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An Overly Long Post Talking About Consent and Communication (TM)


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Many people might presume that the most important aspect of roleplay is your ability to improvise or even tell a story. This is no true. In fact, you could be absolutely horrible at writing stories and still not be the worst roleplayer out there. In fact, the most important aspect of roleplay lies in two parts: communication and storytelling. These are so important, in fact, that the in game roleplay workshop @CrystalDragon and I run starts with this from the very beginning.


1. Why Are These So Important?

The most obvious reason consent and communication are so vital is because roleplay is a cooperative activity. You won't get very far with anything that requires collaboration between peers if people aren't playing fairly or with their fellows in mind. However, roleplaying in an MMO setting actually makes the necessity of these two things even more important than a tabletop or IRL setting.


In a tabletop or LARP (live action roleplay) setting, you, more than likely, aren't just speaking to one another with your own voice (or over voice chat for virtual outings), but there are often set rules at play that keep things manageable and/or someone to lay down the law and make final rulings (like a dungeon master). In an MMO, everyone is the arbiter of their own character and you have only text replies to rely on to judge motivation and intent. Yeah, this can get very tricky, very quickly.


In my time roleplaying (most of which has been in MMO's), the vast majority of drama I have seen erupt was either a misunderstanding that was rooted in a failure to communicate something at the right moment or someone (or even multiple people) ignoring the necessity of consent when interacting with other characters. I have also heard from non-roleplayers that have to moderate roleplayer spaces that we are far more prone to stupid drama that sounds like it came straight out of high school.


Why is that? I think the core of the issue is that roleplayers can get extremely invested into their hobby. It's not just a creative outlet, it's also a form of escape and exploration. When something comes across that threatens that, it can lead to confusion and irrational thinking. There are also some special considerations I will get into later, but I really do feel that the fact that we often put our hearts into the hobby can lead to us not acting as we normally would when faced with conflict.


If roleplayers as a whole got better with consent and communication, I honestly think we'd see far fewer explosions of drama in our communities. So let's talk about that.


2. Special Considerations

I by no means have hard and fast statistics on this, but from my experience, roleplay communities often contain a disproportionate number of people who are neurodivergant, from marginalized communities, or have some form of psychological trauma/disability in relation to the overall population of the game's community. I'm not entirely sure why this is outside of maybe creative types often being born out of groups like this. However, regardless of the why, what is far more important is the "so what".


When interacting with others, you should be cognizant that you don't know what's going on with the person on the other side of the screen. You don't know their age, gender, life experience, or much of anything really. Not unless they tell you and, even then, it can be difficult to know for sure. Many people carry burdens that they seek levity from in their roleplay or even just gaming experience. Some just want to have fun, but still carry difficulties from their problems be they physical or psychological. We're going to get into things such as trigger warnings and the like later on, but I wanted to establish early why content warnings as well as giving others allowances are important.


Just as an example, I have severe ADHD and, for a while, thought I just sucked at tabletop roleplay. A 4th edition game I ran in for a long time regularly made me think so, in large part, because my DM made no consideration for my disability and would sometimes penalize me for it. It wasn't until my current Pathfinder game where my DM has gone out of her way to learn about my condition and how to help me navigate it as we play that I realized that I just wasn't being given the tools to deal with the problem.


Another very common issue are people with autism not realizing that there was a problem because everyone else thought that it was enough to drop "hints". I could give a ton of examples, but there's not so much point of saying them all. The point is that you should be considerate that you don't know what struggles the people you are playing with have and, in addition, be considerate if they share their difficulties and try to be accommodating.


This is a two way street, however. If you are struggling because of an IRL problem (be it physical or mental), you need to make it clear to others, offer ways they can help you navigate those struggles, and, this is important, take steps yourself to not make it entirely everyone else's problem. What I mean by that is that while others should be willing to accommodate you, the world does not revolve around you and you should try and make your issues as non-intrusive to others as possible. Requesting someone use trigger warnings is a fair request, but demanding someone not do a story arc is not. Requesting people try to clearly communicate issues they have with you is reasonable, not being willing to listen to those issues if they come up is not.


Using myself as an example, my ADHD was leading me to lose focus on plans I myself came up with and jumping to new ideas which weren't as well thought out. While my DM was willing to accommodate me, we had to find a way for me to keep better track of plans. After some discussion, we agreed that I'd keep a game planner that, while the DM is willing to help me populate and remind me to use, it's ultimately my responsibility to maintain it.


