Posted by: Jess Riley | April 27, 2009

Consent in Role-play

Unless a guild is specifically identified as non-consent, there is an unspoken rule of role-playing anywhere, World of Warcraft included – nothing can happen to your character unless you want it to happen. Especially in places like World of Warcraft, who’s going to tell you otherwise, that you have to accept things happening to your character? Worst case scenario is that you end up leaving a guild over it – and maybe that’s not so bad, if they’re forcing things on your character that you simply don’t agree with, full-stop.

The main problem with consent comes when you find yourself in a situation where things that seem like the most in-character consequences for an action are things that you just don’t want to happen.

A lot of guilds – and a lot of non-Warcraft roleplaying games – function on the basic principle of ICA = ICC. If you’re not familiar with that, this means ‘In Character Actions = In Character Consequences’. In a non-Warcraft context, this usually translates to, “You cannot deliberately and grievously offend my character and then refuse to consent to being beaten up; that is the logical consequence of your actions, and you must face them”. In World of Warcraft, where we have the duel command and combat is perfectly expected, this is a less likely issue to come up – but there are still sometimes times when things that we wouldn’t normally consent to are the logical consequences of our actions.

So, how do we avoid this situation? After all, if it’s something you didn’t want to consent to in the beginning, it’s probably a pretty big deal to you. You don’t just want to go, “Well, alright, since it’s a natural consequence of my actions, I suppose I change my mind and I do consent.”

The very first piece of advice is to always discuss with the other party what the consequence for your character’s actions should be, if there is something that you simply do not want to consent to doing, and you think there’s a chance that it will end up going in that direction. Ideally, you would tell the other person ahead of time that you don’t want to do X, and you can work around that. Conversely, if there’s something that your character would do in response to something that you suspect may happen, and you think that is an action that might cross some boundaries, contact the other party and give them sufficient warning – I am always in favour of out of character communication.

Sometimes, though, this isn’t feasible. Either the path that ends in that activity is too well-established, or something similar, and you know that inevitably it’s going to happen.

There are still a few options. If you don’t mind the consequences for your character afterwards, one is the fade-to-black – you tell the other player that even though you accept that this is going to happen to your character, you simply refuse to actually roleplay it.

Particularly for sexual content, most scenes that would probably make people this uncomfortable would fall outside of the terms of service for World of Warcraft anyway, so you shouldn’t have too much of a problem with this. Whether in a situation where this would be against the terms of service or not, however, there is certainly no way that you can be forced to roleplay something that you don’t want to. Again, the worst case scenario is that you are kicked from a guild – and if you are in a guild where you would be effectively forced to roleplay things outside your comfort level, this doesn’t seem like a very negative consequence to me.

Alternatively, if you don’t even want to deal with the fallout of the activity, you can talk to the other player and say that even though you accept that this is the natural consequence of your character’s behaviour, you simply cannot roleplay this. However, instead of simply ignoring your character’s behaviour, you can reach an acceptable compromise on what happens next – perhaps your character successfully pleads for mercy, or manages to get away, or someone else steps in, or the other player agrees to go for a different consequence.

Basically, what it all comes down to is that when it comes to personal comfort levels, consent always wins out – and in situations where it doesn’t look like you can come to an agreement about the course of action to follow, communication can go a long way toward solving things.

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