person's definition of "Mature" will vary from another's, but there are a couple of terms that you might see.

Paragraph/Storyteller: These are roleplayers who are extremely descriptive and will tend to write, literally, two or more paragraphs per reply.  Usually these players will roleplay elaborate combat scenarios in public spaces and it typically takes several minutes between replies.  This style of roleplay can be rather disruptive if done in local chat in a high population area like Stormwind where many conversations can be happening at once.  I've lost track of roleplay before due to having my chat window suddenly explode with several sentences from the same person.

Mature/Adult: As I said, this will vary from user to user, but for me it means I'm willing to engage in roleplay scenarios that might exceed, say, a PG rating if this were a movie.  Drinking, swearing, and/or mild violence as you might find in a PG-13 to R rated movie is fine with me.  For me this does not mean anything sexual, but other players may consider these terms to include sexual content.

Horror/Macabre: Pretty much what you think.  They're willing to roleplay stories with elements of horror and potentially gore.  It's not so out of place in a game with obvious Lovecraft references and Victorian styled werewolves.

Literate:  This is supposed to express a desire to roleplay with others who demonstrate a good grasp of the English language and punctuation and grammar.  While there's certainly an argument to be made for communication, I personally dislike using this specific term for several reasons.  Chiefly, I feel it can be a little alienating to players for whom English is a second language and who may not know the same language rules I learned in school as a native speaker.  Seeing this term sometimes makes a player fear their grammatical errors will be teased or used to dismiss them as a "legitimate" roleplayer, which is totally unfair.  Knowing how to use a semicolon and never confusing your and you're doesn't make you a great roleplayer, it just makes you someone who knows grammar and punctuation.

ERP/Non-ERP: This indicates the player is willing/not willing to engage in sexual roleplay otherwise known as erotic roleplay.  We'll talk about this more in depth later, but for now I want you aware of what the terms mean because it's important to be forewarned of what you might encounter.  I will also note that if you do wish to engage in ERP, keep it out of public chat.  Not only is it against the Terms of Service, it's incredibly rude and gross to subject people to sexual roleplay who have not consented to it.

These are just a few terms and it's likely you'll see many different custom settings.  See what's out there that might fit your style, or just stick with one of the styles provided by MRP.

Character Status

Click for larger image.

Again, hovering over each of the statuses will tell you what each of them may mean.  Note that "storyteller" as a status is different from what it might mean as a roleplaying style.  Select whichever status fits you best.  Use the custom if you need to indicate a special circumstance to your being in character at any given moment.  For example, on my human warlock I tend to make a note that if she has a demon out, I'm not in character or to pretend the demon isn't there.

As with style, there are some different terms for custom status, but the most often-used one refers to "walk-up" RP.  This means a player is open to having characters simply approach them even if their character doesn't know yours.  Think of it like approaching a stranger at a party and striking up a conversation and you have an idea of what walk-up RP means.

Description and History

We've covered this in the previous entry, but for MRP it's a good idea to go with the motto "less is more" approach when considering what to include here.  Space isn't necessarily at a premium, but other players' attention spans are.  Try to avoid spending several sentences describing the luxuriousness of your character's mane and do your best to keep it brief but interesting.  Admittedly brevity isn't one of my best attributes as a writer.

Remember, description will be mostly for talking about what your character looks like and what sort of personality they have.  Here's what I've put for Kryses:
Standing at average height for a draenei, Kryses is somewhat bewildered at suddenly being the tallest person in a room when working among members of different races.  Further confounding her is the idea that her white hair sometimes gives others the idea she's venerable and wizened when she still thinks of herself as young and occasionally naive, and she sort of is, for a draenei at least.  Still, she doesn't hesitate to draw upon her life's experience when friends approach her for advice or when passing knowledge of the healing arts on to acolytes.
Pale violet skin and light blue eyes give her an almost ethereal appearance when she chooses to wear lighter colored robes while working her healing magic.  Lately she's found herself migrating toward richer colors like deep blues and purples which offsets her pale skin and brings out the light dusting of freckles across her nose and cheeks.
If you brush by her in a crowded place, she likely smells of flowers, a side-effect of her fondness of herb gardening and alchemy studies.
This is far from the best description I've ever written, but I'm not going for perfection.  I've done my best to give people a general idea of her appearance and offer a little insight into her personality.  I included the bit about smelling like flowers not only to enhance her description, but to also offer other players a potential conversation starter ("Is that lavender I smell?").