In short: If someone needs accommodations, provide them. If someone provides accommodations, use them and work on your own to try and help uplift yourself.


3. Communication

No, I'm not going to sit you all down and carefully break down some dictionary definition of what communication is. Instead, I'm going to express how communication often breaks down in roleplay circles and how to avoid falling into the same pitfalls.


The first failure often comes down to assumptions that are never verified. Hunches that someone gets from what someone does ICly, out of context comments made in totally separate conversations, presuming to understand someone's situation based on generalizations and stereotypes without realizing that they are just that, and/or cases of mistaken identity. Basically, it's a Pepe Sylvia wall of guesses and accusations with little basis in reality. People with severe depression or anxiety can often fall into this as they read way too far into people's reactions and presume someone's opinion of them (most often negative) based on the way they think the message is being said to them. I should know, my anxiety has made me fear someone was angry at me for something many times in the past because of what they did or didn't say and not based on them actually expressing they were upset with me.


The second failure tends to be a game of telephone that is born from someone not being willing to come to the table themselves or not coming to the table in any capacity and just spreading gossip. Basically, let's say that @Bunga has a problem with @ChungaWumpa as a result of something that happened in roleplay. Instead of speaking to @ChungaWumpa about it directly, @Bunga gets a friend to go to @ChungaWumpa to speak on their behalf. While this can occasionally yield good results, if @Bunga didn't do a good job of fully expressing their concerns, @ChungaWumpa might get the wrong impression and, even if @Bunga did do a good job, @ChungaWumpa might not appreciate the fact that someone else was brought in to speak for them when they would have been perfectly happy to resolve things amicably. Alternatively, maybe @Bunga didn't want to address it at all so they, instead, start venting about the situation to anyone who will listen. Now, suddenly, any entire community is involved in what is, at its heart, likely a simple interpersonal dilemma. That's not to say that bringing a community into a situation is always a bad idea, but it generally has to be an issue that actually involves the whole community. Recognizing when something is a personal problem and not something that involves you is pretty important to consider.


The third and final failure of communication I'll be talking about here is passive aggression. This can show itself in many forms, but within roleplay communities, it often shows itself when a roleplayer inserts their OOC opinion of a subject into a character's IC dialog. Basically, while the point of contention is brought up to the intended target, it's done so in a round about way that could charitably be interpreted as an attempt to get the target to figure it out themselves. Look, people can be very dense. I know, I am one of those people. If you have an issue, don't beat around the bush.


So what are some tips to effectively communicate with others? GLAD YOU ASKED!


  1. Express your concerns clearly and concisely. If you don't believe you are understood, elaborate and, if necessary, try to give examples of what you mean.
  2. Discern what the other person wants to get out of the conversation. If you can't tell, ask. Likewise, for our purposes, if you are discussing doing a scene, figure out what they want to get out of it if anything and, if you believe it could have negative consequences, be sure the other person is aware of them.
  3. If you are too stressed or cannot put concerns into words, take a moment and formulate what you want to say. Don't force yourself to say what you want to say when you aren't ready to say it.
  4. If you absolutely need another person to bounce ideas off of for a private conflict, be sure they understand you're speaking in confidence.
  5. [More as I think of them/they are mentioned in the comments]


4. Consent

I'm sure a lot of people have heard of consent before, but informed consent is just as important for roleplayers. If your consent is informed, not only do you agree to what is occurring to you and your character, but you understand. If I tell you that my character is going to cast a spell on you to fix some illness, you agree, then I suddenly reveal to you that I made you into a zombie thus curing the illness, that wasn't informed consent.


Surprise isn't always a bad thing, but remember what I said earlier. A lot of drama is rooted in how invested people can get into their characters and what happens to them. The amount of surprise most people are willing to accept of their character without prompting depends on how much control of their situation they are willing to relinquish at the start. In a tabletop game, you are relinquishing a lot of your autonomy to the dungeon master and their word is law. While a good DM will ensure that what happens to you are the inevitable consequences of your (or your party's) actions, you are entering this situation with the understanding that things are going to happen to your character that are out of your control.


