So I was idly tweeting with another online writing enthusiast, David Ball of Ongoing Worlds…
David: (to someone else about a different writer) I think he's got multiple characters in his head
Herm: Oh boy do I know THAT feeling. :)
David: Do you have multiple personalities? Or do you just mean you write about lots of characters? Or are they both the same thing?1
Herm: My characters are a lively bunch, but when it comes down to it, everyone is certain who's the writer and who the puppets. :)
David: Have you ever known a player who uses his name for the character? I always thought that was weird.
Herm: Not as such. Known people, self included, who use character names as their screen names. Can be warning sign but not always.
Herm: I knew one guy who invented a race of super-elves and used the species name as his handle. He also really thought he was one.
David: Haha let me guess they were better and much more powerful than normal Elves? Was he a god modder?
Herm: He tried so hard not to be a powergamer while his immortal psychic swordsman interacted with everyone else's humanoids… ;)
Herm: He was a good writer and a good friend for a while but he just couldn't play a human. When he did, it BECAME an immortal elf.
David: oh god! He should have read my article about god modding https://ongoingworlds.wordpress.com/…
David: So what's the different between a god modder and a powergamer? Is it just a different term for the same thing?
Herm: Yes, as I understand them. But I've seen others say "godmodding" to mean "writing another's character w/o permission".
David: Ahhh, good point it does also mean that. Maybe i'll do a follow-up article to distinguish the two
By which time I'd already decided to do a bloggy ramble myself.
First off, and tangentially: maybe it's just because I'm an old-timer, but we always said "godmode"/"godmoding", not "godmod"/"godmodding". I always assumed the etymology2 was "someone whose character is overpowered to a degree inappropriate to the setting – like using a God Mode cheat on a video game"3. Possibly the urge to rhyme won out in popular parlance. God-mod. Mod-nod-plod-oddsbodikins.
I say I say I say, what's personal, enjoyable and best done in private?
Of course you can be a good writer and also have the powergaming flaw, just like you can be a nice person but incredibly obnoxious when you're with more than two or three people. Some of us are naturally more suited to solo writing: after all, the protagonist or antagonist of a novel can be comparatively overpowered without tripping the same Mary Sue alarm in the reader, and without having to worry about discourtesy to the other writers.
So, if writing about immortal planet-building elves is your bag, and more importantly if it's your only bag and not shared by your friends, perhaps it's best bagged in private. That way you can use both hands and it's less messy.
All the same, if someone really wants to play with others, I won't say they shouldn't. (It helps if they're into it with the right reasons or attitude, which I'll cover later.) But that does come with a certain expectation of communication, cooperation and gentlefolkly behaviour towards all writers involved.
Communication is a perennial problem in roleplaying games and I can't offer any advice beyond the obvious: do it. Do lots of it. Chat around the roleplay; chat about things you liked or didn't understand. Make yourself approachable and encourage questions or requests from others. And act on what you hear.
In extreme cases, yes, that may even mean making your precious character behave out-of-character in order not to distress another writer who may have some personal issues of his/her/their own. (If you're a good roleplayer who can think on your feet, even this can be avoided very easily. "Suddenly Cecil dropped his fork and had to stop talking for a moment." Done.)
The writer I mentioned earlier on had a degree of my own social impairment and didn't grok that. It was overridingly important to him to be true to himself, and his characters were too personal to him for an accommodation like that to be thinkable.
I think a lot of roleplaying etiquette problems stem from people taking either their characters or their writing skills over-personally.
One of the two of us is real. On balance, I don't think it's the guy with the wand of fireballs.
I've recently been involved with a fan roleplay for the first time ever. During that I've come across people with different opinions about how a character should behave. The person playing that character reacted in a very upset fashion to criticism along the lines of "I think that was out-of-character for him", describing it as the most hurtful thing it was possible to say to a roleplayer.
I don't agree with that. Between two fans of a series, what is in or out of character in any uncanonical situation is a judgement call, and just because one of the two fans is actually roleplaying the character in question, their opinion doesn't override that of someone else who likes the series. Of course, where one person's opinion does override the other is in the course of that particular roleplay – the character from the series 'belongs' to each of you, but the fan iteration of him is being played by one of you, and that's who has the final say about whether he ends up hanging from a bridge.
