Hyperspace Beacon: An open letter to all roleplayers in MMORPGs

I really hate when non-RPers get their kicks out of making light of what roleplayers are doing to have fun. Many times, the roleplayer will be standing at the bar minding his own business on an RP server no less, when all of the sudden some bored 12-year-old in a 40-year-old body spams as many particle effects at the people just attempting to have a conversation in character. You’d think if that happened enough that it would cause people stop roleplaying; I’m fairly certain that’s in the back of the griefer’s mind. Sometimes it works, but most of the time, I like to believe that it just strengthens the roleplayers’ resolve. They try harder to find a place where they can be comfortable doing what they enjoy doing, or they simply ignore the flashing effects around them and barrel through.

But the funny thing is I don’t believe it’s that kind of thing that actually drives roleplayers from a game. I believe that the biggest detriment to roleplayers is other roleplayers, and the biggest hurdle in attracting new roleplayers to the gameplay style is ourselves.

A toxic cycle

I like to believe that most people are good. Most people believe that what they are doing is right. Many times I think that people even believe that their personal self-sacrifice is the right thing to do. “I’m just standing up for the little guy” or “I’m just giving it to them straight” are common phrases heard from those who are, in the long term, tearing down the community.

Now don’t get me wrong, I believe that sometimes the little guy needs someone to stand up for him, and I also believe that being honest and forthright are virtues. However, I think in doing so, we need to be honest with ourselves and do what we do with a bit of humility and understanding of the other person’s perspective.

I have two close friends — people who have encouraged me to continue to be who I am — who left Star Wars: The Old Republic fairly recently. Both are good people. Both are not perfect. However, they left the game because they just couldn’t take the drama from the roleplay community anymore. It was overwhelming the number of people who would accuse them of things they didn’t do. It was overwhelming the number of people who would gripe at them on a daily basis. And it was overwhelming the number of people who they called friends that would post sideways rants on their Enjin walls about them.

I will be frank, the reason that I’m writing this is because it’s to happen to me, too. But I don’t want to rant about it just because it’s happening to me. I see it happen to many people all the time.

The echo chamber

I’ll tell you what happens: One roleplayer’s expectations aren’t met by a second roleplayer. Player two unknowingly committed a roleplay sin against player one. Or maybe player two wasn’t as familiar with lore as player one, or more likely player two’s version of lore doesn’t fit player one’s narrow view of lore. Or it could be as simple as player one’s personality not fitting player two’s. Then one of the two players, let’s say player one, will post a rant about player two on a public forum, telling his or her world how terrible of a roleplayer player two is. Of course, player one can’t post the other side of the story because he or she doesn’t know the other or the other side might ruin the narrative player one has built. Then player one’s echo chamber of friends and followers will begin bouncing back everything that player one just said and liking his or her post, thus falsely inflating player one’s ego.

Player two then does one of two things: defends him or herself to player one (publicly or privately) or leaves the community. Player two might find his or her own echo chambers and provide a scathing counter argument continuing the perpetual cycle of pointless backstabbing. Or if it’s just not worth the time anymore, player two will leave, possibly posting something about leaving or more often than not disappearing without a word to anyone.

A solution

It’s a problem. But it’s not a problem that can’t be fixed. And it’s really easily fixed with two things: giving the benefit of the doubt and resolving conflict privately.

As I said before, I believe that most people intend to do good or do the right thing, even if it’s not what I would consider the right thing. But if someone offends you or causes you problems, unless he’s that 40-year-old child I mentioned before, then it’s most likely that he didn’t mean anything by what he did. If he did, then don’t be a sucker, just avoid that individual. You and he will be better off long run.

If you do have an issue with someone, be a respectful adult and approach him or her privately even if what was done against you was public. No one likes to be called out publicly, and instead of actually fixing the situation, calling someone out publicly is only going to cause the other person to become defensive. That’s not saying that people will not become defensive in private, too, but it will at least slow the echo-chamber effect. I can guarantee that taking it public will only make things worse. But maybe speaking privately will turn what was a negative situation and turn it into a positive one.

Anyway, I don’t think it’s as simple as Bill S. Preston and Theodore Logan would make it out to be. I don’t think it’s as simple as being excellent to each other, but I do think that consideration for how you are representing the roleplay community — or any community — as a whole should be paramount. I hate thinking that maybe I could be just as bad for the community at times as the griefer pelting rocket effects at the cantina bar; I want to positively affect the roleplay community and the people looking for a roleplay home. I hope you do, too.

Every other week, Larry Everett jumps into his T-16 back home, rides through the hypergates of BioWare‘s Star Wars: The Old Republic, and posts his adventures in the Hyperspace Beacon. Drop him a holocom on Twitter @Shaddoe or send him a transmission at larry@massivelyop.com. Now strap yourself in, kid — we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!
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