But in an MMO environment, all of that changes. There are no final arbiters, meaning the default situation you are entering with is full and total control over your character with zero control over others. You are your own character's or characters' ultimate DM and nobody else. Then how do you interact with others? You can do one of two things. Request permission to do an action or take an action leaving room for the other person to react to it the way that makes sense to their character. By doing this, you also allow for other people to be able to have a chance to impact the scene without forcing it along yourself.


In the end, consent in roleplay really is about ensuring that everyone maintains control of their character and can contribute to the scene at large. Respecting people in this way is at the absolute core of what we do here.


This is a later edit and it pains me that I have to make this clear: someone consenting to be in a place does not consent to them participating in something if they don't even know what that thing is. If you invite someone to your base, that does not mean they consent to literally anything you do in there.


5. Violations of Consent

[WARNING: While the following concepts are generally accepted bad in all roleplay communities, the definitions can be different if not merged into a single definition. Definitions given here are a means of differentiating bad behavior.]


What does it mean to win at roleplay? In truth, this is a nonsense question because you can't win at roleplay. The purpose of roleplay lies in the experience and not with the end result. Unfortunately, not everyone understands or agrees with this and, as a result, they go into roleplay with ulterior motives. Be it a power fantasy or wish fulfillment, bad actors will go into roleplay seeking to have their own fun even if it comes at the cost of the fun of others. Unsurprisingly, this can lead to very bad roleplay that can easily escalate into out of character strife.


Don't view every negative action taken as intentional, however. As we are going to discuss, new or inexperienced roleplayers can fall into some of these traps without intending to ruin everyone else's day. Seek restoration well before retribution. It will go a long way to breed more talented roleplayers in your wake.


While there are many ways a roleplay can be conducted that, purposefully or not, there are four main ways your consent in a roleplay setting can be violated outside of the obvious (gaslighting, manipulation, guilt tripping, etc) which might not be obvious to you. Just be aware that these aren't always applicable. If someone is doing behavior as described here but was given permission to do so, it doesn't qualify because, as implied by the start of this section, this is about violating consent.


  1. Corrupting Implication
    Let's say that you want to have a character stow away on my airship and be discovered after some time of them being there and I agree. So far, no harm no fowl. You want to influence something I alone have control over, have presented the action, and I have agreed to it. Then, once the roleplay gets going, smack dab in the middle you reveal that you had been on my advanced airship for multiple months without any detection and bypassing all of my security with ease. There wasn't even any indication that, after months, there might be someone else aboard. Now, this aspect of stowing away wasn't part of the initial agreement. "Some time" is fairly vague and while you might have presented that as being months, I might have presumed a week or two. The real heart of the issue here, however, is the implication of you stowing away for all of this time without detection. While it does speak to your character's skill, it also speaks some to my character's incompetence. After all, if you were able to bypass all of my security, doesn't that imply that my security is kind of shit?

    While this violation is fairly subtle, it's still important to try and avoid. If anything, sometimes the implications to other characters that come from your posts can be more damaging than anything directly said. This can happen with both player controlled characters as well as canon groups, but it is only especially a problem when your content is resulting in unwanted implications towards other characters. As this can be done entirely unintentionally, you should both be very upfront and polite with the other person as to those implications and, should you be approached, seriously be considerate to the other person's issue.
  2. Metagaming
    Translated literally to mean "beyond the game", metagaming is when you utilize information your character shouldn't have access to based on information that you yourself know as a player without authorization. The reason I say without authorization is that, theoretically, you can come up with any reason for your character to know something you only just found out out of character. What makes this metagaming is when you are using information about another character without verifying you would even have access to it based on things only you as a player could know.

    For example, let's say your character "Gun Monkee" walked into my bar. They are a Dual Pistol/Super Reflexes Sentinel and the moment you come up to the counter, I demand you hand your guns over for safe keeping and also inform you that super reflexes are blocked from functioning in this bar. For added measure, I call you by name despite having never met you before. You, of course, did not tell me any of this in character nor did you tell me out of character I could do this. No matter what justification I give for knowing all of this, the reason my character knows these things is because I, the player, read your description and then clicked on the powers tab.

    Common post-hoc explanations are often related to a character being an information broker, some kind of scanning technology, or undefined magical powers. However, much like corrupting implication, this is very easy (if not easier) to do accidentally; ESPECIALLY if you have more than one character. Imagine that example again, but this time I have met your character on one of my alternate characters and totally forgot which character I met you on. It's also a common mistake for newbies to make as they might assume that everything in your character description is public knowledge unless otherwise stated/implied (instead of the other way around).

