More on Roleplay

Reply to Tateru Nino’s second comment in my “RP or not RP?” post below:

I approach the concept of formalized roleplay as a writer and editor (and 5+ decade reader!) of fiction. Unfortunately, I’ve been pre-programmed with the discipline needed to develop: a plot with a plausible backstory; realistic (or at least, realistically described) settings; multiple, separate and distinguishable characters with more than two dimensions; all with an ending that satisfies the reader. Granted, roleplay in a virtual environment dispenses with the need to describe the scenery, and reduces the character development to one — that is, one’s own — and there is no ending. It also brings in as many authors as there are characters! I’ve tried writing in collaboration, and it didn’t work for me… probably because of those hide-bound habits.

Thus, though I know they’re scattered all over SL, and some are even based on works I love (Tolkein’s Middle Earth, Wheadon’s Firefly/Serenity, and the Star Trek canon), I’ve chosen not to explore them. Why? Simply because it seems too much like work. My “Second Life” is actually my third — my first life is the mundane one I live in order to remain living, and my second is my Web presence as author, editor, and now as blogger — and I tend to avoid doing anything in SL that too closely resembles what I do outside of it.

In other words: What little I know about immersive roleplaying sims in SL is vicarious… including that there are (as Tateru mentioned in her comment) IC/OOC conventions, or protocols, or — probably more accurately — customs adopted within the context of the role-played societies.[1]

Regardless: Through the interconnections[2] of blogs I follow, I’ve discovered Salvatore Otero’s “Second Life Roleplay”, and I recommend it to anyone interested in pursuing the subject and/or immersing themselves in the experience.

The Furry world before Second Life included a great deal of roleplay. The media (chatrooms, MUCKs, etc.) in which it originated were 100% text. Visual enhancement came by way of furry art websites where the participants illustrated the appearance of their characters, and scenes commemorating interactions they had had with others.  (This is, of course, still the case outside of SL.)  Graphic-enhanced websites eventually appeared, but the emphasis is still on roleplay. Here, for example, is Furcadia’s webpage on the topic. Notice the delineation between “persona” and “strict”. Since so many SL furs come from Furcadia, or another cultural environment like it, one might understand their tendency to assume that every other fur they meet is at least engaging in persona roleplay.

There’s some truth to that. If we’re being literal about it, every furry in Second Life is automatically performing persona  — or “fursona”, as it’s popularly punned — roleplay merely by appearing as we do. Anthropomorphized animals exist nowhere in reality (regardless of their solid real-world cultural origins in ancient legends and fairy tales, as well as popular characters in comics and cartoons… all of which leads this furry thinker to wonder about archetypes in Joseph Campbell’s sense of the word, and I’m likely to come back to that in a future post).

However, it is equally valid in that context to say that every SL avatar, no matter what they look like, is a “persona roleplayer”. We do not — in fact we are not allowed to — assign our RL names to our avatars. Except on rare occasions, we do not customize our avatars to resemble, let lone duplicate, our RL appearance.

Beyond that literal interpretation of what may or may not be roleplay: Not everyone who chooses to “put on the fur” is an import from a furry venue elsewhere on the Web; neither are our tens of thousands of human cousins, who have come to SL without experience in playing who they’re not. Consequently, most aren’t… and that’s what I was getting at in my first blog on this topic.

I began public blogging in order to add my voice to the discussion of a topic I find fascinating: the interface between avatar and organic self.  For me, the question is easily answered: I am Lalo Telling.  The personality you meet in SL is me, projected into the virtual world by way of what I say and how I say it, no matter what I happen to look like.  However, there are many others who may never venture into what Furcadia calls “strict” roleplay but whose level of “persona” roleplay intentionally separates their avatar from their organic selves.

Botgirl Questi has recently been exploring the avatar identity question through an analogy with ventriloquism. Although hers is still (as of this writing) a work in progress, I believe I see where she’s headed, and it has to do with the audience’s willing — often, eager — suspension of disbelief and the embracing of the puppet as a separate identity. This speaks to our perception of other avatars more than it does to our perception of our own, and it dovetails with a comment made by Sal Oteru (posting as “secondliferoleplay”) in Botgirl’s post on the Wittgenstein duckrabbit, about taking avatars “at face value”.

Most of the time, that’s a given. But, when we begin to feel emotionally drawn to another avatar as we perceive her (or him), disbelief needs to be taken off suspension. The person behind the keyboard should step outside of the role, at least long enough to say “I’m not who you think I am.”

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[1] I’m currently 2/3 through S.M. Stirling’s second “Change” trilogy. It’s a post-disaster alternate history in which the survivors must (among other things) reinvent cultures in order to remain surviving. Most of them adopt mythological foundations — consciously at first, but succeeding generations born after “The Change” assimilate the constructs literally with their mother’s milk and believe in them. Thus, for instance, Sindarin becomes a living language in Stirling’s alternate North America, because one group of survivors was founded by a Tolkein fan, and they subsume the Professor’s opus vivendi as history, not literature. I see potential for the same sort of “cultural evolution within context” in open-ended roleplay scenarios in SL and elsewhere.

[2] Charlanna Beresford’s Avatars in Wonderland, “All the Virtual World’s a Stage”

Introduction, too

The first re-post from F4L, from The Round Table group discussion titled “The souls in the furries”. (edited from the original)
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I feel a need to get deep… we’re talking soul here, after all.

I am a furry because someone I befriended online, but never met, told me I had the spirit of Fox. He was a full-blood Native American of the Kiowa nation, a man of my own age and a Vietnam vet (Marines, Special Forces). After that, he never called me anything but Fox. (About a year later, he volunteered back into uniform after 9/11. They took him back, for his ‘special talents’… he was killed in action overseas in a location far from the headlines but vital to our common safety.) Another friend, the dearest I have in the real world (who also said I had “a poet’s soul”), gave me the name Lalo from a character in a book we both read. I combined the two and became Lalo Fox, the name under which I wrote and edited for six years. Yes, you can Google it.

When you join Second Life, the administrators give you a list of last names from which you must choose (it changes regularly). Fox wasn’t available… but one name did jump out at me: Telling. To understand why, you should read  Always Coming Home by Ursula LeGuin… but the short answer is, one of the story threads carried through that novel is narrated by a woman called Stone Telling. I took the name, with a smile of thanks to the unseen forces that made it possible, and I took the responsibilities that come with it. As “Lalo Fox”, I had already begun telling… this renaming was a re-dedication.

I was a fox for a while… but, as we furries know, sometimes as one grows one changes form — at least, the image of ourselves we keep inside. In Second Life one can change one’s outer form for any reason, or for no reason at all. Without feeling at all like I was dishonoring the memory of the friend who named me Fox, I surrendered to the call of the feline, and have been a cat of one sort or another ever since. (To be fair: the People of the Plains had no small cats in their world to learn from, and foxes are the most “feline” of the canines).

In the other posts (i.e., the group discussion from which this is copied) I see a common thread: solitude. In my real life I am the same, and have always been so… but, being also human, I cannot avoid the desire for companionship. There, I think, is a conflict all of us share: the need to be loved vs the need to be alone. That conflict is never far from the front of my mind, and I carry it with me into Second Life, too. I am not unloved in either world — but I do not have one special love, not here, not there, and the conflict rages on.

I learn from my past, but I do not dwell on it. Instead, my inner eyes look toward the future while my conscious mind sits in the stream of the present like a stone in a river: never moving, but shaped by the flow at the same time that my presence makes ripples in it. I am now of the age when I know that stream will, some day, finally take me with it, and the ripples I make will vanish… yet that is of no concern. I won’t be there to know of the change.