Essay: On the (dis)harmony between ingame and extragame; or how I learned to stop worrying and love my character's model.

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Essay: On the (dis)harmony between ingame and extragame; or how I learned to stop worrying and love my character's model.

Post by Thelos on Sat Jan 18, 2014 3:29 am

The practice of role-playing employs two distinct tools that, when used properly, enhance each-other in mutual harmony; and, when used improperly, contradict one another, causing dissonance.

The first of these tools I call in-game, or ingame. Ingame, as the name implies, is everything – both what you use in your role-play and what you chose to ignore – that comes from the actual game. These include: your character model, your character's class, his position in the world, emotes and many, many more small things you might be unaware you are using (or deliberately not-using).

The second of these tools I call extra-game, or extragame. Extragame tools are any and all elements you add on top of the ingame tools, almost always using text as a medium (though, sometimes, trough things like GHI, extragame visuals and sounds might also be utilized; though much less used, one might also use Skype or other voicechat to add speech to play). Most obvious extragame tools are role-playing addons that allow you to add biographies to your character, but all of the text you type in the game – emotes and dialogue alike - also counts.

Extragame tools are invaluable to role-play and, without them, role-play as we know it would not be possible. Extragame tools allow us to shape and change the game we play and without them, we would be limited to the customization offered by the game and would all be playing generic characters like 'Pandaren monk' without any further customization. It would be impossible to play a fat monk, or a skinny monk; a sad monk, or a happy monk; an energetic monk, or a slow monk, etcetera. I consider even the dialogue you type for your character to be extragame, as it is unique to your play and does not stem directly from the sources of the videogame. So, without it, role-play would not be possible.

However, we mustn't overemphasize the importance of extragame either. Much of your play is ingame; walking is the most striking example. One almost never emotes walking somewhere; why would you? You use your character model to move somewhere. Typing it would be double. Imagine describing every single step your character takes with text: it would be a total chore!

Nevertheless, extragame is a pivotal element of our play, without which role-playing would not be possible, though there are some problems with extragame tools. Most of these problems stem from the disharmony between ingame and extragame and the jarring, immersion-breaking sensation whenever this disharmony is being perceived. This is jarring exactly because we are used to accepting many ingame facts as relevant to our role-play (such as the location of our characters and their spatial relation to one another) and when we are asked to arbitrarily ignore some, this feels strange and calls into question why we accept some, but not other facts of the game.

This gets of course tricky because of the fact that we routinely ignore whole swathes of ingame facts in our role-play, most commonly NPCs, and, crucially, character deaths. However, I stand by the fact that a disharmony between ingame and extragame can - even if we are used to ignoring some other ingame elements - be jarring and should be avoided as much as possible, while on the other end, we should use as many ingame elements as possible and strive to include as much as we can, while limiting the amount which we ignore; though there are some ingame elements that we have no choice but to ignore in order to role-play properly, such as character deaths; except if we - as I have earlier suggested - accept Spirit Healers and corpserunning as real things that actually exist in the world. But this would require a radical paradigm shift which most players would find disagreeable. Another argument against accepting characte deaths, corpserunning and spirit healers are existing in the ingame reality is the fact that no NPCs ever refer to them as existing. This might place them in the same category as, say, the interface. Can you imagine characters refering to being queued in LFR? Because I can't; that would be almost entirely silly, though an interesting experiment to perhaps one day try out; a strange kind of postmodern role-playing experience in which the characters are aware that they are in a videogame.

But let's dial the abstractionknob backwards a bit and look at examples. Let's look at Death Knights specifically,, because this class in particular has been the subject of much controversy. The bare, naked ingame Death Knight is, amongst many traits, most importantly: undead. They are called Death Knights for a reason. However, many players have played their Death Knights as being very much alive. This, I feel, is a classic example of extragame contradicting ingame: somebody's role-playing biography might say that his character is alive, but his model says: 'Undead'. You can't hide those glowing eyes. the hollow voice and perhap most importantly, the class: the characfter itself screams: UNDEAD, regardless or in spite of the player's best efforts to hide this. This is the type of dissonance that is jarring when experienced.

Of course there are clever way around this problem. The Death Knight might wear armor that hides his eyes, for example. But one should ask oneself whether this sort of effort to fight the model's inherent ingame qualities is particularly worth it. To fight ingame trough extragame means requires a momentous amount of effort. I have very often been ticked off by Death Knights walking around with a ghoul pet one second (usually before or after a battle), only for them to after declare that the ghoul was never there, since they're not really Death Knights at all; this is another and perhaps even more clear example of dissonance between ingame and extragame: the Death Knight is actively trying to hide some of his ingame qualities by extragame means. But they were there: we could see them.