Go with whatever makes you comfortable here.  If you can't think of anything beyond the color of your character's hair and its texture, just write about that.  "Their hair is curly and brown" is as valid a description as "Brown ringlets frame a heart shaped face with a slightly upturned nose."  As with many things in life, this is something that you'll find gets easier with practice.

When it comes to history, there's several ways you can go about it.  Some players choose to keep their character's background a secret and will put something like "roleplay to find out" or "buy them a drink and ask."  This is perfectly acceptable.  After all, we don't tell complete strangers our life story in real life.  On the other hand, providing at least a basic background might encourage other players to consider having their character approach yours.

Again, less is more and it's better to focus on your character's most recent history than their entire life.  For Kryses, I decided to go with a basic history focusing mostly on how she got her start as a healer.
Kryses was born long before the draenei came to Draenor.  She's unable to recall precisely how long ago that was as she's lived on various worlds each with different methods for measuring the length of a year.
A disciple of the Light and the Naaru, Kryses has dedicated herself to the healing arts.  When the orcs began waging war against the draenei, she volunteered to join her kin on the front lines.  There she learned triage and how to think on her feet.  She also learned how to close her heart to the pain and suffering around her so as not to give in to despair.  Unlike many of her kin, she is a survivor of Draenor and spent several months in hiding with other refugees of war.
When the Burning Legion was driven back at last and Prophet Velen announced he believed he found his Army of Light, Kryses chose to journey to Azeroth.  She travels wherever the need for the Light and healing are greatest.  Though she calls Stormwind her home now, she resides there for only a few weeks out of each year.
Of late her greatest joy has been learning how other races on Azeroth worship and work with the Light.  She's also taken up the study of alchemy and herb gardening and will spend hours discussing fertilizer, weather, and soil consistency.
If someone asks me, I can account for Kryses's whereabouts during Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm, but I didn't feel it was necessary for MRP.  Plus, that'd be a little too much detail and wouldn't really help me in the long run.  For now I've established that Kryses is an accomplished and experienced healer who has seen war and has a budding interest in horticulture.

How does it look?

When you click on another player with an MRP profile, you'll see a little extra icon appear on their character portrait (in the default UI).  It's a small circle with "MRP" in the center.  This is what you'll see when you click on it:

Click to enlarge.
(Note: The history and description was edited for this entry after this screenshot was taken.)  As you can see, despite my description and history being fairly brief, it still takes up a bit of space in the MRP window.  Now you can possibly see why it's better to be brief, though if you feel like being incredibly detailed, that's fine too.

That's it for MRP!

Thanks for reading!
That's the basics for using MRP.  Up next, I'll dig a bit into Total Roleplay2, a more complicated add-on with lots of bells and whistles to enhance in-game roleplay.  

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Folami's Guide to Roleplaying for Noobs (Part 2)

Part 2: Writing a Character

You've done a little reading and brainstorming, and you've got a good idea of who your character is and maybe how you want to play them.  But how do you go about putting all this information together and doing so in a format that's both easy to share with other roleplayers and gives you something to reference as needed for their history?  Simple!  We make a character sheet.

Note: As mentioned previously, there are roleplay add-ons you can use to fill in character information.  However, for now I want to focus solely on how to build the character.  In the next post, I'll show you how to transfer the information created in this post into an add-on like MRP.

The Basics of a Character Sheet

If you've ever played any sort of tabletop roleplaying game such as Dungeons & Dragons, you know that a character sheet is a piece of paper with a list of your attributes, skills, and your possessions.  Also included in many sheets is a section to describe your character and it's broken down into things like race, eye color, age, and maybe a small section for a background.  The purpose of a character sheet is to give your Game/Dungeon Master information to help them design both combat and roleplay encounters that are fun, challenging, and keeps both you and your character invested in the story.  While you won't necessarily have a person in charge of creating a story for your character in WoW (sometimes you might), the character sheet we'll create serves the same purpose of giving ourselves and our friends something to use to help them share in a mutually crafted story and to give everyone something tangible to play with that goes beyond what you can convey via in-game interaction.

