Posted by: Jess Riley | September 21, 2008

Socially Acceptable Insanity

One of the problems in roleplay that we’ve touched on in the past is the idea of making a character’s quirks obvious and appropriately intepretable in roleplay. My stance on this issue, as I commented at the time, is that if a character is misinterpreted by another character, then that’s an in-character issue; if my snotty blood elf thinks your orc warrior is terribly unintelligent and barbaric, even though you’re trying to play for middle-class patriot, that’s as much because of the culture and class issues as it is because of how you’re playing it to suit the circumstances. It’s basically my opinion that the way you feel your character ought to behave in any given situation is how you should play it, whether you feel it would come across as something other than intended or not.

However, I do agree that some thought ought to go into making sure that a character is going to consistently come across the way you intended, in a way that goes deeper than uneducated vs unintelligent, folksy vs naive, and other such interpretations. That is, if your character is coming across as something different because of the different perspectives of the characters in the scene, I feel that’s appropriate; if it’s because one or more of you is missing cues or playing something inappropriately, it’s something that should be targeted and worked on.

One of the main ones in this area is, in my experience, insanity. There are characters in World of Warcraft who do seem to be genuinely insane. I have covered a couple of kinds of psychological disorders and problems that Azerothian citizens would be inclined to face in the past, and fully intend to continue doing this in the future.

When it comes to either more generic insanities, or specific symptoms I may not have covered – one example that I saw in play was full-blown hallucinations and anterograde amnesia, coupled with a particularly boisterous and extraverted personality – the vast majority of people seem to just nod along and go, “Oh, okay.” This strikes me as very strange, and yet I can see why: because of the way that World of Warcraft is set up, it is sometimes very difficult to distinguish between the ‘sane’ and the ‘insane’, the ‘normal’ and the ‘abnormal’.

It’s for this reason that a Forsaken woman who fastidiously cleans herself with Healing Potions to slow the rotting process is seen as more unusual than a Forsaken man who charges into battle shouting, “Tally ho!” and generally acting like a bit of a fool — and that when the Forsaken warrior drops this and has a bout of sanity, this is seen as being much more startling and unusual in the scope of the game than when he’s absolutely off his rocker.

I suppose this could be called a ‘Weirdness Censor’. It’s not as though no one realises that he’s running off into battle shouting strange battle cries, or that he talks like some stereotype of a foppish Lord, or that none of his stories make sense and the vast majority couldn’t have possibly happened – it’s that they write it off as though he’s a bit eccentric, not that he’s actually insane. I don’t know exactly what causes this to happen, but it’s not at all uncommon.

I suppose that essentially, when you’re surrounded by all these strange things happening, someone acting like a bit of a kook just doesn’t even register on the radar. Basically what it comes down to is that there are certain types of ‘acceptable’ insanities that people won’t even notice as being more than a mild eccentricity, while there are kinds which stick out and really make people take notice.

If you want your character to come across as being insane, you should take note of this effect and pick and choose what kind of ‘insanities’ they display to take full advantage of this. Alternatively, when you see other characters acting like this, perhaps you should stop and think: is this eccentricity, or madness? Interesting things could come of this in the future.

Incidentally, as it’s now Blood Elf week, I intend to finish my Substance Dependence post and talk about specific Magic addiction while it’s most relevant. Stay tuned!

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