If you feel the game is wandering so far off track that it's no longer enjoyable for you, the other choice is to leave as amicably as possible, which the other player ended up doing. Their parting comments, although expressed fairly politely, were what caused that strong reaction from the player who felt accused of OOCness – and that strong reaction caused alarm bells for me.
As well it might. I've been guilty of the same.
Lessons can be learned. Blame can be shouldered. (With a smile!)
I'll take a fairly recent example. The vast majority of what I write and roleplay is original fiction, not fan stuff. When someone described a character of mine as (paraphrased) an arrogant know-it-all, I was very upset. Now, this could be an understandable reaction from a writer who had been trying to play the character as approachable and humble as well as highly intelligent: after all, essentially the comment signified that I'd failed to do this, which was a straightforward failure in my writing skills.
But being honest, I couldn't separate that from feeling hurt more personally. The character in question began as a bit of silly wish-fulfillment – a villainous Gary Stu, if you will. I've developed him over years into something I, while trying not to be presumptive, think is much more of a rounded and realistic fellow than he used to be, complete with healthy differences in outlook from his writer's. But still, unlike other characters of mine where I would take criticism of their personality flaws with humour and often agreement (and even secret glee that I as a writer have expressed those flaws well), with this one character there's still that bit of personal resentment that insists my friend is criticising me.
But it's a childish bit of personal resentment, and it's wrong.
It's not that I think the character's perfect – indeed he's deliberately far from it – but I suppose arrogance is an accusation that hits close to the bone for me personally. My upset was understandable, certainly, but it was wrong. And it needed putting in its place. After a bit of weeping and angsting and canvassing my other friends saying "Do I really write Suitov as arrogant, baw haw?" I got over it. I'm still not sure if I accept the criticism as it was stated, because the collective feeling was far from unanimous, but when I write the character now I bear it in mind. With any luck, Suitov is less likely to be taken as arrogant these days than he was before.
A point to all of this. I know I had one.
Pairs of things.
Authors do take their characters personally, that much is obvious, but it's (a) not a positive trait and (b) not an immutable fact. Nobody is stuck with a thin skin. Part of playing with others means, to put it brutally, jolly well blowing one's nose and growing a pair. Whether breasts, balls or whatever secondary sexual appendages we neuters get to have, when you play with others you will either end up growing a pair of something or you'll always fail to fit in anywhere without upset.
If you don't want criticism, you can always write your novel, send it off and then prepare yourself for the possible shock of your life when you hear back from the slush pile editor. That's cool. Many people work best that way. Writing solo is a different kind of writing, as we've covered above.
But, if you've chosen to roleplay with others for fun, you will need to accept the basic tenet that fun needs to be had by all writers involved.4 They're not there to carry you or stroke your ego. They're not there purely to set up really cool lines for your character to say.5 You're all there with the aim of forming a kind of gestalt lulz machine, cranking out fun and jollies for all in the vicinity.
Happy pretendy funtimes.
To finish with, I could do a lot worse than to link you all to the legendary article entitled Internet Drama and You. Even if you just skimmed my lengthy post here, I urge you to read Wade's in full. It's funnier than this one and it's written by another Deadpool fan. If that hasn't yet convinced you to read it, it also has ILLUSTRATIVE PICTURES. Come on! I mean, pictures!
1 I could deal at a bit of length with the similarities and differences between dissociative identities and being a writer, but that's not the topic of this post. I know some multiples number among my friends, so as a courtesy to me, no flaming David for his well-meaning curiosity. :) (Or, frankly, anyone.)
2 Yes, I do theorise uncontrollably about etymology. For someone lacking a classical Greek and Latin education, I'm weirdly interested in the epidemiology of words. I put this down to two of the racial flaws I took at character creation, "Half English Teacher" and "Half Geek", which infused my genes with two hefty doses of pedantry. Come to think of it, even as a toddler I wouldn't say a new word until I knew how it was spelled.
3 Wikipedia has more about God Mode and debug modes. Even modern video games use this term sometimes. The command console in Oblivion, for example, toggles god mode with "tgm".
4 But not necessarily all characters involved, of course. (Sorry, Weft.)
5 There's an element of that, of course, but Crowning Moments of Awesome, Snarkitude or Being the Universe's Butt Monkey are there to be shared – appropriately, according to character type. Two badass characters in play means two characters who both need to be given scenes that express their badassery.