What I typically do when I'm designing a character is to open Notepad or other document editor and type the following:
  • Name
  • Age
  • Height, Weight, Hair and Eye Color
  • Appearance/Physical Description
  • Personality
  • Class/Job
  • History/Background
  • Other
Using this outline I'm able to break my character down into parts and I can edit each section as I go or skip around as inspiration strikes.  I prefer doing this on my computer for a few reasons, the first being that I can do it without in-game distractions such as friends whispering me or getting distracted by something happening around me.  Secondly, in case I ever have to delete or reinstall my roleplay add-ons, this allows me to have a backup copy on my computer to refer to and makes it easy for me to fill in the blanks instead of having to try and remember every tidbit of information I once had.  Thirdly, for guilds that require you to post your character information to a forum, this helps in case the forum loses your post and it's easy to just copy and paste whatever you need.

Remember, you don't have to do it this way, and it's up to you if you even want to write up any information about your character.  These are just practices I've picked up over the years to help make it easier and faster for me to flesh out my characters.  What you do with this information and how you adapt it to suit your needs is entirely up to you.

Now that we have our outline, let's break down each section and talk about what we put there.


This is, of course, pretty self explanatory, but there are some loose guidelines for naming.  For first names, don't sweat too much about it "fitting."  With so many players on roleplay realms, it can be difficult to have a name that's unique or not already taken, and bear in mind that an add-on like MRP will alter how your name appears for other players with MRP.  For example, your game name might be Ikilldoodz, but if you put "Sally Smith" into MRP that's the name that will show in the chat windows and what other players with that add-on will see when they hover over your character portrait.

There are no hard and fast rules about naming conventions in WoW; however, surnames vary by race.  Draenei, for example, do not traditionally have surnames, though some might adopt a surname in order to feel like they're part of Azeroth's culture.  Dwarfs have names like Bronzebeard or Stonehammer.  Blood elf names invoke the sun or the light quite often.  A good idea is to look at NPC names in game or in stories involving your race to see what themes are used in each race.  WoWHead offers a list of NPC names in each zone, so look up your race's capital city or a zone they populate in greater numbers and check out the names that way.

As for coming up with a first name, I like to use the random name generator at Behind the Name, or to use their search function to look up names via their meanings (i.e. "warrior").  The random generator allows you to search for names that are masculine, feminine, neutral/both and you can narrow the search by region/nationality such as Irish or Welsh.


Determining a character's age in WoW can be an arduous and nigh impossible task.  With an ever fluctuating timeline and lore related to racial lifespans changing with almost every expansion, it's enough to give anyone a headache.  Wowpedia has a page dedicated to keeping track of the different lifespans and provides links to their sources.  You can give your character a "hard" age, but it's equally valid to use terms like "young," "old," or "middle-aged."  Just be aware that what's old for a human will be incredibly young for a night elf.  Pay attention to your race's lore and go for an age you feel you can believably play.  A naive teenager is not going to have the wisdom of a forty year-old veteran, and you should keep this in mind when determining how old you want your character to be.

Also, while you don't have to be an expert on lore as I've said, you might want to take a quick look at the most recent timeline given to us by Blizzard in their Ultimate Visual Guide.  Wowpedia uses this timeline to keep their unofficial timeline as accurate as possible and includes more historical events.  This will give you a better idea of where your twenty year-old orc might have been born, or whether or not it's feasible for your goblin to have been around during the Sundering (hint: not really).

If you really want to, you can look up information from the Warcraft RPG books, but be aware that Blizzard has said these are no longer canon.  Still, I think it's possible to get some inspiration for them in terms of racial age and other factors, just don't rely on them as your sole source of information.

Please, don't beat yourself up if you later discover your age is wrong/impossible for your character to be, or if Blizzard changes the lore or, as is sometimes more accurate, finally clarifies a bit of information that can alter a character's age.  Back when I first started, it was thought it was the year on Azeroth was 32 and blood elves only had a lifespan of about 400 years.  That's changed drastically since Cataclysm and, to be honest, I've given up on providing a concrete age for my blood elves.

