You might ask yourself why I wrote this. The reason is simple – I am addicted to RP. Immersive, vivid RP. Have been doing this for so many years now, almost 20 years with this same character. I have a huge history now. It almost feels like I have been living this life.
The upcoming RP event I will take place in, soon, again on a text based platform, has made me reflecting about RP in general, and especially in Second Life (SL).
SL is such a great platform. We are now able to have avatars of our beloved RP characters that really do look like we have always imagined them. So wonderful. Let alone all the beautifully decorated sims. Simply amazing.
Yet despite the technical excellence, the stunning graphics, all the stuff that Second Life is offering, I see a lot of people stating groups like “I want story in my RP” or “Seeking RP” or whatever in their profiles. There must be an immense lack of RP or such groups would not be necessary. So… why is that?
Basically there are three main questions:
1) What is RP?
2) What is it that kills such RP in Second Life?
3) Where does RP take place?
I will provide an answer these questions at the end of this short essay. I do not claim to own the only truth on this, nor do I claim that these answers are the right ones. It’s just from my point of view, how I see it.
Before answering these questions, let’s go into detail. Let me outline a few thoughts and experiences, so you better understand the core issue.
As mentioned above, I had started RP long before joining SL, on text based platforms. No graphics, no meters, nothing. Yet, the best RP ever. How can that be, if that is so inferior compared to a platform like SL?
Let me present you sized down parts of three scenes of a longer RP of which I have kept the transcript. It demonstrates the concept and the execution. I just throw this at you as is, and comment on the scenes afterwards.
Shindia: Feels the threatening presence of the cruel killer who has been hunting her for days now and presses her tired body close against a huge tree that should give her enough cover.
BlackAssassin: Watches the woman disappearing at the edge of the forest and smiles, knowing he will get her soon. Without making a sound he moves forward, and when she has fully disappeared, and he is sure she cannot see him anymore, he changes direction, heading into the forest while accelerating his steps to a short sprint, still without making any sound.
Shindia: Takes a deep breath inhale and briefly closes her eyes, drops of sweat running down her burning skin. For days she has not been able to get rid of him. Her hand grabs the dagger and her fingers close around the hilt firmly, her pounding heart demands more breathing, yet she tries to suppress the urge, keeping it low, to not make any unnecessary sound.
BlackAssassin: Approaches the only tree that is wide enough to cover a body from the inside of the forest, still without making a sound, a long dagger in his hand, ready. For a moment he stops, holding his breath, listening intensely. In the next moment he jumps towards the other side of the tree, aims and presses the dagger against the throat of the dark haired woman, the sharp edge of the blade slightly cutting into her skin. “Where is Rune?” asks with a cold voice.
Shindia: Her heart misses a beat when the figure materializes right in front of her. In the same moment she feels the blade against her throat and her body tenses up, yet for a few seconds, that feel like eternity, she does not even dare to breathe. Her fingers slowly let go of her dagger as she slowly takes a deep breath, knowing she would be dead before she could even draw it. She can feel her blood pulsating in her veins, pushing them against the blade with each heartbeat, and swallows cautiously. “You know I would never tell you but…” pauses for a moment “…right here and now… I really don’t know.” Her dark eyes meet the cold, grey eyes of the killer. For about a minute both are staring at each other without any movement of the eyes.
BlackAssassin: Holds the look without showing any emotion in his face, then removes the dagger from her throat and quickly sheathes it. “You are not my target today, and I do only kill those I get paid for.” Tilts his head a bit and nods. “And today, you told me the truth.” Without further ado, he turns and dashes into the forest, again without making any notable sound.
Shindia: Keeps standing still for another minute, the tension in her body slowly fading, making her shiver. Her hand touches her throat and she swallows again. That was close.
THUG1: Sees the woman coming into range of his sword and lifts it, only to swing it in a horizontal curve, aiming for the neck of his victim.
THUG2: Stands a bit further away, his bow ready, aiming for the dark haired woman who they had been waiting for. The prize on her head was theirs. What a lucky day.
Shindia: Still shaky from the encounter with the killer, she notices the two attackers too late to avoid the attack. Hardened in countless fights, her reflexes are still present though. The sword approaches her and she turns her body to her left, grabbing the wrist of the attacker with both hands, stopping the movement effectively.
THUG1: Curses as his attack gets paraded and tries to retract his arm from the woman’s grip.
THUG2: Unleashes the arrow in the moment the woman holds the wrist of his companion, aiming for her now open, unprotected body.
