If I got into MMORPGs for one thing outside of story and entertainment, it was Roleplay. Now, some of you may read ‘Roleplay’ and think of the sort of kinky stuff come couples do involving costumes and toys and such. As I am talking about a game where I play an elf, this is unlikely the same time of Roleplay.
Roleplay—or RP—in games generally means that you create your character, but give them a backstory and personality. You go through the gaming world as if you are this character, who lives in this world, and who may or may not have been witness to key events from the game’s story. Your character interacts with other characters and you form bonds with them—good or bad—as you move through your own plots and watch the character change before your eyes.
It’s a very immersive process, really, and it has given me better insight on getting inside my character’s head.
For the sake of clarity and focus, I play World of Warcraft. WoW operated on an instant messaging chat for communication between players. This is the method I prefer RP in for the sake of immersion. When RPing with someone else in this setup, you don’t have tons of time to respond. Your partner is waiting somewhere on the other end of the game you’re the next thing your character will do or say. You can’t respond two hours later. You can’t get up and come back to it after you’ve had some time to think. You’ve got maybe a few minutes to read what they’re saying, assess the situation, and determine how the character you’ve crafted will respond. You make the circumstances of past RPs into consideration as you get into your character’s head and make each move.
For example, not too long ago, I was involved in a storyline where my character—an Elven mage—had her son kidnapped. Her allies in recovering him were the boy’s instructor—a rather powerful priest—an old friend of her family—a burly, disgruntled paladin—and a man she’d been cultivating a relationship with over several months—a warlock nobleman.
Through magical means, they find where the kidnapper is keeping her son, managing to avoid the traps waiting for them until they reach the building…only to find that boy is gone but for some blood and a scrap from his robe.
Now, over the past few months, the warlock character had become very close to my mage and her son. The kidnapper was actually one of his enemies and he held a lot of anger on himself for failing to protect the boy. Seeing that they were too late only made it worse.
And this character has a literally explosive temper. I’m talking fire everywhere. He was radiating flames, screaming like a madman, and every so often his magic would burst, causing damage to the building they were in. At the time, he was with two characters—my mage and the priest.
This had been an aspect of the warlock that his player and I had been discussing: the idea that she should see him at his worst. I had to think of how she would react. What she would do. And take in past RPs to know what would affect those actions.
In this case, it was the knowledge that she had seen him lose control like this, briefly, when they’d discovered who’d taken her son.
Had she not seen this, her reaction would have been pure terror. Frightened screaming. Possibly trying to talk to him, but through panic and begging him to calm down. She may have even let the priest—whom had never seen such a reaction from the warlock—knock him unconscious.
However, because she had seen a hint of this before, I was able to turn to a core aspect of her personality. My mage can keep calm in a stressful situation if she has logic to cling to. In this case, it was knowing that she could use the scrap of her son’s clothing to divine where he might be. Having seen his flaring temper before, and knowing the warlock for who he was, she was able to take the situation differently.
She was still scared out of her wits—the man was losing control of his magic right before her eyes—but she was able to talk to him, and her worry for his personal safety overrode the fear she was feeling. She was able to give him logic to cling to as well, and he was able to calm down enough to tell them to get away from him so he could release the magic that was currently threatening to overpower him.
As writers, it is important that we are able to get right inside our characters heads and live in their moments. And nothing has taught me to do so better than knowing there is someone waiting for my response to their own actions.
It is an exercise I would recommend trying, if you are in to RPGs. If not, try to write as if you are. As if you’re trapped in a moment, and someone is waiting to see what you’ll do next.
Because your reader certainly will be.