Posted by: Sean | April 14, 2009

Getting the intangibles right: The importance of positioning, environmental awareness and pacing.

Part 1: A prologue and explanation.

Call off the hounds, faithful readers! After long weeks away, I am back! (And yes, that’s an I, not a we. Jess will be returning soon as well, but I’ll let her announce her own return separately.) Many apologies for the unexpected hiatus, but it’s not every week that Blizzard announces a short story contest.

So what have we been doing over this time? Well:

  • As noted before, both of us made an attempt entering Blizzard’s short story contest. and neither of us had an easy time with it. (Which surprised us both, as each of us are accomplished writers in our own way: I’m a published pen & paper RPG writer while Jess is an unpublished novelist with two novels to her name.) In the end, Jess succumbed to other pressures and didn’t enter, while I made four story attempts before finally finishing one I was happy with. It has been submitted and I maintain my promise: Should I win, I will at least attempt to interview the writing team for this ‘blog.
  • As an adjunct to that, no, I won’t be posting the story I entered here. There’s a very simple reason for that: All entries are the exclusive property of Blizzard and ergo it’s not mine to put up here anymore. I merely wrote it. However, I made four attempts. So yes, I probably will be posting the first of those attempts up here. I may even run a contest based around it.
  • Jess, meanwhile, was swamped with university work – she’s finishing up a psychology degree – and had little time to devote to the ‘blog.
  • And in turn, I work at a university; exam time hits the staff almost as much as the students!
  • Finally, I’ve been out actually role-playing, having fun and starting a new alt. As such, I am bursting with new ideas to bring to this ‘blog. Heck, we might even have some theme weeks again!

But enough of my yakking. Whatya say? Let’s boogie!

Part 2: A prologue and explanation.

In World of Warcraft role-play, we’re blessed with an actual visual engine that allows us to see directly the on-screen action to some degree. As many of you know, I’m a firm believer that this is a fact to be celebrated and have championed the clever use of the built-in emotes for exactly this reason. They’re visual, and keep the attention focused on the visual engine of the game rather than fixing our gaze on a tiny chat box. I guess what I’m saying is that this isn’t a MUSH or IRC game – You have to think of it as a movie, not a novel. But perhaps because of the visuality of the game, players have a tendency to forget the things you can’t see, or at least can’t pin down. The intangibles.

This is a crying shame, because the visual nature of Warcraft makes these elements even more important, not less. A simple example to show my meaning.

Let’s say the following exchange occurs. This is how it looks in the text box.

* Katafray spins on her heel and issues Argatensy with a vicious stare of hateful venom.
[Katafray]: You’ll regret saying that, you malignant little bitch.
* Argatensy laughs.
* Argatensy gently pats Katafray.
[Argatensy]: No, I won’t. Don’t you see, Katafray? I get to do whatever I want.

So what’s wrong with that? Nothing seems to be. Heck, Argatensy is even using emotes rather than the /e comman d, something I normally applaud. So why is it that I’d be looking at Argatensy with slitted eyes for that kind of role-playing behaviour?

Because the two characters are on opposite sides of the room.

Now read it again. Katafray’s poses are fine, she’s thinking about space and distance in her poses and nothing there has a problem with the fact that the characters are nowhere near other. But Argatensy’s poses only make sense if she’s standing right next to Katafray, and she’s clearly not.

It doesn’t even need to be that explicit. Think through your environment. Do you have an injured leg from a previous battle that you’ve already mentioned? Then if you walk down a set of stairs, you should be emoting that you’re struggling. Maybe throw in a /groan. Is your character a hopeless shut in and you’ve just entered Tanaris? Shade your eyes! Think about the world you’re in and actually respond to it!

And think about your timing on these things, too! Don’t hold a soliloquy in the middle of a pitched battle. This isn’t Blade of the Immortal. If you’re in the middle of a battle, limit your speech to things like, “Ahh!” “Ow! Dammit, that hurt!”, “Ow! Haha, now I’m beginning to have fun!”, “Kind of busy here!” or “You killed my father! Prepare to die!” If a massive explosion had just landed next to you, jump backwards, use /lay to collapse, and actually look dazed.

Warcraft is a primarily visual game. This is a great thing about it. But it requires more attention to the things you can’t see to keep that true, not less.

Updated to improve formatting (2) and fix a broken sentence.


  1. I hate to say this, but your example doesn’t make it obvious that Katafray is across the room. It says she spins on her heel and stares at the other character. That could happen while standing right next to another charater.

    I agree with your post wholeheartedly, but I think you must have left something out when you wrote that example.

    That or I’m simply not reading your example correctly.

    Regardless, I’m glad to see you back to writing in this blog. I’ve missed these posts.


  2. No no, you’ve gotten it right more or less. My point is that yes, from the text ALONE, Katafray’s pose works fine anywhere. But Argatensy has only been looking at the text… not at the screen.

    Katafray could possibly have defused this by her pose being space specific, but there’s no requirement to do that. Her pose works fine.

  3. Excellent advice, Sean. As a new RPer I had not considered positioning in this way before. I will be sure to pay more attention in the future. Thank you … and welcome back!

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