Shindia: Sees the arrow flying in the twinkle of her eyes, but is not able to dodge it because she is locked in the position where she paraded the sword. A sharp pain runs through her body as the arrow hits her waist on her right side, making her growling in pain, tears instantly filling her eyes, blurring her view. She feels her legs getting weaker too. They will not carry her much longer. Warm blood soaks her tunic and her right hand automatically goes down, grabbing the shaft of the arrow that is sticking out of her body.
THUG1: “Great shot brother!” Manages to get his arm free now, since she holds him with only one hand now. He lifts his arm again, preparing a final blow.
BlackAssassin: Watches the fight from a short distance. “If you want to live, leave her be.” His dark, cold voice fills the air as he speaks lowly, but loud enough for everyone to hear. Both hands each reveal a throwing dagger, ready to find their targets as precisely as ever.
THUG2: “Fuck… she is ours, you have no right to interrupt us!” He lifts his bow again and hastily draws an arrow out of the quiver.
THUG1: Turns his head and instantly stops the movement, standing there as if he turned to stone. Slowly he steps back. “I know about you, and your reputation… all fine, you can have her, of course. We go, just… let us go.” He turns towards his companion. “Stop it… we leave. It’s HIM.” Without any hesitation he starts running.
Shindia: Her eyes widen in surprise, hearing the voice she would always recognize again and again. Why would he save her now? While her thoughts start to go wild inside her head, the pain in her waist grows more intense and she feels her legs getting weaker and weaker. Finally she sinks down, unable to stand any longer. Her heart beats like a drum as her knees touch the mossy ground. She takes a breath and coughs, before the world around her turns to black.
BlackAssassin: Watches the thugs running away together and approaches Shin, kneeling down beside her, quickly looking at the wound. He sheathes the daggers again carefully, then puts his strong arms under her body, lifting her up as if she was light as a feather. “I said you will not die today, and I meant it. Let’s take you to a healer, I cannot save you. I have never learned how to heal. Only… how to kill.”
Syra: “Undress her, while I get herbs and my tools. Quick!” She looks at the unconscious body of the woman who is laying on the only table that in her hut that is big enough. She had to be fast. The blood loss must be immense by now.
Beril: “Undressing her?” his face turns red. “But…”
Syra: “Haven’t you seen a naked woman before?” yells with an angry voice while still trying to get everything she would need.
Beril: Swallows while his eyes helplessly wander over the woman’s body. Finally he grabs the blood soaked tunic at its lower end, cautiously and slowly trying to pull it upwards, which is not that easy with the injured woman laying on it.
Syra: Returns with her stuff and throws them onto a second, small table nearby, then shakes her head seeing Beril fiddling with the tunic. “Get away and sort my things… gosh. This cannot be that difficult, can it?” Takes her knife and cuts the tunic from top to bottom, ripping it apart quickly, exposing the naked, bleeding body of the woman that the assassin brought to her before leaving again without saying a word. What a strange person he was. “Now put my stuff in order quickly while I get some water, will you?”
Shindia: Blinks a few times as her senses are coming back gradually, but her vision is blurred, not being able to see clearly. There are voices, a yelling, and in a reflex she tries to get up. An intense pain tells her that this was a very bad idea. She coughs and shivers, her frail arms barely able to hold the weight of her upper body.
Beril: Gasps at the sight of Shin’s naked body as he watches her trying to get up. “No no no, you…” With his face glowing bright red now he tries to push the injured woman back down with his trembling hands, yet not really daring to touch her.
Syra: “By the gods! What the hell are you two doing here?” Furiously yells, pushes her assistant aside and presses Shindia back down firmly. “You stay put. If you die under my hands I will kill you, I promise!” Glares at her assistant. “And you – out of my sight. You may watch but don’t you get in my way now!”
In the first scene I am being chased by a killer, commonly known as the Black Assassin. He had already kept chasing me for some days without disclosing the reason behind. There had been several “almost” encounters before, and this time he finally confronts me. I could have written stuff to escape that situation. I could have noticed him despite him being so stealthy. Yet all that has led to this situation, demands the confrontation. No one forces me, no rules tell me that I have to confront him. Yet it feels right to me in this moment, so I go for it. Intuition and common sense.
The short fight that takes place afterwards is an example of how fights had been handled back then. On text based platforms, emoting is all there is, so the fights are taking place in emotes of course. Key here is, again, common sense, intuition, making realistic movements and the sanity to realize when winning is not a valid option anymore. I am not Wonder Woman. I am a normal human, vulnerable, not invincible. I have some skills, but also weaknesses.
