Two common roleplaying acronyms, thrown around so often in conversation they can sometimes lose their meaning are IC and OOC -- and for those not in the know, they stand for "In Character" and "Out of Character". It is indeed true, the fast track to becoming disenchanted with roleplay, butt-hurt and brokenhearted, or upset with your fellow roleplayers is by confusing reality with roleplay, sometimes referred to as "blending".
Why it is Important to Separate IC from OOC
It is extremely important to separate roleplay from reality, because to confuse the two leads to miscommunication, drama, and unhappy people.
One cannot objectively weave a fair and unbiased storyline if they cannot remove themselves from the equation. We’ve all heard stories of actors that went so far down the "rabbit hole" getting into character that while their acting roles were outstanding, their real lives suffered because they simply could not "disconnect" at the end of the day. They lived and breathed their characters to the degree that when filming was over, it was like losing a part of themselves and the ensuing downward spiral ended up on the tabloids or typecasted them -- or they ended up falling in love in real life with a cast mate whose character was their lover in the film only to have that relationship fall apart years down the road. We’ve all seen it happen.
Roleplay is really not at all unlike acting, and when you get into character, if you are living and breathing your character’s emotions, you’re open to letting every negative event (like your character being arrested) hurt you emotionally, and every positive event (like your character falling in love) lead you down a path to false happiness -- with more potential for emotional pain. Giving yourself a healthy distance from your character and maintaining a very wide berth of detachment between the character’s emotions and your own, will make you a much better roleplayer.
How to Tell if You or Your Fellow Roleplayers Might Be Blending
There are some key clues that might show signs of a player who takes their roleplay too seriously, and cannot detach their real-life feelings from their charcter’s feelings. These are not exhaustive nor are they absolute, but simply a guide to help you determine if you or your fellow player need to take a step back and check back into reality.
1. They don’t like how a storyline goes IC, so they retaliate OOC.
This is the big one, the doozy that hits us all at one point or another. The scenario: Your character Suzie breaks a law and ends up getting thrown in jail. You get to thinking, "Oh no! This foils my plan, I was supposed to run away and elope with my lover in the forest today, and that’s all ruined because I was thrown in jail!" You get ticked off about it, things are not unfolding how you expected and this is B.S., "I don’t want my character in jail, this is so unfair!" you whine to the players whose characters jailed yours. "But my character is not a criminal, she was only doing it for the good of the people!" Players need to accept that when they make their characters perform an action, there are often consequences to those actions. Even if your character is innocent in this scenario, what if the police are corrupt? Life throws us curve balls, plot twists, and monkey wrenches, and the same can be said for roleplay. So things aren’t unfolding how you expected? Tough cookies, my friend. Time to accept the hand you are dealt*.
*The only exception to this folly in roleplay is when another player violates your "limits". For instance, you draw the line at amputation, and another player disregards this and their character tries to chop off your character’s leg. In this circumstance, it’s reasonable to get a bit miffed and explain your problem in IM’s.
2. Their character is suspiciously just like them in real life.
The player has taken special steps to make their character just like their real life selves. Same looks, hair color, eye color, skin tone, historical/occupational background, same country or location of origin, the character name a close similarity to their real life name, similar age, same gender, same sexual orientation -- or worse yet, the idealized version of themselves (more gorgeous, taller, fitter, perhaps "furrier" but still like their real selves). They often make claims in their profiles like "SL is my RL" and "My character is me", and "there is a person behind the avatar!". That’s all fine and good, regarding the latter, we all want to be treated like a human being in SL, just as we would in real life, but when we start making those demands in roleplay then we are not separating the character we created, from our persona. Often enough, the people whose characters tend to reflect a large number of similar traits to their real life selves are the players who struggle to separate IC from OOC. They create a character that is actually their own persona projected onto it -- so when bad things happen in roleplay, they start to take it personally. This is probably the most common folly of those new to roleplay. They dive in and find themselves in a world where seemingly all the characters around them are rude, unfriendly, or downright mean. Frustrated and feeling lost, alone, unwanted, they take this personally and throw in the towel and quit.