Height and Other Physical Attributes

Some players go the extra mile and will come up with exact numbers for height and weight, and there are some reference materials to help you if you want to go that route.  Or you can go with terms like "average," "short," or "above average."  Saying your character is of average height and weight for their race doesn't make them an average character; there are many ways to stand out that have nothing to do with physical appearance.

For hair color, just look at your in-game model.  Try to limit yourself to hair colors available to your race, and while it's fine to use terms like "auburn" or "mossy green" instead of just plain "brunette" or "green," you might want to steer away from metaphors like, "her hair is the color spun gold."  The same goes for eye color.  "Emerald green" is fine for a blood elf, just don't go for "glowing orbs of jade."

You don't have to stay within the confines of your in-game model choices, but please be aware there are reasons in lore blood elves have glowing green eyes and orcs born on Azeroth are green-skinned.  It's your responsibility to read up on your race's history and normal physical characteristics, and if you want to bend the rules a bit, be prepared to explain why your character is atypical when questioned.

Appearance/Physical Description

Here's where we start to give the details that really paint a clearer picture of your character and help them stand apart from the generic character models.  This is where you talk about any distinguishing characteristics such as scars or body modification.  Perhaps your character has a nose that's obviously been broken a few times, or puts beads in the braids of their hair.  Maybe they always have bags under their eyes from hours of poring over tomes, or they're perpetually smiling.  Do they have wrinkles or freckles?  Think about what might stand out most to a person seeing your character for the very first time and go from there.

Some roleplayers will tell you not to make your character pretty/handsome, or warn you away from outright saying they're attractive.  This is mostly because far too many roleplayers out there try to be perfect beings with no flaws whatsoever, including physically.  I understand the sentiment and I, too, caution against trying to make a perfect character; however, I also believe that it's perfectly acceptable to make a character that is conventionally attractive for their race.  The trick is in how you describe their appearance and make it clear that, for your race, a person might find your character physically attractive.

It's important to avoid telling other players how they're character should react to seeing your character.  Don't tell them they're mesmerized upon seeing your character, and don't say everyone fauns over them wherever they go.  Focus only on describing what they see so that they're allowed the freedom of choosing a reaction, if any.  Like before, stay away from awkward metaphors.  No "flawless alabaster skin," or "abs sculpted by the Titans themselves."

Do try to offer clues about a character's lifestyle such as calloused hands or dusty boots with lots of travel wear.  Perhaps your gnome like to tinker and thus always has a spot of grease or oil somewhere on their clothing or face.  Tease people with hints about who your character is and make them interested in learning more.  Spend a little time on describing the sort of clothing they wear, whether it's the full plate armor you've spent hours farming for transmog, or if you picture them wearing something far simpler when sitting down for a pint at the local tavern.


In an add-on like MRP, this will typically go under the same section as your physical description, but for our purposes I wanted to talk about this separately because, in my mind, it is separate.  This is the part where you offer a hint of how your character might respond when interacting in others.  Do they get wide-eyed and obviously nervous in crowded rooms, or do they enjoy meeting new people?  Are you more likely to see them reading their favorite book of poems underneath the shade of a tree, or hanging out at the Brawler's Club cheering on their favorite fighters (or participating themselves)?  How might they react if approached by a stranger?

This is one of those things that gets easier with time and practice.  For starters it's OK to say they're shy and quiet or loud and the life of a party.  As you get to know your character more and/or get more practice writing, you'll be able to come up with a variety of ways to describe your character's personality to others.  Be warned, however, that if you paint your character as a jerk who ignores everyone around them, then it's less likely other players will have their characters approach yours.  After all, do you ever walk up to that one person at the party who looks angry and always ready to start a fight?


First of all, you are not restricted to the class you rolled in-game.  Just because you play a Holy Priest on your raid team doesn't mean your character has to be a healer or even a Priest.  Maybe they're just a simple tailor or a florist.  Nowhere is it written that you must be a member of your faction's military.  You can be a regular civilian whose thrust into an adventure and discovers they have some seriously powerful latent magical abilities or physical prowess, or be a tavern server who's never stepped foot outside Elwynn Forest despite plenty of opportunities.  Just as in real life, Azeroth's cities need artisans, craftsmen, and teachers.  Have fun with the possibilities.

