It is a Saturday night. You are logged onto your favorite online text game, camped outside an enemy city as you wait for the battle to begin. The defenders are sitting just a room away, picking out some easy targets. You announce their names to your citymates, who promptly slaughter them. As you pat yourself on the back for a job well done, an instant message pops up. “WTF,” the player behind your in-game husband sends, “That was my alt.” A bucket of angst is then poured onto you in text format: “I can’t believe you did that, you griefer. I thought our relationship meant something to you.”
Despite your efforts to explain that your character has no relationship with the other player’s second character and that you, the player, have no amorous feelings for the other player, he signs off in an explosion of rage. Well, you think, as you sit back in your chair, another painful example of someone with no IC/OOC distinction.
In any text-based roleplaying game, players often overlook the important concept of “playing a role” – keeping the character separate from themselves. This is called in-character/out-of-character (often shortened as IC/OOC) distinction. If the player of your character’s husband had had a firm grasp of this, he would have understood that your in-game actions were perfectly justified.
Without IC/OOC distinction, it is easy to become too emotionally invested in a text game. Your goals, feelings and personalities begin to mesh with that of your character’s until they are one and the same. This not only hinders your enjoyment of the game, but can make it even worse for everyone else who interacts with you and your character.
When you are your character (instead of simply playing him or her), obstacles and pitfalls that occur to your character in-game can cause you unreasonable emotional upset. A good roleplayer may view a negative event such as a divorce as an opportunity for character development and looking for gamers roleplay. However, someone who does not distinguish between character and self may take on the character’s negative emotions – hurt and anger towards the other character or player.
As you become more and more attached to your text game character, you allow minor events to affect you more than they should. Combatants may become insanely sensitive as they start throwing fits and demanding administrative attention after every single attack, talking smack about everyone on the opposing team, or even throwing their computers out of the window upon losing a duel.
Even more dangerous, however, are the emotional attachments formed between the players of characters in a relationship. Characters may certainly harbor deep feelings for each other, but the danger lies in the possibility of those feelings being transferred to the player as well. In extreme cases, these often-unreciprocated feelings can spark irrational possessiveness, manipulation, and melodrama both in-game and in real life. Sometimes a player’s emotional investment in the game can seriously damage his or her relationships in real life.
In-character and out-of-character distinction can clear these muddy waters. Your character’s feelings should not be your own. When you start thinking of your character as a participant in a story instead of simply an extension of yourself, you can begin to enjoy the game from the outside. This distinction not only increases your enjoyment of the game, but that of others as well – who wants their leisure activities to be spoiled by unnecessary drama? When you know where your feelings stop and your character’s feelings begin, a richer roleplay atmosphere is developed.