3. The character reacts as the player would, but not as the character should.
Everyone knows the saying "WWJD? - What Would Jesus Do?". This is something that players need to ask themselves on a constant basis - WWMCD? What Would My Character Do? Too often the player makes their character react unnaturally, or in a way that feels right/logical in real life, but is a far cry from how their character would actually react. Strong real life feelings creep into their roleplay and the IC / OOC blending begins. Some common examples are: You are really great OOC friends with someone, and you tend to treat them better IC, or even treat them as one of your character’s friends, even though there is no common ground or there’s logical impetus for tension/hatred. Perhaps you play an angel, your buddy plays a little demon kid. Your character ought to despise demons, but he/she makes an exception and "saves" the demon kid from disaster, even protects him. Realistically your character ought to try to destroy or drive away the demon child, no matter what, because you play a lawful good angel - when it comes to demons there should be no exceptions. However, you really like the player and it leads you to making your character do things that are out of his/her true nature because of a bias. Another very common example is when a player has true romantic feelings for another player, and they lead their character to pursue the other person’s character. Even though these two characters may not have anything in common, may not be searching for love, heck they might not even be the same race, or have ever crossed paths. But because the two players have a mutal attraction OOC, they lead their characters to get into a roleplay relationship that otherwise would not have happened because of bias. These are common examples of how people steer their character’s actions and reactions based on their real life feelings, not based on what is logical for the character.
4. The integrity of the character’s identity is sacrificed for OOC whims.
This is another painful sign that a player is not committed to roleplaying a character, and being true to the character’s nature. Slight offenses include wearing beautiful gowns or armor that is far above the character’s actual social status, or tweaking your character’s persona or background to work with the latest Losthaven costume release... "So what if I'm not a death knight! This outfit looks bad ass on my blacksmith! I look so hot! I’ll just change my character’s background to work with my cool new outfit!" or even Angels and priestesses who dress in highly sexualized provocative clothing...merely because the player had a whim to look "hot" that day without actually thinking through whether the character would truly want to look like such a trollop. The more egregious offenses of player whims going wild are those who flip-flop races / shapeshifting / drastic appearance changes just for the heck of it. Throwing on a new hair color or a crazy outfit is fine when we’re out of character, but when we are in character, flip-flopping our character’s appearance, background story, alliance, mood, based on our real life whims is a sign that a player cannot keep IC separate from OOC.
5. Love goes bad, real life goes sour.
The one scenario that possibly causes the most drama, fights, muting and outbursts... the scorned lover who takes it too personally. Anyone who’s been there knows how hard it is...carrying on months of roleplay with another player, where the characters are falling in love, in a relationship, or having sex...and those "real life" feelings start to creep up and one must keep that distance and remind themselves it’s just roleplay... Only to find their character’s partner philandering around with another man -- cheating! Should your character discover such a thing they might be angry, even devastated. But for many players they find themselves feeling these types of feelings in real life as well. They feel slighted, lied to, betrayed - as though in some way they are owed real life respect and loyalty by the other player. Arguments and fights ensue, and it all crumbles into a big mess. One person was simply roleplaying, while the other feels slighted and used. Sometimes it doesn’t always blow up that badly, but if you see your character’s partner sharing romantic time with another man or woman, and feelings of jealousy creep up on you -- it’s time to take a step back and learn to separate the IC from the OOC.
6. The jerk who uses his character to insult another player.
Also known as "thought-insults". When your OOC dislike for another player creeps out through your character, then you definitely have a big problem separating IC from OOC and it’s time to call a time-out and get a reality check. Using roleplay as a way to think insulting things about a character (like roleplaying your character thinking how ugly/desperate/pathetic/noobish they are), or to deliberately ignore another character, and worse yet -- attack or attempt to harm or kill another character because you don’t like the player, is an egregious offense to roleplay and should be avoided at all costs.*
*Exemptions include when a player needs to avoid another player due to harassment/conflict issues, or when avoiding another player who breaks IC/OOC protocol or is a poor roleplayer (god-modes often, etc). In these instances, it is recommended to avoid a player you have excessive conflict with. Expressing your distaste through your character is, however, not appropriate and consitutes mixing IC with OOC. If your character has no quarrel with the character of the player you have conflict with, simply let them know privately you do not wish to RP, rather than making your character act unnaturally.
What to Do if Your Fellow Players are mixing IC with OOC
1. Be Honest and Direct
When it comes to matters of the heart, honesty is the best policy. If you suspect a player might be mixing IC with OOC and developing real life feelings -- be clear and honest about your limits, explain that your character doesn’t tend to be monogamous (if that is the case), and reinforce through your profile or direct communication that IC love does not equal OOC love. In worse case scenarios, distance yourself from the person who is getting too close for comfort.
