Today’s guest-post was written by Danish freeform designer Anne Vinkel. It previously appeared in Danish on the Plan B Rollespil. Translation here courtesy of Troels Ken Pedersen.
Four of us sat around a table, and as we weren’t busy roleplaying, we talked about roleplaying. Eventually, I gave my standard rant about why I dislike the concept of “The Good Roleplayer” and want it horribly dead. Peter Fallesen [a Danish designer] incautiously suggested that I blog about it. In other words, you have Peter to blame. Here comes The Rant.
The concept of The Good Roleplayer is fundamentally useless. Roleplaying covers an incredibly wide field, and attempts to define the good roleplayer either end up being wide to the point of vagueness, or they degenerate into one-true-way-ism by giving “good roleplaying” a single interpretation (be it the knack of immersing for twenty hours straight while wearing hand-sewn shoes, the ability to do impro storytelling, the skill of picking just the right feats and winning the hardest encounters, or the capacity to roll a natural twenty when it really counts), insisting that everything else isn’t proper roleplaying.
Talking about The Good Roleplayer becomes like talking about The Good Singer – there are excellent blues singers, opera singers, jazz sopranos and rappers, but I refuse to believe that anyone does all of it brilliantly, and if we want to talk about Good Singing in an interesting way, we need to distinguish between the various types.
I’m also willing to argue that The Good Roleplayer is a harmful concept. The concept of The Good Roleplayer insists that good roleplaying is a personal quality of some person. When you combine this with the fact that Good Roleplaying (™) includes an absurd variety of qualities, we have here the seed of all that is wrong.
During our conversation, Peter Fallesen pointed out one crucial element of this sorry mess: If I know you personally, I know which balls you’ll catch and which you’ll drop during a game. If I don’t know you, then I know that I must be careful about how I throw balls at you because I can’t be sure that you’ll catch them. But if I know, by reputation, that you’re a Good Roleplayer (because everyone says so), I’ll throw balls that I expect a Good Roleplayer to catch, and whether you catch them depends very much on how well my particular idea of The Good Roleplayer applies to you.
Another harmful aspect of the practice of treating good roleplaying as a personal quality: it encourages look-at-me roleplaying. The Good Roleplayer begins to believe that good roleplaying is what she does, rather than as something that she does with others. Showplay and guitar solos follow, which brings down the group, as for the most part it’s boring to watch other people roleplaying.
Most of all, however, The Good Roleplayer is a misleading concept. We should talk less about good roleplayers and more about good roleplaying. Am I splitting hairs here? Probably. But to say “NN is a good roleplayer” is a lousy explanation of why you had a good experience; it reduces the concrete actions that NN took within a unique context (the type of game played, the social milieu of these particular participants and this particular time, etc.) to a personal judgement of NN. Doing so diverts our attention from the techniques used in play, how they worked and whether they might work in other contexts, and clouds our ability to distinguish what NN did that worked from the stuff that didn’t. It is simply the laziest answer to the question “why was this good?”
After a good roleplaying experience, it’s unbelievably nice and comfy and socially affirming to tell your co-players that they are good roleplayers. But it’s much more interesting to see the good roleplaying experience not as a magical effect of Good Players but as something both greater – being a result of the interactions rather than of the individual player – and lesser, being the result of concrete things done in concrete moments, techniques to be observed, admired, analyzed, and imitated.
: I know sensible people who opine that good roleplaying is to put aside in-character play when it’s time to be tactical and others who will say the exact opposite. So far the people of the former opinion have given me more cookies, but I’m willing to think well of the latter.
Anne Vinkel came to roleplaying through the Danish scenario tradition, and has been playing, organising conventions and writing games for close to 15 years. She’s fairly sure she’s not a Good Roleplayer, but she’s learning.
If you liked this post, you might also enjoy “How to be a better larper.”
LeavingMundania.com owes its existence to the continued support of many wonderful Patrons. If you enjoyed this post, consider supporting it with a few dollars and joining the conflagration of awesome people underwriting my blog on Patreon.