That said, if you've rolled a mage, don't try to play a warrior or some sort of hybrid.  Also, if you roll a Death Knight, be a Death Knight.  For the former, too many people have tried to be both magically and physically powerful so as to make themselves invulnerable to any harm.  Whether or not that's your intention, that's how people will judge you.  For the latter, Death Knights have their own lore and offer abundant opportunities for excellent story telling and roleplay.  Really, there's not a need to try to make them any more dramatic, or to just use a Death Knight because you don't want to put the time into leveling a paladin.  (Yes, I have actually seen this in game.)


Here's where things can get complicated and a little frustrating, if they haven't already when determining an age for your character.  Remember our rules and let's keep it simple and start small.  You don't have to start at your character's birth, nor do you even need to have a clear picture of what their childhood was like.  "History" can be as recent as a couple of weeks or months ago, and this is why I told you before to look at the recent events in game.

Certainly go back to revisit the timelines linked above and your race's information, but also know that a background section that only focuses on the last year or so of a character's life is every bit as valid as the one who talks about everything from the day of their birth.  Write as much or as little as you like/feel capable of doing.  (And if you're planning to put this into a roleplay add-on later, brevity isn't a bad thing at all.)  Be tragic, funny, or somewhere in between.  Give your character reasons for being the person they are, and run with whatever idea strikes your fancy.

If writing isn't your forte, or you aren't yet ready to write several sentences describing your character, go ahead and just write a few notes or bullet points.  Something along the lines of, "Was at Theramore," or "Volunteered to help restore the Vale of Eternal Blossoms."  Anything that gives you an idea of who your character is and helps you picture them and "get into their head" so to speak is great.  Don't force yourself, and if you wish, read other players' histories to see how they've done it.  The great thing about doing this in Notepad/other document editor is we can make a few notes and go back to other sections.  We can save it and come back to it later when the words are easier for us to find.

It doesn't have to be perfect on the first, second, or even third draft.  I'm going to repeat that: It doesn't have to be perfect.  You are learning and getting practice in for roleplay.  You are allowed to make errors in your background.  WoW isn't always clear in game about when an event happened, and even if you study all the timelines and read every page you can, there are still a few things that are vague or in gray areas.  And like I said above, what's lore compliant now might not be in a few months when the devs decide to change a point in history, or clarify a position.

Please don't let an overly zealous lore nerd get the better of you.  If someone whispers you about your profile and starts in on everything you've got wrong (or they think you're wrong about), it's fine to ignore them.  Ask for critique and advice if you want, but if you don't ask for it and someone invades your space to try and make your story fit their idea of what lore should be, they're being a jerk.  Most of the time these folks are well-meaning and may not realize how rude this practice is, but that still doesn't make it OK or mean you can't use the game's ignore function.  If you are uncertain about something, do your best to read what you can or ask a trusted friend to help you try and figure out what's right.  We can go back and edit anything in our profiles as we need to, and nothing is permanent.

Other Considerations

Everything above gives us a fairly complete picture of our characters; however, there are some minor features we can add in if we like to sharpen that image a little more.  Is your character an only child or do they have siblings?  What about other relatives?  In WoW, it's not out of the realm of possibility that your character may be the last person of their family's bloodline alive, but equally possible is the presence of a large extended family.  What's their position in society?  Are they noble, rich, poor, etc.?  Was their family once powerful and now in decline?

Birthdays are another point of consideration.  Some players have fun throwing birthday parties for their characters, or other sorts of anniversaries such as weddings or even memorials for those that have been lost.  All of these things add just a little more seasoning and give us even more hooks to use for roleplay.


Give your character flaws.  It doesn't have to be anything huge such as a permanent case of douchebag-itis, but give them something that makes them imperfect.  Give them a fear of heights, or even hayfever.  Be silly or serious with this.  Maybe their jaw cracks when they yawn, or they refuse to eat their vegetables.  Perhaps one foot is larger than the other, or there's a gap in their front teeth.  Give them an Achilles' heel to be exploited by the bad guys.