Mind you, the badness of the dissonance between extragame and ingame isn't absolute. Some discrepancies are more jarring than others and there is much disagreement over how much variation is acceptable. For example, one might use the human male model to play a fat character: but the model itself is very muscular and fit. I, personally, find this jarring, but many others would argue that, if we were to not allow this kind of discrepancy, we would seriously be limiting our role-playing potential and the possible characters we could play. These sentiments, while I do not necessarily agree with them, raise a valid point, which is why I do not oppose them outright. It would even be hypocritical of me to do so, since I have enjoyed playing a very fat draenei male (who are bonafied adonis-athletes) myself.

I have, however, developed a mistrust over the general disharmony between ingame and extragame and have striven to instead harmonize the two. I try to have my ingame be as close to its extrame which it supersedes as possible. I have personally found that this, rather than limit my role-play and homogenize it with others who use the same model and class, has added much color and personality to my play. Once I stopped trying to contradict my model by having my character be 'thinner' [the pandaren male], I could utilize the fatness of my model to its fullest extend and play around with it. I allowed the flow of the animations of my model – mostly the silly /kiss and /shy animations – to determine the flow of my character's mood and his personality. If my character used energetic animations, his extragame dialogue and emotes would be equally energetic; these two now work to enhance each-other. This I call ingame-extragame harmony, and it is my role-playing ideal; it is opposed by ingame-extragame disharmony, or as I said earlier, dissonance, which has become my negative ideal and is that which I try to actively avoid.

I propose that following: a dissonance between ingame and extragame is the source of many role-paying woes and worries, to which my solution is simple: while players shouldn't be worried about enriching their play trough extragame means, they should be wary to do so in a way that enhances and expands upon the ingame and never contradicts it.

So, next time you role-play, think carefully over how your ingame and extragame relate to one another. Are you fighting really hard to change your ingame trough extragame means? Then I encourage you try a playstyle in which the two are more aligned. The outcome might surprise you.

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Re: Essay: On the (dis)harmony between ingame and extragame; or how I learned to stop worrying and love my character's model.

Post by Sanara on Sat Jan 18, 2014 3:45 am

td;dr version: "It's probably a good idea to minimize the amount of meta- or non-ingame information other players need to know in order to comfortably roleplay with your characters". Am I off the mark? I might be, but I'll continue anyway.

I largely agree with the sentiment and furthermore, having roleplayed a lot in the completley addon-less SWTOR for the past two years, I've re-learned the importance of trying to convey a character's quirks in appearance or behaviour through Roleplay (wether with the gear of your ingame model, your emotes or even just something as subtle as positioning), rather than hoping the people you play with will take 3 minutes to read your ten-paragraph RSP description.

As this regards to dissonance, I personally feel that it's harder to get the sense that a character is supposed to be, for example, significantly overweight if I just read it as part of their description, than if the descriptive emotes that are supposed to immerse me in the roleplay/story tell me the same thing. Contrast "Description: Thelos is very fat." with "Thelos takes a moment to rise from his chair, nearly knocking over his goblet with his bloated gut."

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Re: Essay: On the (dis)harmony between ingame and extragame; or how I learned to stop worrying and love my character's model.

Post by Vaell on Sat Jan 18, 2014 4:16 am

The problem with your argument is that a lot of ingame is only there because, as it says in the name, it's a game. A video game where 98% of the players are not here to role-play. Chris Metzen has admitted that he gets handed a slip of paper and has to make the lore work around it.

Take the spirit healer as an example. "We can't have people just die. We want them to be resurrected. Make it work." And why does it work? Because WoW is pushed as a single player game with multiplayer elements. Look at 90% of the quests - they're single player. Most tell a small, usually insignificant, story that makes no sense to be repeatable. Take that quest in Durotar where you have to kill Crocolisks until you find the Grandchild's necklace, it's a single player quest. The world acts as if there are only a small group of champions (in comparison to the reality of 8mil players). This is how I justify things like spirit healers. They favour the main playable heroes of Warcraft. The reason spirit healers cannot be mainstream is because character deaths exist. The lore would be too contradicting for that.

I don't really ever question the line between mechanics and intended lore because in 99% of cases it's obvious!

As for your other points, I do agree with Sanara about long TRP descriptions - I never read them. A few lines can make a character though. If someone has a noticable scar down their face, it would be a mess for them to describe their character itching it every time a new player walked over.

