Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Questions of Character

I tripped over a curious line of thinking while I was constructing my response to BB37.

You see, I was pondering how the game, the meta-game and the exo-game go together. The game and the exo-game are the easiest to define. The muddy, murky meta-game much more difficult to do so. But why? Venn diagrams are simple enough to understand, right? You've got your one circle, you've got your second circle, and they overlap each other in places. And for most uses of such a diagram, that's all you really need to see. You don't really need to see why they overlap, you just need to understand that they do.

For this particular exercise, though, I had to really drill down to understand the lines that define those boundaries. And even though it didn't make it into the piece, I spent a lot of time considering the concept of role-play and how it fits in to the game at large. More precisely, I had to deconstruct the mechanics of role-playing to determine exactly how and where real life and character life part ways.

What hit me funny was that despite all of the smack most players talk about role-players and how strange and ridiculous they are, I think it's the rp'ers who are actually the most effective at drawing the line between their exo-game identities and their in-game ones. Going back to the Venn diagram, if you were to create two separate diagrams, one for role-players and one for non- role-players, you would see that the area of intersection between the game and the exo-game is much smaller for role-players than it is for everyone else. It's completely counter-intuitive to think in these terms, but amazingly, it is the role-players who are most effective at drawing the line between the game and real life.

The reason for this is the way the role-player plays the game. When he or she enters the game-space, the rp'er has to consciously separate themselves from their exo-game identity to inhabit and portray their in-game one. They may share a lot of qualities and idiosyncrasies as their character, but they are always firmly aware that they are "in character" and that everything that happens in the game is happening with regards to that character and not the person behind it. And when the time comes to log off and return to the exo-game, it's a conscious return to their human identity.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting by any stretch that there isn't some ego-confusion involved and I have to imagine that in a lot of cases it is a difficult thing to remind oneself of. Hell, role-players sperg in local, too. It's just that when they do it, they sperg in character. For the most part though, I'd be willing to wager a lot of ISK that no matter what happens in the game-space, when they log off for the day or for a few hours, the rp'ers have mentally 'logged off' more completely than most.

Others, myself included, have a much fuzzier line. Those of us who are heavily immersed in the meta-game of EVE, the bloggers, the pod-casters, the streamers, the propagandists, the third-party devs, etc. tend to blend EVE and real-life to a greater degree. To use myself as an example of a non- role-player, I don't create or exhibit qualities that don't exist in my exo-game persona in Firstly. If you were to have a conversation with Firstly on comms or with Rick at the bar, the conversation would very likely be the same. That said, I take a lot of the game with me when I log off for the night. I spend a lot of time considering things using Firstly's frame of reference, whether that is time spent reading blogs, writing my own, studying ships and doctrines to improve my piloting skills, having conversations with other players on Twitter, whatever. The point is that more often that not even if I'm physically logged off, mentally I'm still very much engaged in the game. And all evidence suggests I'm not alone in that regard.

It's an intricate and nuanced concept, to be sure. And when you consider whether or not Firstly is actually meta-living while Rick is busy meta-gaming, it gets downright scary. But you can leave that alone for now. While you're at it, leave the role-players alone, too. They're more like you than you might think.     

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