We may all aspire to be perfect in real life, but if we were all perfect and never made mistakes life would be incredibly boring.  It's important not to make your character flawless because flawless characters never get sick, injured, or lonely.  Imperfect characters do and that makes it easier for us to identify with them and even like them.  The more relatable a character is, the easier it is to write for them and interact with them.

That said, do be respectful and mindful of what you're calling a flaw.  Mental illness is not a flaw, neither is a physical disability.  There will be a post later in this series about roleplaying delicate subject matter, but I'm going to go ahead and repeat myself and say these are not flaws nor should you portray them as such.  I will also say I lose a lot of respect for folks who try to roleplay a mental illness or disability they do not themselves experience in real life.  These are not costumes real people get to put on and take off at their leisure and seeing someone use it to have fun and laugh about it?  It rankles and makes that player look like an ass.

A Note About Race

Up until now I've assumed you will use the race you rolled as for your character.  There are some players who choose to step outside of the in-game restrictions and make hybrids, dragons, or use another race in lore such as a high elf.  For beginners, I caution against this simply because to do these sorts of races well you need to be well acquainted with the lore, and because many folks react negatively to these sorts of characters because it's often done very, very poorly.  For hybrid races like half-draenei/half-orc, there can be some icky and gross circumstances surrounding the birth even if there are examples of these racial combinations existing in lore.

Other things to stay away from as a beginner are characters disguised as other races, such as a human using an Orb of the Sin'dorei to live openly among Horde races.  It can be done, and done well, but it's also tricky and may be the sort of thing that's kept as guild canon only versus forcing every other roleplayer in game to accept this as your race.

That's it!  (For now.)

We've got our character sheet and are ready to put it to use.  Next post I'll talk about using add-ons like MRP and TRP2 and tips on how to fill in the various sections.  Just a head's up that the next post will be very image heavy, but I'll try to keep it reasonable.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Folami's Guide to Roleplaying for Noobs (Part 1.5)

Part One: Folami's Rules for Character Creation (continued)

We've talked about ways to keep yourself from getting overwhelmed and how it's important to start small when creating a character.  By this point you've probably been perusing some websites I linked to in the previous post and have done at least a minimal amount of reading about your chosen race's history and have a general understanding of what's currently happening story-wise in World of Warcraft itself.  You at least have a vague idea of the type of character you want to play, or maybe you already know their personality type and favorite color.  Now's the time to ask bigger questions such as where your character was born and why they fight (or don't fight, as the case may be), and it's time to flesh them out more beyond the simplistic "good" versus "bad" person you envision, which brings us to rule number five.

Rule #5: Keep it simple.

In your travels through Azeroth, you are going to encounter a multitude of player characters, many of whom have written veritable novellas for their characters' backgrounds.  They can tell you in infinitesimal detail what their characters were doing at any point in Azeroth's lengthy history and can account for every major life event as if they'd lived it themselves.  Their character ate a tuna sandwich on rye for lunch the day Deathwing came, and the most description you've come up with is to say that your character grew up in Silvermoon like a million other blood elves you've seen. Don't get discouraged by this because it doesn't mean you're a bad roleplayer, it only means you're either new or just a different sort of roleplayer who doesn't need to write a paragraph for every year of adult life on Azeroth.

Be the hero Stormwind deserves.
Another thing to keep in mind while you discover other roleplayers and their characters is that you're new to this and most of them are not.  Some of the people you encounter have at least a couple of expansions under their belt and have had the opportunity to put quite a few miles on their characters in terms of experience.  The vast majority of those backgrounds have been edited over the years to reflect some of the roleplay they've done, or the people who created a character a week ago have been playing so long that they have a good enough grasp of the lore that they can use it to their advantage.  Practice won't necessarily make perfect, but over time you'll find it easier and easier to update or add to your character's history, or to make up an entirely new character.

