How do people feel about meta-roleplaying?

Creating alternate player personas has a long history in roleplay environments and it does always stop at the character. Some players are open about their real world selves and are clear about the level of the roleplay. “Hi, I’m Bob the sales manager from New York, but my character is an evil elven mage”. Others meta-roleplay player personas to a greater or lesser degree. I never thought about it much and tend to assume that player personas – especially those players who are coy about their own identities – are likely to being meta-roleplayed. I thought about the issue again as there is a thread on the Planeshift forums about meta-roleplaying. The discussion’s OP clearly did not think it was a good thing and complained about “wasting time” showing a player the ropes when they already knew them. From the perspective of the meta-roleplayer, it makes sense not to let on that the player persona itself is being roleplayed.

My question is how do people generally feel about meta-roleplaying.

There was once a player. She was a good roleplayer and had an easygoing and friendly personality; which made her easy and fun to play with. This made her popular wherever she went. It made her so popular in fact that she would get a storm of tells whenever she logged in and felt that her character received “special” treatment. So one day she tried an experiment. She created a new account and logged in with a new character on her alt account. She found a completely different experience. She found that people behaved less familiar and more respectfully with the new “player”, but also more aloof. She considered it refreshing to simply be able to roleplay anonymously and developed a habit of using alt accounts, sometimes dual boxing them to misdirect any suspicions that might develop that these multiple players were in fact the same person.

On an old Neverwinter Nights PW, the GM (DM in NWN parlance) team members always used alter egos when logging into the forum or game to mask their other identities. This was usually done to shield the GMs from a storm of GM’ing related tells when they were off duty and to prevent players from acting differently around players that they knew were GMs. Some were an open secret and everyone knew that GM persona X was in fact player Y, but some were closely held and players in the community would gossip endlessly about the identity of new GMs.

Then there is the whole subject of myspace roleplay.

My last example is potentially the most interesting as it had shades of a story about a tree. The player was a man. He played a female player playing a female character. There were multiple levels of roleplay. He had gone to great lengths to build his player persona. He had created a yahoo profile many months beforehand using the femininized version of his name and a photo of a moderately attractive woman in the profile. This is a classic meta-roleplayer step; to give the alter ego a believable internet footprint that can easily be googled, but not enough to cause cognitive disconnect when “she” does not meet other players at gatherings or speak to them by voice. The female “player” was extremely outgoing in the community that “she” played in and became a highly networked player. Over time, she amassed a small following of “fanbois”. He was a US Army reservist. When he was deployed to Iraq, she went to Iraq and the community followed “her” experience there. She was able to acces the game from the war zone and remained active.

The meta-character had developed personal relationships with some of the other community members. When she was coming down to her last weeks in Iraq, she sent a quick message that she had been badly hurt by an IED. I had been expecting this. The player persona was starting to make commitments to visit other players after returning from the war zone; commitments that could never be fulfilled without letting the cat out of the bag. He was getting in too deep with her and killing her off in Iraq was a wonderful way to get out of the bind he was in. She “survived”, but was only intermittently active and eventually disappeared into the ether altogether. Aside from my misgivings about having highly networked players who are meta-roleplayed, I’d certainly be happy to have him play on my next world. That guy is a master roleplayer.

How do others see meta-roleplay?


About Dave

I’m a 38 year old American who has lived the past 9 years in Germany and India.
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2 Responses to How do people feel about meta-roleplaying?

  1. foolsage says:

    Interesting question. I can definitely attest that there’s a significant difference in the way I experience games when I log onto alt accounts. E.g. I was a GM/designer in a NWN world, and I made some alt gamespy accounts so I could log in “secretly” to play the game without everyone knowing who I was. I was treated very differently – not that people were rude to my unknown alts or anything like that, but the friendships and social bonds that I had in one persona didn’t (obviously) carry over to the others.

    I think there’s some value in meta-roleplaying in that it allows deeply networked players a chance to enjoy the same game in a very different way. I don’t however like misleading people about my identity and so my preference is just to keep quiet about my personal details if I’m on a “secret” account. Clearly meta-roleplaying can lead to unethical behaviour, e.g. Munchausen by internet, stories about trees, pretending to be female in order to get gifts/preferential treatment, or asking for extensive assistance while pretending to be a newbie to a game you in fact know quite well.

    As in most things, finding a good balance is essential. Meta-roleplaying has its advantages and purposes but it can also be abused in order to take advantage of one’s fellow players.

  2. Pingback: The cost of pseudonymity « Dancing Elephants

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