Want to know my deepest, darkest, nerdy guilty pleasure? You got it. Roleplay. Some people hear the word and immediately their minds devolve into something dark and dirty, thinking I'm secretly involved in some late night lewdness that I should've kept to myself. Not that kind of roleplay people. There's nothing erotic about this at all. I’m not talking about MMO or Chat based roleplay either. This is forum roleplay.
So what is Forum Roleplay?
It's an art of mental immersion. Typically, you are taking a character, existing, or sometimes created (often called an OC, or Original Character) and you drive that character within a world laid out by forum categories. These categories break down into sub forums which represent locations within that world or universe. A role play board for example, might be a “Matrix” forum in which is set before or after major events within the fictional timeline. A category may be “Zion”. A forum may be called “Zion East” and then a sub forum might be created within that and called “Bridge” or what have you. Another category may be “The Matrix itself", with several forums serving as locations of note beneath it. Threads are started within those forums allowing you create context within your writing and develop a scene.
Once you create a thread or a situation of some sort, you are usually trying to lay the ground for others to join in on your thread, or if you are looking for a thread, your job is to find a creative way for your character to enter that thread, and situation. Stories in forum roleplay are very, very character driven, because other than the moderators that may be running a plot, you control only your character. There are certain level of things you can affect, and you can paint the scene to some extent, based on mutual agreement between the person/people you are roleplaying with, but it all comes down to being respectful and fair to those you are interacting with and your character's actions themselves. Another major different between forum and chat RP, is that you have time to write. You aren’t firing back instantly. Sometimes you’ll take days, and in some instances even weeks to respond. It’s all about the quality of that response and contributing to the story for everyone involved.
Typically people join a board and are required to apply with a character application. Some can be lengthy, but in more recent days, they are to the point and looking for basic information like Name, Age, Sex, Alignment, Powers, Abilities, Weapons, etc, depending on the type of board. This is where the fun writing aspect comes in as well. You will need to create a backstory for your character within the universe that you are applying for (if it isn’t a canon one). You are shooting for something that fits and makes sense within it. Make it deep. Make it elaborate. Establish your character and then jump into the roleplay to really learn your character. It pays off, trust me.
Why Should I Roleplay?
First it’s fun way to immerse yourself into the fandoms you really love. There is nothing like playing and writing for a character that you love, or that you created within a universe that you love. Secondly, if you are a writer, it is excellent writing practice. As a matter of fact, if you are a writer and you don’t have any active projects you’re working on (or are procrastinating like all of us writers are), I feel that you should be doing some forum roleplay (especially if you’re a nerd!). I’ve been roleplaying for a long, long time. I think I first discovered it when I was in the 8th grade and that was well over 15 years ago. When I came back into the fold I recognized it as an art and tool to sharpen my writing skills.
I learned that in between writing major stories it served well to exercise the mental muscles. Each post should be used as a step on a ladder. You should always be trying to make it better than the last. In each post, you should be trying to better define your characters. Roleplaying isn’t the best for big stories but the technical aspects of writing are definitely improved. I’m talking about scene writing and character depth. When you aren’t worried about bringing a full plot together you get to focus on making full round characters, and you do so in each and every post, within every interaction. It’s a very intimate character experience. Plus you get to add in cool avatars and signatures like the one I made for Wolverine here.
How do I get into Roleplaying?
Time for my shameless plug. I am an administrator at an X-men board that’s been running for upwards of 10 years now. Called X-men: A New Dawn. It runs alongside a sister site called Marvel: A New Dawn. We are active and have some quality roleplayers, and I play far too many characters including Psylocke, Wolverine and some OCs. If you love the Marvel universe (I mean who doesn’t?) then I highly, highly recommend you start here. I’ll be there to get you settled in, and will answers any questions you might have personally.
If you fancy other fandoms then I recommend you head over to RPG-Directory and pick your favorite. I’ve seen many, many RP boards ranging from Star Wars, to Pokemon to 100% original RP boards. I guarantee you will find something there. There is also a wealth of information about roleplaying for the new player in the forums there as well. I’d just pick one and jump in. If you’re worried about your writing ability, don’t. First of all, everyone who roleplays aren’t excellent writers and many just want to have fun. Secondly, you will get better, and it this is your avenue for writing practice anyhow. All in all, it is a fun and little known hobby that I implore everyone to at least take a shot at. You never know, you may actually love it.