It's certainly understandable if you want to have a detailed history, but having one isn't a requirement to start roleplaying.  Also, as someone new to roleplaying and/or new to WoW, I'm going to suggest you do not try to line up your character's history with as many major events as possible.  Remember how I said to start small?  Focus on what's happening currently in the expansion.  What is the most recent thing that's happened that your character could have either participated in or reacted to?  Start there and then think about the personality questions we asked ourselves earlier.  Why is your character suspicious of new people?  What might have happened to make them this way?  Don't worry about making a cliché character (i.e. the angst-ridden, brooding loner) or that you're guilty of an overused trope (their parents died tragically).  For one, fantasy in general is full of clichés and overused tropes.  It's how you spin them and make them yours that makes it interesting.  Secondly, remember you can go back and change whatever you don't like and not every idea you have has to go into the finished product.  This isn't like baking a cake, and it is totally possible to go back and remove the eggs from your "batter" and still be tasty.  (I may be a little hungry while writing this.)

Consider generic events that could have happened in any life.  A child who grew up in Stormwind is still going to have fallen down and skinned their knee at some point, and even orc children have to do chores.  Maybe your mage "accidentally" set their homework on fire when they forgot about an assignment, or your rogue once fell out of a tree their mother had told them not to climb and broke their leg.  It's possible to give your character depth and personality by adding in things to their history that aren't tied to any major event within Azeroth.  For example, I had a dwarf shaman who didn't participate in much of anything in Azeroth's recent history until Cataclysm, which made sense for a member of the Wildhammer clan.  At the time I wasn't terribly familiar with dwarf lore, but I knew her personality as someone who was a healer first and fighter second.  In her background I included a little sentence that said she got her start by bringing home injured animals and, with the elements' aid, healed them.  That little tidbit offered quite a bit of insight into both her past and her personality, and it didn't involve her running off to lay low the enemies of the Alliance.

There's a story here,
but I'm not telling it now.
Whatever history you come up with, no matter how detailed or vague, remember that you don't have to share it with anyone right away.  The reason we think about a background and personality is to help us get to know our characters and try to figure out how they'll react to the situations encountered in your roleplay.  In real life you don't meet a person and immediately tell them your life story and all your hopes and dreams (or at least I hope you don't).  The same applies in roleplay.  While it's likely you'll take advantage of an add-on like MRP or TRP2 which give you space to write out some history, it's not required that you share everything there.  Even if you do, good roleplayers will have their characters be ignorant of who you are and what you've done while you're sitting in the tavern chatting over a mug of ale unless your character directly mentions something pertinent from their history.  (In some cases, they may whisper you out of character and say something along the lines of "Hey, I noticed your character was in X and I was wondering if maybe my character might think you look familiar?"  This is totally fine and even encouraged.  You don't have to say yes, but it can lead to some interesting interaction if you do.)  However, none of this means you have to divulge the tragic event in your priests's life that made them want to be a healer on the battlefield, or about the drunken bet your warrior made with a friend that landed them on a one-way trip to Booty Bay.  These are all things your character can talk about later, once they feel safe enough to share it with the people they consider friends, or maybe you quietly snicker to yourself from behind your keyboard while your friends roleplay trying to get your character to open up about their past.

Finally, know the roleplay you do will take place in the present.  Just as events in your real life have molded you and shaped your personality into who you are today, it doesn't necessarily define you.  Play your character in the present and remember the past isn't always going to be relevant to your story.  Not every other sentence you type in /say has to be, "By the way, my parents are dead!" followed by emoted sobbing.  Your character can be as sad or happy as you want, but you should also be reacting and interacting to the people around you.

Rule #6: Don't panic about mistakes.

You are going to screw up.  Whether it's confusing Illidan with Kil'jaeden or thinking it's totally reasonable for a troll to openly stroll through Stormwind, you're going to do or say something entirely wrong in roleplay.  Maybe it won't be something so obvious, but there's going to come a time when someone will poke at your MRP profile, or read a story you've written and tell you it's not possible.

Don't beat yourself up.  You didn't always know how to construct a sentence.  It took time and a teacher to show you how to do it, and even now you still make grammatical errors or forget that whole "I before E" thing.  I hope when that happens you laugh at those mistakes and correct them, and then move on from it.  Same rules will apply to roleplay.  If you get a timeline of events wrong, or mess up a bit of geography, it's fine.  Remember rule #1 and how I pointed out just how many millions of words of lore there are to read?  Nobody has a handle on it all and even the experts make mistakes, or at the very least have to go look something up.  Don't worry, after the initial embarrassment wears off, you'll be talking with your friends one day and say, "Hey, remember that time I thought Varian was Jaina's father?  That was hilarious and kind of disturbing!"

