Posted by: Sean | February 11, 2009

Theme Week Friends and Family: When IC and OOC Blur

A suggestion comes in from user Ivorydawn:

Suggestion: When IC and OOC relations collide! Love the character / hate the player, and the reverse, can make for difficult playing. How can these issues be resolved?

Ah, yes. One of the role-playing classics. To be honest, this problem is actually perhaps reduced to a degree in Warcraft than it is in, say, table-top gaming. It’s easier to get distance on people and the use of out of character channels can help to reduce ambiguity.

But it can still be a problem. People are sometimes jerks. People sometimes play jerks. And telling the difference between the two is not always easy.

So there’s really two issues at play here: How do you prevent a painful misunderstanding in the first place? How do you make sure that if you’re playing a jerk, people don’t think you are a jerk? And second, if a misunderstanding has occurred, how do you calm it down? (There’s a hidden second question within the second question itself, but I’ll come back to that.)

Let’s start with prevention. The key point here is to reduce ambiguity at every possible point. If you’re playing a jerk, be upfront about the fact – and do so before you begin playing. If you’re in a guild, put up a forum post at your guild forums saying, “Just so you know, the alt I”m making? He’s a dick.” Or if you feel like being more classical, “I am determined to prove a villain.” When you start playing in PURP, send them a whisper and be sure to use the double parenthesis of ((OOC)).

Which brings me neatly to my second point: Define OOC venues early on and stick to them. As I’ve often advocated before, I advocate again: Make /say and /yell IC and everything else OOC. If you must whisper to someone, whisper using a /me emote, not /w. Use /w for out of character notes and observations.

And finally, say sorry. Apologise for your character. Just because he’s a jerk doesn’t mean you have to be. (Indeed, I guess that’s the point of this article.)

Now, what if a misunderstanding has already occurred, though? What if feelings have already been hurt?

OK. First thing to do is call in an arbiter, either a GM, a guild officer with this responsibility, or a mutual friend who can be trusted to be neutral. Both sides should tell their side of the story to the arbiter, who should do his or her best to work out who did what, what was out of character and in character?

Sadly, and here’s that hidden question I mentioned earlier: What if IC and OOC were entwined? What if someone was being a jerk in character in order to be a jerk out of character? What if he refused to cough up the health potions to someone, say, because they’d had an argument in character but actually, he started that argument because he was upset with the other player out of character?

This is unfortunately common, and there’s no easy answers to working it out. There is rarely a smoking gun.

All you can do is show common sense, and try to rule fairly.

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