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Jen Shikami/Jen Gagne (jengagne) had some facinating comments on a recent post of mine about the use of the word “game” for Second Life. The reason I think it’s fascinating is because it reveals something a lot of people may be thinking in Second Life, something it hadn’t occurred to me to even imagine.

I want to say first that the conclusions I’m drawing are all mine and not Jen’s fault or responsibility or anything! So with that out of the way, here’s what Jen said:

Multi-user text-based games (MUDs, MUSHes, MUCKs) sometimes have programmed systems that let the avatars hack up AI trolls or whatever for experience or gold…OTHER text-based games don’t have a programmed combat system at all. These are most likely to be either strictly social, or geared toward collaborative storytelling (roleplaying).

So, anybody you run into in SL who has a background on text-based places like these is quite likely to consider SL another game along those same lines. At the same time they take other players/avatars VERY seriously and (unless they’re jerks) are acutely conscious of whether the people around them are having fun…there’s a very strict separation of IC (in-character) and OOC (out-of-character) information and motives. By default, it’s not a problem if my character is dating your boyfriend’s character, for example… IF people are being professional about the storytelling aspect.

So the way I understand this, I think there are a number of people in Second Life for whom even the social aspects are a kind of game, who are playing a role and assume that everyone else knows they’re playing a role and that the role is not the real person. And I think this means too that they might not treat other avatars as though they’re people, but instead as though they are roles that people are playing, whose anger isn’t real anger and whose needs aren’t real needs and all that kind of thing. (Does it really mean that? I don’t know! Comment and tell me.)

But for some of us–for most people I know!–the physical aspects of Second Life (like being a flying nubian mermaid) are sometimes play, but the emotional and social aspects are real. When someone tells me her Second Life boyfriend has been playing her or when someone’s sad or upset or delighted, I am assuming that there’s a real person who has been played or is sad or upset or delighted. And maybe sometimes I’ve been wrong, and instead have been dealing with a roleplayer who is pretending to feel that way and who is really just playing a social game, not meaning anything by it.

I’ve always known about roleplaying in Second Life, but apart from the “let’s try on a different personality that’s still really a part of me”* variety, I’ve always imagined that roleplay was done only in role-playing environments or when everyone involved had agreed to roleplay. I’ve never considered Second Life itself one big roleplaying environment. But maybe some people imagine it is, and that everyone else thinks it is, too.

Oh, and of course there are the people out there who are pretending to be roleplaying and really aren’t, the people who protest as they are cheating on their First Life relationships or doing something else unkind that “it’s only a game”, but who are really pursuing their own First Life needs in those relationships and not just acting out a character.

I don’t think those are the same as the roleplayers that Jen talks about. The real roleplayers, not the cads, are not out there pretending to pretend in order to mask a lack of integrity; they’re really just out playing a game in good faith. Maybe a game that not everyone knows is a game, though, which could be trouble that they don’t mean to cause.

So is this a problem, or am I making too much of it? Are people who aren’t roleplaying getting hurt unintentionally by people who are, or are roleplayers getting accused of being serious with behavior they’re only playing at? And if it is a problem, what’s to be done about it? And if it’s not, what’s preventing it from being one?

^^^\ Kate /^^^

*”Let’s try on a new personality” is something I don’t think of as roleplaying, as long as people are acting in accordance with their hearts. I think that someone being a fox-person in Second Life or a shy person acting like a wild extrovert or a reserved, intellectual person being a Second Life lover and fighter tends to be more of psychological and identity exploration than a roleplay.

I differentiate them this way: in stories, we follow and “live through” the things that happen to the heroine or hero, but the hero is acting out needs and intentions that aren’t the same as ours. And so with roleplaying: if you’re pretending to care about things you don’t really care about, or pretending not to care about things that really would mean something to you if you considered them real, then you’re roleplaying.

And if you’re acting on your own needs and intentions, then many parts of your personality and identity can be mutable without it being roleplaying, so that even a furry pirate androgyne, for instance, could be by my lights not roleplaying, and it’s not the character, but whether the character’s heart is real or imagined.

I know there are other definitions of roleplaying; that’s just the one I myself like.