RP is give and take. Strength and weakness. Light and darkness. Joy and sadness. Friends and foes. Winning and losing. And it is ever blurring and changing back and forth between the respective two contraries. A flow. A balance. We win, we lose, we laugh, we cry, we are happy, then sad. Through this, we learn, we evolve.
I could have chosen to dodge the arrow. But would that be realistic to dodge an arrow while being locked in position, defending a sword attack with both hands? Not for a normal human. Not for me.
The assistant of the healer is a clumsy, yet warm hearted young man who wants to become a healer. He has still so much to learn. Scenes with him were epic. It is so refreshing to have characters with such weaknesses. In fact, we all have them, right? Time to show them also in RP. Makes us, our characters, so much more alive and realistic.
After that scene, I had been in the hands of the healer for the following 4 weeks. Yes, that long. During that time, many new storylines emerged, from visitors coming, friends, foes. And many more epic scenes with Beril and Syra! Still have got tears in my eyes, laughing when thinking back. And after I had been fully healed, I had tons of options to continue with new storylines that had all been started during this time under Syra’s care. And at the same time I needed to learn what had happened in the meantime in those 4 weeks. So much to do, so many people to meet, to talk to.
And then there was still the Black Assassin, a fighter with a scaring reputation for being a deadly killer who almost never fails. Why did he save me in that moment? I had to find out. I had been asking everyone I had met during my infirmary time but no one knew. So I had to wait for him to appear again, wait for another confrontation to, maybe, get an answer. Uncertainty, speculations. Exciting story.
And all that without any meter, without any stats. Yet I was injured severely. We did not need any stats or numbers for that. It was just born out of the situation. The thugs ran away when they saw the assassin coming. Why, and how did this work? Who told them to do so?
No one did. Key is – everyone involved was aware that no one is invincible. People were willing to win and to lose, respectively, depending on the realism of the scene they were in. Fights can get won, lost, and there are enemies that, in certain situations, are just in a better position and a fight would not be wise. Again – it’s just been done with sanity, common sense and the willingness to remain realistic. Should still be possible nowadays, shouldn’t it?
No rules had ever been needed for any of us throughout all these years. No rules, no meters, nothing. There was just a story that got more and more exciting. Interesting enough, also no griefers. Whoever joined, had been included and was automatically willing to participate, or left the scene quickly without much noise, when realizing it was not for him/her.
This leads to, as I see it, one of the main issues in SL RP. Rules and meters.
Visiting a new land – you have to read rules, rules, rules. Do this, do that, don’t do this, oh, and never do that. Or you will be banned. Wear this meter, wear that meter. Rules, ban threatening, orders, prohibitions. Many of them. Hey, after that, any immersion I might have had when entering the place is gone.
Meter based fighting – in my eyes, has nothing to do with RP. How can we pierce our opponents with hundreds of arrows, only for them to stand up afterwards and run around as if nothing had happened? Not even a scratch?
What are healers for anyway? Everyone seems to be invincible. Rules often say – binding and such, minimum RP of 3 sentences or so. Huh? After downing someone with a dozen arrows, binding is not even necessary. That person is dead. Very dead.
So, fighting in SL meter based RP has no consequences at all. People have the mightiest weapons, try to look fierce and forbidding, and in the end they do less damage with their oh so mighty weapons than they did with a toothpick. Ridiculous, huh?
That is why people start fights for nothing. No consequences. Like in a shooter game, killing NPCs and just moving on. What is that useful for anyway? Such figths, and their outcome, depend a lot on the technical specifications of the PC that is being used, the internet speed, sim lag, script count, graphics settings, whatever. Has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with any storyline. And such fights, regardless of the outcome, almost never generate an even halfway usable storyline either. Just frustration, accusations, cheating, banning, quarrel.
No surprise there – I mean, how to make a story out of a fight where everyone got hit by hundreds of arrows, or got mown down by melee weapons, without suffering any injuries afterwards. What kind of story to make out of this?
With fast steps she approaches the warrior who, after the short battle, is still laying there on the ground (in a red, immersive bubble). “Hey, let me help you getting up, you have a dozen arrows in your back, they must hurt you if you keep laying on them!” giggles and extends her hand.
Not good? Then maybe rather something like:
(After having been hit by at least 30 arrows, again in that immersive red bubble): He lays down on the ground, moaning, looking around how to get out of this. He sees the victorious warrior approaching him, listening to his words. “You are my captive now, you are under arrest.” Instantly he gets bound and is being dragged towards a dark cell. Someone else then yells “Invalid – less than 3 lines of RP!!”
