Bringing it Down a Notch
I hate it. But I have to do it.
I had tremendous expectations for the quality of roleplaying at Star Wars: Reach of the Empire, the second of my trio of online games. But what Iíve found since the game went live in September 2002 is that many of the new players drawn to it are attracted by the theme, but donít necessarily have the first clue about roleplaying.
Hereís a quick disclaimer: Some of the participants are outstanding roleplayers. They can describe themselves without going over the top with the black trenchcoats, black ninja suits, black boots, black Matrix outfits, and black facemasks. They can pose well-written and spell-checked poses, and respect pose order.
But far more are totally new to the concept of playing a role. Far more are coming from games where all they do is run from room to room, killing things, looting corpses, hunting for treasure, and seeking higher-powered equipment, trying to level up. Assuming a part in an evolving online story, where actions have consequences that canít always be controlled by how many experience points youíve invested in blaster pistols skill, is like entering an alien world. Itís like learning a new language.
No surprise, those of us who have spent years working on the high-quality environment of OtherSpace suddenly find ourselves poised to explode over newbies speedwalking all over the place, powergaming in their descriptions and poses, posing whenever the mood strikes ≠ one line at a time, chattering OOCly during a scene, or wandering blindly into death traps because they didnít read a room description ≠ and then complaining about the trap.
It huuuuuurts to see it, because as the gameís chief RP developer, I must worry about the possibility ≠ no, not the possibility, the VERY REAL LIKELIHOOD ≠ that allowing my game to be a haven for poor RPers will keep good RPers away.
Now, before I go on much longer, let me just say: I need to shut the hell up with my whining. I know it. Itís actually a good thing that I have enough players in the game to worry about issues of quality. And I should cut players some slack: Most of them arenít old enough to remember the first Star Wars movies, and all they have to base their vision of the universe on are the recent installments of the prequel trilogy. But donít get me started on those movies.
Where was I? Oh, yeah. Quality. I brought the issue on myself, really. On OtherSpace, players must endure the rigors of an application process in which they demonstrate their basic familiarity with the universe and with concepts of roleplaying. It takes time, an investment of effort on the front end, for a player to get in the door. This helps weed out troublemakers, but it also puts a barrier in front of RP newbies. On Star Wars: Reach of the Empire, I ask people for a description and a +sheet for perusal. Biographies are only required if players want to get gifts/faults/quirks or XP bonuses. On ROE, Iíve lowered the bar so that all you really have to do to get in is provide a correctly spelled, accurate-looking description and a sensible +sheet of skills. By lowering the bar, I made the game much more accessible to complete newbies to the roleplaying genre. And I somehow deluded myself into thinking, at the outset, that weíd be able to immediately mold people into fighting shape with tough love: Penalties for speedwalking, for example.
But thatís not how it works best.
These guys are new. They donít get the whole ďspeedwalkingĒ issue, because theyíre not used to games where people interact with *each other* rather than running around in an automated environment. So, when I bring the hammer down for a violation of advanced RP etiquette, it embarrasses the newbie and creates a chilling effect. Thatís a bad thing.
Along with the group of friends who helped me get ROE off the ground, I wanted to create our ideal Star Wars roleplaying universe. But I also wanted to offer a game that would be newbie-friendly, accessible ≠ a sort of airlock between traditional MUDs and a more ambitious roleplaying project like OtherSpace. What weíre coming to understand is that we canít have it both ways if our ideal demands that inexperienced players suddenly perform as well as people with a decade of roleplaying experience.
So, weíve got to lighten up and ease off on being judgmental. Make the place fun. Welcome new people. Ease them into the roleplaying concept with help from RP motivators. Provide them with a handy Survivorís Guide for the game. Encourage them, rather than scold them. Maybe, if we provide some nurturing, our ideal Star Wars roleplaying game will coalesce. As I recall, back in 1998, we didnít start with a lot of veteran RPers. Given a chance to grow and flourish, with our care and guidance, we might get what we want and show a lot of new people a good time in this hobby of ours.
Wes Platt is the creator of OtherSpace: The Interactive SF Saga and Chiaroscuro: The Interactive Fantasy Saga. He's a head-wiz on Star Wars: Reach of the Empire. (All games can be reached through his official site at www.jointhesaga.com.) He also produces Brody's MUD Index (mudindex.jointhesaga.com), a free quarterly periodical in PDF format that offers MUD listing opportunities. His e-mail address is email@example.com.