2. Know When to Contact an Admin
When it comes to thought insults or a character treating another character poorly or unfairly due to OOC conflicts, contact an admin immediately. They are trained to help address situations like these. It is not good form to repeat thought insults back, or flame the person in local chat, which is expressly against the rules.
3. Drop Hints
Your fellow players are sacrificing the integrity of their character for their own whims? A simple hint or in-character comment can help steer them clear. "My goodness, your hair is black! I always thought you to be a blonde, what a shocking change..." If they don’t get the hint, an IM asking them why they are not sticking to their original character creation might get them to realise how important integrity is. If all else fails, best to not get too deeply entwined with a character in roleplay that flip-flops all the time and requires you to do a lot of back pedaling.
IC Example: Their character doesn’t react at all the way they should? The first way to address this is in-character. "Gabriel! Why are you attempting to save such vile trash as this demon! He is your enemy! Have you gone mad, my friend? Cast it back to hell where it belongs, you are an angel, are you not?". If all else fails and they don’t take the hint, you may wish to avoid the player who can’t separate IC from OOC.
4. Remove Yourself from the Interaction
The player takes everything too personally, and gets upset when things don’t go how they envisioned? Best to avoid these types like the plague. Give them time to learn that roleplay isn’t about them, it’s about their character -- a habit which can take years to break, if at all.
Example: Is the character is like a walking replica of the player’s real life persona, or perhaps a highly idealized version of how they wish to be? Do they often speak in terms of I, me, my, mine instead of "my character..."? Do they look/act/dress the exact same way when they are "out of character" too? You just might have met a "Mary Sue". Best to avoid this type of player at all costs. They are here to serve their own emotional fulfilment and to see themselves as how they dream, often times you find these types to be furries, fetishists, and highly highly stylized/attractive avatars (in many cases, but not all). "What? I’m not allowed to roleplay my valkyrie-panda-neko with gigantic breasts that I’ve been playing as on every MUD since 1998? So unfair! You guys are haters!" Often times it’s impossible to console people who roleplay themselves or an idealized version of themselves when they face IC or OOC rejection. Best to avoid these types like the plague.
Tips on Separating Roleplay from Reality
1. Always think, "WWMCD?"
Always and often, think "what would my character do in this situation?", rather than roleplaying out your knee-jerk real life reactions.
Before you get wrapped up with that hottie in a steamy roleplay, make it clear where you stand in terms of real life feelings, and figure out where they stand too. Sometimes people consentually allow IC and OOC to "blend" when it comes to love. Just make sure both parties are on the same page before commencing.
3. Take a step back.
Like the actors who fall too deep into becoming their own character, the same can happen with second life roleplay. Change your perspective often, never forget about "the big picture". If you feel like things are getting too personal, log out, pick up the phone, and call a real life friend or family member. It’s a great way to check-in, and stay grounded to what’s important in life.
4. Be open minded, throw your expectations out the window.
Instead of setting OOC expectations for your character’s story (gets married, has babies, becomes a powerful mage, becomes queen, etc.), throw them out the window and let fate steer your character where she may. Getting too attached to the idea of how your character should progress will lead to disappointment when things don’t go as you see fit, or worse yet, influence your rolepay negatively (such as god-moding). Let your character have his or her dreams and aspirations, but accept that roleplay, like real life, doesn’t go as we often would like. Appreciate that this is what drives compelling storylines and makes your character "come to life".
5. Don’t be yourself.
Just don’t do it. Give your character a life of their own, their own history and appearance, and steer clear of the temptation to render your character an idealized version of yourself. While it is more challenging to play a character nothing like yourself -- it will make you a better ‘actor’ in the long run. Experiment with various archetypes and personalities very different from your own.
6. Do be consistent.
Gosh, that new outfit is so tempting to throw on, even though it’s nothing at all like what your character would wear! Being a brunette is so boring, I wish I could just change it to blonde! Resist the urge. You created an identity; don’t render it pointless by flip-flopping on your character’s personality/alignment/appearance/etc. If you are a bit bored or need a change -- make a new character.
7. Take the high road.
Can’t STAND that player? Think they are such a jerk / clueless noob / primadona? Resist the urge to be nasty through your character, blow their mind and actually be realistic in your roleplay even if it means being nice! Worst comes to worse -- contact an admin to help resolve a conflict or mute the player if they positively get under your skin all the time.