I first role-played on Habbo Hotel so it might be a personal thing, but I never struggle with immersion. If someone is playing a limbless criminal that uses magic to float, I could easily picture it and go along with it even if their character is walking in front of me. You may have found a method that works for you, but I still find it limiting! I read RP like a book with extra visuals, not the opposite way around and nor would I pursue to harmonise it to a large extent if I want to play something original and quirky. I think the greatest form of characterisation is the written word.

I definitely use some ingame to a large extent, e.g. the use of flamboyant clothing. However, if I want Vaell to smoke a pipe, take a dump in the streets or create an arcane swarm of bees with a self-created spell, I rely on the written word and I have seen no way to match that so far.

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Re: Essay: On the (dis)harmony between ingame and extragame; or how I learned to stop worrying and love my character's model.

Post by Sanara on Sat Jan 18, 2014 4:31 am

Vaell wrote:As for your other points, I do agree with Sanara about long TRP descriptions - I never read them. A few lines can make a character though. If someone has a noticable scar down their face, it would be a mess for them to describe their character itching it every time a new player walked over.

While this is true, not doing it can lead to some strange exchanges. For example my Draenei Hunter has had her entire right eye gouged out with a massive scar in its place, and while I usually have an eyepatch on she does occasionally remove it (for whatever reason). If I don't clarify that a chunk of her face is missing, it's easy to assume that she actually looks pretty, as the ingame model does, rather than horribly disfigured. Imagine how jarring it would be for someone who does not use RSP mods at all if other characters regard her as ugly when, for all they can tell, she looks no worse than anyone else.

It's like watching a movie with bad special effects, where you don't see a character running from a monster, but rather an actor running in place in front of a greenscreen. When suspension of disbelief fails, immersion dies and in RP, that can suck the experience dry pretty quickly.

Vaell wrote:However, if I want Vaell to *snip* create an arcane swarm of bees with a self-created spell, I rely on the written word and I have seen no way to match that so far.

Obviously the answer is to only use it against Death Knights with the Unholy Blight talent.

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Re: Essay: On the (dis)harmony between ingame and extragame; or how I learned to stop worrying and love my character's model.

Post by erwtenpeller on Sat Jan 18, 2014 4:49 am

After having played around with stretching the boundaries of what I can present through extragame means, I've come to the same conclusions as Thelos. I find it a lot easier and more natural to work with the flow of the game, rather then swim against the tide.

My guild, the Band of the Brave, is founded on that principle. I am stimulating my members to bring as many traditionally out-of-character elements into role-play as they feel comfortable with.

A striking example is the way the guild was founded. My character, Theadore Wellsworth, wanted to form a legit group of adventurers. She got a guild charter from the Stormwind Visitor's Center, gathered interested people around her to sign the guild charter, and once she got those they all went to the Visitor's Center to finalize the registration progress, and pick out a guild tabard!

I also like us to interact with the world in the most organic ways possible. To help with that, the character's levels are taken into consideration. A level 30 warrior is less "experienced" then a level 90 warrior, no matter what they say in-character. I've come to notice that is a big role-play foul in Stormwind, it is considered meta-gaming, because how can you possibly tell?

Well, you can tell as soon as we get out of Stormwind, and into high level contested territory. If we are ambushed by the horde (ganked) or come across some high-level mobs we want to consider as in-character, the level 30 warrior suddenly insn't so tough, he can't defend himself. We can see him go down. Thus, we can tell he is inexperienced.

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Re: Essay: On the (dis)harmony between ingame and extragame; or how I learned to stop worrying and love my character's model.

Post by Sanara on Sat Jan 18, 2014 5:06 am

erwtenpeller wrote:I also like us to interact with the world in the most organic ways possible. To help with that, the character's levels are taken into consideration. A level 30 warrior is less "experienced" then a level 90 warrior, no matter what they say in-character. I've come to notice that is a big role-play foul in Stormwind, it is considered meta-gaming, because how can you possibly tell?

Well, you can tell as soon as we get out of Stormwind, and into high level contested territory. If we are ambushed by the horde (ganked) or come across some high-level mobs we want to consider as in-character, the level 30 warrior suddenly insn't so tough, he can't defend himself. We can see him go down. Thus, we can tell he is inexperienced.

This is something I widely disregard. While leveling in WoW is easy, it's also incredibly boring, especially if you have many characters to roleplay. Considering the massive gear-difference between a level 89 and a level 90 character (with 90's often being able to easily oneshot 89's) it really becomes a very poor estimation of in-character ability. Should we also take into account the fact a level 90 Paladin can kill Yogg-Saron solo as meaning Vlas' is more powerful than an Old God?

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Re: Essay: On the (dis)harmony between ingame and extragame; or how I learned to stop worrying and love my character's model.