    If someone metagames you, speak up immediately (as to avoid roleplay continuing based on faulty information) and correct the player or find out how their character knows this. If they give a justification you don't believe is acceptable, you have every right to tell them so and just not accept it. After all, it's your character information. It's not free for anyone to mess with just because it's not somehow literally attached to your character model. Likewise, if someone accuses you of metagaming, stay calm and either correct yourself or provide your justification. If that justification isn't good enough, don't argue too much and move on.
  3. Godmodding/Puppeteering
    While the concept here is simple, the way it plays out isn't always. Godmodding or Puppeterring is when you perform actions, write reactions, or enforce results to your actions onto other characters you do not have permission to control. It's the difference between, "I stab you," and, "I attempt to stab you," or, put another way, this is your reaction versus this is what you need to react to. As mentioned, part of what needs to be remembered in an MMO setting while roleplaying is that you don't actually have authority over other characters unless you are told that you do. That's what makes godmodding so frustrating to deal with.

    While this can be done as directly as just saying how your character reacts, another method is to more indirectly make your actions for you. This is generally done by controlling NPC's to present ideas to other players about the godmodded character that would necessitate a "reasonable response". An example might be pre-empting an interaction with this character with 15 minutes of an NPC saying how amazing and good hearted their character is and how they should be respected.

    Godmodding generally is done because the modder has a specific idea in mind for how they want the scene to go come hell or high water. Unsurprisingly, the reaction they get when you don't give the reaction they were expecting is generally shock and offense. If you encounter this, the best course of action is to have your character react as they normally would given the set-up and just ignore aspects of their action that they wrote in for you. For example, if I say, "I stab you," you say, "I dodge." Or, in the more underhanded situation, as I implied, if their character is built up to be one way and your character gets the opposite impression, go off of your character's impression.

    If they get angry you didn't react to how they said your character was affected, then you can start a dialog and work something out. While more often malicious than the other two previous examples, this isn't uncommon for new roleplayers to do as they come to understand how consent plays out in the space.
  4. Powergaming
    This is usually the first thing people think of when you say that you, "encountered a bad roleplayer." Powergaming is when, pre-emptively or mid-roleplay, a character is given abilities or traits that are perfect, uncounterable, and/or generally designed to ensure that they have the spotlight by simply making them da best.

    I go into more detail on my write-up regarding power levels, but a character should not be so powerful as to basically control the entire scene. If you enter a scene and are able to basically overcome any obsticle set before you, you are probably powergaming. Likewise, if your character was designed from the start to have immense power that is basically a swiss army knife in utility, you are probably power gaming. An example a friend once told me was of another character cutting through three inch thick impervium armor with a quarter swing of a steel katana.

    Much like godmodding, powergaming is, at its core, the desire to "win" at roleplay. To be the most useful, the most impactful, to yield the most success. People powergaming often implement really weak flaws that make their character more "manageable" or balanced when, in fact, the flaws barely make any real impact at all. The more justifications and excuses built into a character who's powergamed to hell and back, the less likely this was not done intentionally. While someone could get overly excited over a concept and didn't include enough drawbacks to help even out a character, you can usually tell when someone knows they're just living out a power fantasy at the expense of others when it's clear the flaws were designed to be nothing more than paper tigers.

    If you are going to accuse someone of powergaming, it is imperative that you have well thought out criticisms and examples to work off of that are going to be difficult to talk their way out of. If someone truly is acting in bad faith, the goal is less to convince them that they need to reconsider/modify their concept but to prove to yourself that you aren't seeing shadows. I highly recommend not just reading my post on power levels but also my write-up on character flaws to give you a better idea of what to look for if you are going to attempt to do this. However, if you are already convinced and don't want to/don't see a reason to confront them, you don't have to roleplay with them. Remember: the choice is yours, not theirs, to make.


I want to be clear here that I do not point out these bad behaviors because I see them come up a lot in my own roleplay nor that they are even common. Instead, I bring them up because, if you roleplay long enough, you will encounter at least one of these behaviors in some capacity. It's far better you are aware of the ways people can abuse consent in the hobby than to just gloss over the concepts and move on.



This is part of a series of tutorials regarding roleplay! You can find the full list of tutorials here!

Edited by McSpazz
Added a note to #4
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