Corollary to Rule #6: If your mistakes hurt someone, apologize.

Other mistakes you make won't be so funny, and sometimes you can upset other roleplayers by something you say or do in character.  Apologize if you hurt or offend another player.  Full stop.  I'm going into this guide assuming you're not actively trolling your server's roleplay community and that you aren't going to intentionally make an offensive character or spout racist/sexist/homophobic bullshit in /say.  As you are a person who endeavors to be nice and inclusive, please remember that sometimes we slip up and say things we don't realize are hurtful or offensive to others.  It's important to be kind and to take the time to say you're sorry if this happens if the person is willing to hear your apology.  (Don't track a person down and apologize if they leave or otherwise indicate they don't wish to communicate with you directly.  Take your lumps and try to do better next time.)

We'll talk more about roleplaying controversial or sensitive subject matter and in character versus out of character behavior in another part, but for now if a person comes to you with an issue important to them, please try to hear them out.  There are people who will troll; however, the majority of people who speak up, even if they're angry with you, should be listened to.  With any mistake you make, learn from them and try not to repeat it.

Rule #7: Don't steal characters from other sources.

You are not Batman.

Inspiration comes in many forms, and often we find it via the many sources of media we read/watch/listen to.  It's fine if you want to crib some notes from your favorite book or movie character, but take care not to steal an entire character.  To use an example, Harry Dresden is a powerful wizard in his books' version of Chicago.  In Azeroth, he'd be a terrible mage.  Now, if you wanted to make a human mage that has a staff with flame-colored runes that light up when used like Harry's, that's totally fine and is definitely plausible.  You could even have fun experimenting with different weapon enchants to see which animation comes close to making it look like your staff is actually on fire (only if you're not already using that staff for end-game PvE or PvP content, of course; end-game enchants are expensive).

Other roleplayers look down on those who try to bring characters from other genres into Azeroth going so far as to outright ignore them and tell their friends to avoid them, and all for very good reasons.  By now I'm sure you've noticed creating a character for roleplay takes effort and time.  All that time and effort goes into designing our characters inside and out and making them our own.  Stealing characters whole cloth from someone else smacks of laziness and it makes you look boring and unimaginative which means your character would make for a very boring roleplay experience.  If you really want to play Sephiroth, there are online forums and websites where you can do that.  If you want to roleplay as a denizen of Azeroth, work with the resources at your disposal and make a character that's your own.  It's far more rewarding and you won't be restricted by predefined characteristics derived from the source material.

Oh, and if you think your character is obscure enough that no one will know? Remember, we're all geeks and nerds here and odds are someone is going to recognize who you're copying.

Rule #8: Have fun.

Whatever it is you want to do in Azeroth, whether it's raiding, doing challenge modes, or spending endless hours in Alterac Valley yelling at the people who fight in the middle of the road, the goal when we log in is to have fun.  At the end of the day, whatever story unfolds in the course of your roleplay, it's important to remember it's supposed to be entertaining.  If something isn't working out for you or your character, step back and try to figure out what the problem is.  Talk to your roleplay friends and brainstorm some ideas, but don't try to force yourself if something is making you uncomfortable.

Sometimes, for whatever reason, a character or a story idea simply doesn't pan out.  That doesn't mean you're bad or even that the character was bad, it just means it didn't work as intended.  Roleplay is flexible and forgiving, and whatever happens know that you can always try again and reinvent your character.  It won't always be easy and there will be days that are more fun than others, but as long as you still have the desire to keep coming back, that's what matters.

That's it for the rules, but there's way more to talk about!

Now that I've laid out some of my basic rules for character creation, and why it's important to keep it simple and to have fun, we're ready to write our character.  But how on Azeroth do you even begin putting it all together?  Well, in the next post I'm going to show you how I do it and offer a few tips that might help you finally put your character idea into a format you can share with other players. After that will be a post with tips on how to best utilize an add-on like MRP to enhance your in-game roleplay.  And further along the road we'll talk about the types of roleplay and how to go about actually interacting in-game as your character.