Post by erwtenpeller on Sat Jan 18, 2014 5:34 am

Sanara wrote:
erwtenpeller wrote:I also like us to interact with the world in the most organic ways possible. To help with that, the character's levels are taken into consideration. A level 30 warrior is less "experienced" then a level 90 warrior, no matter what they say in-character. I've come to notice that is a big role-play foul in Stormwind, it is considered meta-gaming, because how can you possibly tell?

Well, you can tell as soon as we get out of Stormwind, and into high level contested territory. If we are ambushed by the horde (ganked) or come across some high-level mobs we want to consider as in-character, the level 30 warrior suddenly insn't so tough, he can't defend himself. We can see him go down. Thus, we can tell he is inexperienced.

This is something I widely disregard. While leveling in WoW is easy, it's also incredibly boring, especially if you have many characters to roleplay. Considering the massive gear-difference between a level 89 and a level 90 character (with 90's often being able to easily oneshot 89's) it really becomes a very poor estimation of in-character ability. Should we also take into account the fact a level 90 Paladin can kill Yogg-Saron solo as meaning Vlas' is more powerful than an Old God?
You have to remember why we're considering character level as something to indicate fighting experience. We do this because it becomes problematic if you're in contested territory and want to interact with the horde. An underlevelled character will simply get flattened, and we can all see that they just got flattened. We want to be able to use random ambushes (gankers) in our role-play, to try and enrich our story with it rather then have them be a nuisance that pauses the role-play for a good hour or so. The same goes for wanting to role-play in a high level area filled with, say, virmin mobs that we would like to see as there, and they swarm our poor level 30 as soon as he gets near.

We're not talking about considering the actual numbers of the stats as an in-character thing. You won't see my character walk up to someone with a power-level meter and going "Bleep bloop, nope, the power-level-meter says it's only 87, not high enough yet! Go back to Pandaria and blood your axe some more!"

You have to think in the spirit of things. You've got to be a bit flexible with what you see. Try to create role-play from as much as possible, and discard the things that won't add to the story, but would obstruct it at any given time. To suggest anyone can whack an old god to pieces is just ridiculous, everyone knows that, no-one is going to argue about that.

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Re: Essay: On the (dis)harmony between ingame and extragame; or how I learned to stop worrying and love my character's model.

Post by Amaryl on Sat Jan 18, 2014 6:44 am

According to you definitions Thelos, Armour is ingame. A helmet that shields your eyes is ingame. But yet that requires a lot of effort to use, and also creates dissonance, as such your argument is flawed.

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Re: Essay: On the (dis)harmony between ingame and extragame; or how I learned to stop worrying and love my character's model.

Post by Littlepip on Sat Jan 18, 2014 1:06 pm

I say, that was a lot to read trough.

Personaly I have no problem reading character description and taking it in-character as if it was actually there. "Then why do you use elixir of giant growth?"
An exelent question. That is because not everyone is like me and actually read description and writing it over and over again as an emote is simply to bothersome and annoying, so I use elixir of giant growth to visualise it and make it easier for both me and others.

As I have said since the days of old, natural is the way to go.

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Re: Essay: On the (dis)harmony between ingame and extragame; or how I learned to stop worrying and love my character's model.

Post by Anivitas on Sat Jan 18, 2014 1:43 pm

Wanted to write a reply to this in the morning, but didn't have the time before work.

I've always taken Roleplay as something that requires imagination. I enjoy people who make their character different to that of what is shown in game. It's what adds to the diversity.

If you take everything in game so literally, in the end. Roleplay would become a repetitive. And dull affair for me. For instance taking NPC's that never move into account, presuming they spend their whole life on that spot. Or if we did indeed all look like our character models. We'd all have exactly the same build and physic. Or that every single one of us is an unsung hero.

While of course the counter argument to that is, use your imagination, imagine the person is not there all the time, but only when you are local. Or imagine the faces differently. The point stands for me, in that case, why bother? If we are going to use our imagination, why not use it for more? To make a far more immersive world.

World of Warcraft was never made for Roleplayers. Most of the mechanics are based for gameplay. Nothing else. Considering the whole point of Roleplay for me is imagination. I say use that imagination and make a much more diverse, and flourishing world, rather then simply taking what's before us and accepting it as the ends meat.

EDIT : On the subject of long TRP's. I completely agree. And yet will hold my hand up as one of the guilty of having a rather long one. Even if aware that not many will read it. Writing up a detailed TRP helps me personally develop my character, and transition what I imagine my character to be/look like onto the screen.

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Re: Essay: On the (dis)harmony between ingame and extragame; or how I learned to stop worrying and love my character's model.

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