Trope Cloud

I made a discovery a couple of weeks ago; one that endangered my work productivity for a couple of hours (don’t worry employer, I made it up and made my deadlines). There was a thread on the Amia forums about playing evil (the one that prompted my post on playing evil in fact) and someone linked to this article as a tip. This set me to exploring the TV Tropes wiki. What an absolute goldmine!

It also gave me an idea about incorporating feedback from other players into our playstyle.

Take any character from any world and consider just how many clichés belong to that character. Sure, that character may be anti-hero number ten thousandth and one on the server and no, I’ve seen the crazy gnome wizard cliché before. I’ve played the crazy gnome wizard. And the mentally unstable Viking. And the goody two shoes paladin. And the paladin dressed in black (ohhh the edgy combination of paladin and black. We’re almost in Batman territory now). And the wolf-in-sheep’s clothing. I’ve lost count of the number of Longstocking clones I’ve played. Etc. Etc. It is very likely that another player sees your character and thinks “here we go again”. But there is an important element of the equation here; the player may be exploring the dark anti-hero trope (or any other) for the first time. Never fear. Just about every story in existence can be broken down into a list of clichés (tropes), and its not as if the roleplayer is doing something that every novelist and screenplay writer is also doing; even if by accident.

This got me to thinking about how we choose our characters tropes, how we play them and how we get feedback from other players. One thing that I’ve notices is that there is something of an unwritten rule that at any given point, the main characters of the playerbase will cover a broad spectrum. They won’t all cluster in anti-hero, villain, hero, rogue, mage, etc. tropes at the same time because too many characters of the same type limits the individuality of any particular character. Character X may be the nth paladin in the history of the server, but one of only a handful of currently active ones. Chances are, the player does not want to be “mysterious, yet unmistakably powerful, good, drow #167”. They may not even be aware that their character is perceived differently than they intend.

Enter the trope cloud. The trope cloud is a tag cloud, but the tags are all tropes. When playing, other players could semi-anonymously trope tag a character. When reviewing the character sheet, the player would see the trope cloud as they would a tag cloud (such as the one in the right side margin of this blog). The trope tag would be semi-anonymous because the player would not be able to see who tagged there character with which tropes, this information would be available to the GM team as a safeguard against abuse. Clicking on a trope tag would bring up a list of other characters tagged with that trope. The global trope tag cloud could also be viewed by a player considering making a new character, or planning where to go with a character. Hopefully, it could help them avoid oversubscribed tropes.

Plus, it might be fun to hang lampshades on our characters on occasion. As long as it does not get out of hand and break the immersion of the world.

About Dave

I’m a 38 year old American who has lived the past 9 years in Germany and India.
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5 Responses to Trope Cloud

  1. PT says:

    The most important thing to remember is that Tropes Are Not Bad:

    Clichés are not inherently bad.

    Reused plots are not inherently bad.

    If you come up with a truly original plot, chances are it will be boring and unengageable. Originality in one’s premise, setting and characters are important, but only to a point. If it is truly, truly original, the audience will have no way to relate to the character or the situation.

    The most important thing to remember is that when you combine clichés is that the audience may have seen a rescue plot play out. And they may have seen a closet gay cop do it.

    But they haven’t seen *this* closet gay cop in *this* rescue plot. The key to keeping the story original is the important details, not the broad categories.

    That said, it takes a long time even for writers to really grok that notion that unoriginal != bad. So, adding a tag cloud to hardcore RP might border on traumatic, and I don’t use that word lightly.

    I’ve had characters that fairly or unfairly have been named Mary Sue’s by people who just never encountered my character when their flaws made a difference to the story or RP. To them, the character has an impervious wall of cool, when in reality, this other person’s epic (yet always, strangely, self-centered) RP is about the 12th instance of it my *character* has seen, and probably the third that day. How strange and awkward would my character be if they (swooned, flew into a rage, trembled in fear) every time yet another Epic Paladin of Herosexviolence walked by? The character would be an insufferable mess.

    Unfortunately, it’s unavoidably disappointing to the RP’er who shows up wanting people to admire/respect/fear their freshly rolled new badass. But, I think that disappointment is healthy, if only to break them of the idea that unearned respect has value.

    Yet, while a trope cloud might just as easily disabuse people of their character’s perfection, I think it’s a bit too direct and too forceful, to the degree that it might be hurtful(even if not employed maliciously).

    (Side note: With that said, I’ve addressed this within the context of economics and finance, but if we ever DID achieve a “complete openness” or “completely candid discourse” level of communication, such as an anonymous trope labeling system, we would, eventually, adjust to that new normal. Imagine if Facebook implemented that feature and you couldn’t turn it off. There’d be some tears and anger, but eventually a new normal would settle in.)

    • Dave says:

      Yes, tropes are tools. Some are so compelling and speak to such a deep part of the human psyche that they have been with us for as long as there has been literature. E.g. I’m a sucker for atoner plotlines and usually fond those characters the most memorable; Darth Vader, Viconia DeVir, Zuko of The Last Airbender. As roleplay occupies that space where literature, theatre and play meet – writing workshop meets improvisational theatre meets orcs (or space orks as it may be), tropes are an important part of our toolbox. They could give feedback about whether your character is being perceived as you intend to play it, or even to see what the currently under and overprescribed tropes are.

      But you are right; getting roleplayers not to be thin skinned about their trope cloud could be problematic. The GM team would probably have to approve trope assignments and tracking of who is tagging whom might be in order as player reputation systems have been abused by griefers in the past. (though that was also partly the developers fault for not implementing proper data mining. A player or cluster of players consistently giving negative tags should be easy to spot) It might also work and it might become the “new normal”. It might be worth an experiment.

  2. morrighu says:

    I think you should be very careful with this. Perhaps only showing the top 10 or so. And if the Gm/DM is going to review them, he’s going ot need some criteria to evaluate it upon. In larger worlds, this is going to mean reviewing the player’s actions in a variety of situations to study the decisions to see if the tags are accurate or not so that undesirable ones can be removed. Larger worlds, the admins will likely never have interacted with a given player unless it’s one of the “problem” children.

  3. PT says:

    I hesitate to suggest direct GM oversight on the micro-level. What makes systems like this work is their democratization. It’s that same democratization that makes them self-regulating.

    So, perhaps a way to “vote down” inappropriate tags would also be helpful.

    • Dave says:

      Or a slashdot style meta-moderation system? That seems to work pretty well there. Users who have a history of making posts get “mod points”, giving them a limited moderation ability. Readers are also asked to meta-moderate; rate random mods for fairness. If you have low meta-moderation ranking, then you probably get mod points less often and if you get highly rated on fairness, you get mod points more often. Presumably, this should slowly filter out the low quality moderation.

      (I was just about to make a snarky comment about that being the reason why I have slashdot mod points so rarely these days, but lo and behold, I’ve got 5 mod points this morning)

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