Love At First Pose
Romance can yield good roleplaying opportunities when handled by mature, responsible and well-balanced players.
But in the hands of immature, irresponsible and unbalanced players, it can poison a roleplaying game.
Courtship and flirtation can be fun. Maybe the relationship is controversial or dangerous. Perhaps it has created friction among friends or further embittered enemies. That's great - conflict and danger make for good roleplaying.
On OtherSpace, we've seen our fair share of weddings as couples have forged in-character relationships over the years. These events are often logged for posterity and are among our most memorable moments. At least one of our online couples has gone on to meet in real life and get married.
But for every happy story like that, there are a half-dozen nightmarish tales where one person took things too far out of character, made their partner feel uncomfortable - and sometimes both end up leaving the MUSH with hurt feelings.
I'm no shrink. I can't sit in professional judgment of who should or should not be allowed to engage in fantasy relationships online, any more than I can rightly say who can handle the difference between blowing away pixelized Nazis in Return to Castle Wolfenstein as opposed to real people at the Burger King down the street. Bottom line: Some people can handle it, and some can't. I can only really speak for myself, and my own feelings on such online endeavors.
So, here's where I stand:
If it serves the purpose of a storyline and both parties are clear that whatever happens in-character has no bearing on out-of-character relations, then consenting adults can do what they want. But when an in-character relationship is used to fill some kind of real-life void and leads to unrequited feelings and the discomfort of one or both involved, I consider that dangerous and irresponsible.
It's hard to do right. Personally, I avoid it. I tend to play characters who are either old, undesirable, career-obsessed or who have an offstage NPC mate so I can steer clear of such complications.
It's easy to screw up. I've seen it happen, time and again, on my own MUSH and other games. I've watched players leave over it. I've seen it poison circles of OOC friends and tear them apart.
Ever watched the TV series Moonlighting? Or Friends? The unrequited playful banter of the relationship *before* the couples get together - that seems like fun. But once they get together, it's all downhill. This is true in many instances for couples in roleplaying environments. The path to romance can be a lot of fun, but once you get there, you tend to plateau and either weird out on the other person or get bored.
And for those who *do* stick together, you run into the poisonous problem of clique-dom. Few things are as resented in the realm of roleplaying as cliques, and many couples become a clique of two, lurking in their in-character abodes, rarely emerging to roleplay with others, insulating themselves until freak out or burn out occurs.
And just what's going on behind closed doors? The speculation runs rampant, and usually focuses on one thing: TinySex.
In the past on OtherSpace, I've railed against the practice of TinySex - text-based sexual activities. Not because I'm a prude, but because on the Internet you can't ever be sure just who that partner really is. A man? A woman? A 12-year-old boy? An FBI agent? You don't know who it is, you don't know what kind of mine field you're walking into, you don't know what kind of nasty surprises lurk within. Yes, I know it sounds paranoid - sometimes, a little paranoia is a healthy thing.
Sure, it beats having irresponsible sex with indiscriminate strangers in real-life, but in a roleplaying environment that encourages group interaction and the furtherance of a storyline, it's a waste of bandwidth. Want textualized porn? Hop onto IRC and have at it. Use ICQ or AIM. Whatever floats your boat.
No, I don't go hunting for TSers. It would be damned hypocritical for me to do that when I don't equally condemn violence in certain realms of OtherSpace. Cross the wrong people on Tomin Kora, for example, and you might get tossed from a window, shredded by a flechette gun or blasted in the back with a plasma rifle.
But I do put sex in the same category as going to the bathroom or brushing one's teeth - it's something best left offscreen.
Wes Platt, known online as Brody, is the creator of OtherSpace: The Interactive SF Saga, which can be found at http://www.otherspace.org. He is the author of OtherSpace: Revolutions, now available through the Spacers Store at http://www.otherspace.org/osstore2.htm. He also moderates the Top MUD Sites roleplaying forum at http://www.topmudsites.com and the Theater of the ‘Net discussion area at http://communities.iuniverse.com/bin/circle.asp?circleid=8304. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.