Seriously? I leave it as is. You can see for yourself, how ridiculous that is.
Exceptions are game-like events, for example Capture the flag, Capture the leader, mock raids, fun stuff. These kind of activities have their own category. That is not RP, though. That is more like a fun event in costumes. I love that too, it is fun. But not RP.
I remember, back in June 2007. En Tarsha Ra of the WaNgao approached me for my admission to the WaNgao tribe. There were several tests to pass. One of them was doing a fight only using emotes. Yes, correct. A fight only using emotes. At that time, and coming from a text based platform anyway, that was normal for me, and I just did that without paying much attention to it, or wondering why this had even been asked for. I just did it.
But then, some years afterwards, with the level of RP in SL still full speed on its downhill journey, I grasped the importance of that, and the lack thereof throughout SL. Something that has been forgotten among the stunning graphics: Emoting is more powerful than the most beautiful sim, more powerful than the mightiest scripted weapon ever can be.
Which now gives you the answers of the questions I asked you at the beginning.
1) What is RP?
I think, to each of us it is something different, which is the main issue. But I would dare to claim that RP is best being defined as vivid storytelling. You become part in a novel that is being written in realtime, and all participants are the authors. Everyone has the ingredients to create this story. Give and take. Win and lose. Strength and weakness. A balanced story. Where people seriously care for each other, where healers are really needed and important, where realism and common sense win over meter stats.
Language is an issue of course. All participants need to be able to communicate, to express themselves and to understand what is going on. Without words, no book. Without words, no story based RP. That is just a fact. Translators can help a lot here. And people need to try to learn the vocabulary. Not much that can be done about this. Without words, no story.
2) What kills such RP in SL?
Meters, and too many rules. When there is no sanity anymore amongst players, no common sense, no characters who have strengths AND weaknesses, when everyone wants to win and wants to be more fierce and reckless than the rest, when meters instead of the story decide the outcome of a fight, when wearing a “wrong” meter disqualifies you from taking part in this, then no true RP is possible.
RP in SL is being killed by turning it into a shooter-like game experience. These games can be fun and have their own right to exist, but it is not RP. And combining a shooter game with a vivid, story based RP is a task that is very hard to accomplish, if not impossible (see the meter based fight scenes described above).
Aside that – almost all of my best storylines I got started in moments when I was weak or when someone else was weak, and needed help. There was plenty of room then for emotions, feelings like love, hate, joy, pain, all that, and that led to exciting storylines. No way to express that with meters. No way to include personal traits into meter stats.
We had fellow players who portrayed warriors who had been suffering from vertigo.
And in scenes where this factor became relevant, they just could not fight anymore, or only very handicapped, becoming easy prey. How to ever express that in meter stats? Impossible. But these traits, weaknesses, individual features and characteristics, these are the most important ingredients leading to a truly exciting story. Individual, inner conflicts. When certain situations make people hesitating, retreating, or advancing even more, becoming violent even. Much needed. Yet impossible to implement in meter based games.
And in SL, also often the age of an account becomes a factor (on some sims it says “you have to be at least 60 days old to play here”). We did not see the age of an account back then on that text based platform, and, believe it or not, it was of no interest to anyone. If a new player joined, and could successfully portray an experienced warrior with deadly skills, why not?
Back then, newbies to RP often automatically chose to take it slow until they got more secure and experienced. Sanity, remember? Common sense. Only portray a character that is in you. A character you can truly be from within, with heart and soul. Portray someone whose actions are familiar to you and that you can describe and execute in a convincing manner. Someone you can identify with. And then stick to it. Live and learn, get history and depth. And it had always been an exciting process for them to learn more skills through experience, skills that were backed up by actions, witnessed by other players. That gave them a great reputation also, and created feelings in other players when such a player then appeared in a scene.
“Careful, it is HIM…” she whispered to her companion when they noticed the huge warrior walking by, impressively dressed in his furs that made his muscular arms stand out even more. “I saw him killing two bandits last week with his bare hands!”
Everyone can learn it. Some faster, some need more time. Key is to learn how to express yourself, your feelings, your soul. It just needs dedication and the willingness to learn and adopt.
At this point – kudos and my deepest respect to all the villains I have had the joy to RP with in all these years. You know who you are. So desperately needed for any exciting storyline. And even they had their good sides in certain situations. Without them, it would not have been the same.
Finally there is a very short answer to question 3.
3) Where does RP take place?
In all our imaginative, creative minds.
Thank you for reading!