Posted by: Jess Riley | August 18, 2008

Pet Peeves: Physicality

Let’s face it; everyone has something in roleplay that makes them just cringe when they see it. Some have more than others, and some people are more accepting of different kinds of roleplay.

When I make a Pet Peeves post, and chances are that I’ll make a few, it’s not intended as a list of Bad Things To Do In RolePlay, though I admit a small part of me would like to see that happen. This is just a list of things that I don’t really like seeing, why I think people do them, why they bother me, and some other alternatives that could be done to achieve the same goals without grating on people.

Pet Peeve: …lithe and slender, with feminine curves in all the right places, the figure before you is a gorgeous specimen of womanhood…

Why People Do It: People roleplay for a number of reasons, one of the main ones being escapism and wish-fulfillment – and, of course, people want to be attractive and sexy, or know someone who is attractive and sexy, so this falls squarely into that category. There’s nothing wrong with that idea in principle, but it can be taken to annoying extremes.

Why It Bugs Me: There’s a few reasons. First of all, in a game like World of Warcraft, can you reasonably describe a character as ‘beautiful’? Is a Tauren going to find a curvy Blood Elf beautiful? What kind of Night Elf is going to look at a gnome and go ‘hmm, I’d like a piece of that’? This can be helped, to some extent, with the use of phrases that clearly indicate that they are attractive as far as a human/gnome/elf is concerned, but it is a valid point.

Secondly, a lot of people shoot for something like this and miss. In the canon of World of Warcraft, blood elves aren’t typically curvaceous and sexy – the vast majority of them are emaciated, pale magic addicts. That’s not to say that a blood elf can’t be attractive, or that they can’t have curves, but when every second elf is stacked and sexy, you have to wonder a little.  Standards of beauty probably differ between elves and our modern sensibilities – and that’s to say nothing of the Tauren, who probably value large, bulky women with nice hair and long swishy tails.

Thirdly, it’s nice to see characters occasionally who aren’t all that, since it seems that the majority are. When everyone wants to play a sexy, curvy woman, it gets a bit tired, and it’s nice to see someone who isn’t.

What Could Be Done Instead: The most obvious answer is to just not play characters who are especially good-looking – but, of course, some people aren’t going to want to do that. Otherwise, I would suggest avoiding words like ‘beautiful’ and ‘sexy’ and stick to canonical descriptions that would probably be considered highly attractive without spelling it out. If a human female is slim, with moderately large breasts and healthy hips, nice thick hair and good colour, we can extrapolate that she is attractive without being told. This is much preferred to ‘she is sexy, she is beautiful, she is stunning’.


Pet Peeve: …not beautiful, too thin, with lips too full, and eyelashes too long…

Why People Do It: Honestly, this ties back into my previous point. This is a way of trying to clumsily try not to be attractive, but who want their character to be seen as good-looking anything. This isn’t unique to roleplayers, either; Scarlett O’Hara of Gone With The Wind was described as being ‘not beautiful’, followed by a description that most would consider to be very attractive.  I’ve done it myself, so I know it’s a trap that a lot of people can fall into.

Why It Bugs Me: If you want your character to not be seen as beautiful, describe them as not being beautiful – don’t preface an ‘attractive’ description with ‘not beautiful’. It comes across as a clumsy and lazy way to avoid seeming ‘Mary Sueish’, and as such, I don’t like it much.

What Could Be Done Instead: Honestly, there’s two ways this could be taken. If you genuinely want her to be unattractive, and by ‘too thin’ are actually imagining an emaciated skeleton, don’t be afraid to spell that out. “She seems emaciated and undernourished, paler than usual and her skin stretched taut over her bones.” makes the point much more clearly than, “She was not beautiful, being far too thin and pale.”

Conversely, if you’re wanting to avoid the trap of being Mary Sueish, but do still want a good-looking character, consider other ways of achieving this. As I said in response to the previous pet peeve, you could just describe these characteristics and leave it up to the viewer to interpret it. Saying outright that a character is ‘not beautiful’ is just as bad as outright saying that a character ‘is beautiful’, in terms of determining other people’s reactions for them.



  1. Hey – nice blog (we use the same wp theme).

    What pisses me off: Any RP description that says “you feel…”.

    Why they do it: I guess they think that writing that will incentivise others to react that way.

    Why it bugs me: They’re telling me how I have to role-play around them, which actually sets up barriers to interaction rather than outlets.

    How it could be done better: Just describe the toon, and let me decide how I react. Its fair on everyone, and lets creativity flow.

  2. Hey, Typhoon Andrew!

    I was going to talk about that peeve in my post, since that really bothers me as well, but there’s not a lot more to say about it than what you’ve summed up there.

    The only thing I’d add is that occasionally there’s the impulse to write that way if you try to get a general idea across and it’s just not working. Resorting to that is at best kind of lazy, and at worst powerplaying, but I can understand the impulse to do it sometimes. Curbing that impulse or learning to get ideas across without inhibiting others, however, is a far better way to do it.

  3. I’m not so fussed about the endless parade of beautiful people – It’s fantasy, to some degree wish fulfillment is the order of the day. But what gets me is just using the world “beautiful”. This is just lazy; it’s telling rather than showing. You can’t play off it, you can’t get a picture from it. Saying you’re beautiful is worthless. Show me your beauty, it’s worth more.

  4. heya Jess, I got out of the habit after too many years of writing pen and paper role-playing games. You just can’t tell somebody how to feel, but you can supply great content for them to react to.

    And beauty only goes so far, just like in real life. I prefer my toons to reflect their personalities. My warlock is a bald dry opportunistic bastard; and my paladin is a grumpy old man. Seeing more faces and haircuts that might help make those real is better.

    And a human model that is not buff would be handy too.

  5. I’d like to see a greater variety of models and faces, too. If nothing else, I think the blood elf males are far, far too buff. That really flies in the face of the point I was trying to make about the apparent canon on the size and look of the elves.

    I’ve heard they changed that because people didn’t like that the elves looked sort of poncy and effeminate, but I don’t have confirmation on that.

  6. Hey Jess, it’s Filb.

    That “Anti-Sue” tendency is something that grates on me as well, probably because it’s something I’ve been guilty of with maybe 90% of all the RP characters I ever created. Particularly Lotho Sackville-Baggins on Elendor, whom I recall describing as an ugly jerk but playing as a handsome magnificent bastard.

  7. I dislike people telling they are above/under normal height, athleticism. There are enough sites for height, weight and other data for various races. Just give me the information and I will interpret it.

    I want to know how your concrete character is, not how he is in regard to others. They are not the ones I care about. So you shouldn’t as well.

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