IC/OOC Bleedover
(& Tips on Handling It)

Have you ever cried at a sad part in a movie? Felt elated or excited at a particular dramatic, triumphant part? Felt scared to go to bed at night after something scary? Gotten a little...ahem... 'frisky' watching or reading a steamy sex scene?

Stories are meant to evoke emotions. By and large that's how you tell whether it's a good story: by how it affects you and engages you, emotionally. Roleplay stories are no different. We are playing well-rounded characters with depth, fears, and passions. We involve them in complex, dramatic stories. We live vicariously, to various degrees. It is both to be expected, and very normal, that sometimes we feel real life emotions due to in-game developments and events. That we are so much into our character's heads that we not only know what they think, but feel how they feel. This blurring of emotional lines between what the character feels, IC, and what you the player feel, OOC, is what is referred to as bleedover (or sometimes just 'bleed').

IC/OOC Division, and Bleedover

It is very important in roleplay to understand that IC (in character) is not OOC (out of character) and vice versa. You aren't your character. Your character isn't you. If someone thinks your character is an asshole, that doesn't mean they don't like you. If your character is in love with another character, it doesn't mean you are in love with that character (or that character's player). The wall there, that understanding that IC is not OOC, is important to have.

That isn't to say that everyone who has bleedover from IC to OOC (or vice versa) is a bad roleplayer. Bleedover is going to happen if you're invested in your character and the stories they're involved in. It doesn't mean that you can't tell the difference between fantasy and reality. You can feel angry over what's happened to (or is happening to) your character, and still recognize that the feeling is, itself, bleedover. Bleedover and IC/OOC separation aren't mutually exclusive. In fact, in my personal opinion, the best roleplayers have both: bleedover and IC/OOC separation.

The lack of IC/OOC separation becomes a problem when people project their real-life feelings onto their character (or other people's characters), or when they allow their character's feelings to change how they behave in real life.

For example:

Imagine that you think that homosexuality is wrong (OOC), but you play a character who is ambivalent about the issue with no strong feelings either way. You meet a character, IC, who is a gay man. If you lecture the gay male character on how homosexuality is immoral, you're failing to separate your IC and OOC. You feel that way; your character doesn't care. Or, vice versa, perhaps you strongly feel that homosexuality is perfectly fine (OOC), and you meet a character who is homophobic. Because the character holds views that you as a person don't agree with, you become hostile or unfriendly towards the other character's player. That's failure to separate OOC/IC.

Another example:

Your character is dating Character A, in the game. If you become possessive or jealous of the player, and begin feeling jealous or giving them a hard time about playing with other people, that's a huge OOC/IC failure. The fact that your characters are involved, doesn't mean that your, the players, are. The same thing applies for 'negative' feelings as well. Your character and another character might hate each other! But when you hate the person behind the keyboard, just because they're mean to your character... that's an OOC/IC failure. That's you not being able to tell where fantasy ends and reality begins.

Bleedover, on the other hand, is when you feel things OOC due to IC circumstances... but you recognize that these feelings are not your feelings, and that they are a byproduct of roleplay. That they are temporary, unrelated to real life, and will fade away.

Is there a 100% fool-proof way to tell the difference between "I'm upset, and that's because I'm not separating my OOC/IC very well" versus "I'm upset, and it's bleedover from RP"? Unfortunately, no. It's something that comes with experience, practice, and maturity as a roleplayer. And even the most experienced roleplayers will sometimes simply honestly say, "I feel this way, and I don't know if it's bleedover or not."

Dealing with Bleedover

1. Communicate!

I wrote another piece, called The 3Cs of Roleplay: Communication, Consent, and Consequence. The 'communication' bit is huge when dealing with bleedover.

Let me give you an example from my actual roleplay:

Recently, I played out a scene with someone that, while it started off on a very relaxed and positive note, quickly started going bad. We were both aware, OOC, that is was going bad, and that it would likely result in permanent damage to the characters' friendship... if they even ever spoke to each other again. We both, OOC, had bleedover -- feelings of sadness, guilt, unhappiness, and anger about the roleplay scene (which lasted several hours). Even while events were still unfolding, IC, we were talking to each other OOC as well. Asking each other, "Are you okay?" ... to which the answer was, commonly, "not really". This scene was so intense that we were both upset, OOC, for days afterwards. Down moods. Feeling depressed. It felt like a friendship really had ended, because of how emotional the scene was. But we asked each other, repeatedly, how things were. We both understood that there was nothing out of character that had changed, and that we weren't upset with or mad at the other player. We talked about the scene and how it had happened, and the rationale between the two characters' actions, so that we'd understand why it went the way it did. We talked out our characters' emotional responses, to understand what they were feeling and how it affected us, OOC. We re-assured each other, constantly, that we were still friends OOC and that we'd handle the IC consequences as they came. It was important for us, OOC, to ensure that that IC friendship wasn't ruined, so we discussed different ways of how the characters might end up talking again and, over time, rebuild the bridges they'd burnt.

It was massive, severe bleedover, on both sides. But we were both aware that it wasn't a disagreement or fight between us, the players. We kept our IC/OOC separation in place, and we made sure that the other person understood that just because bad things had happened in character, didn't mean we were any less friends out of character.

2. Step Away

Sometimes when things hit you emotionally, you need to just step away and get some fresh air. Divorce yourself from the situation. Think about something else. There's nothing wrong with doing that, at any time during roleplay. Just as during a scene you might say "This is getting a little too intense for me, I need to take a break", you can also say during the aftermath, "I'm still kind of reeling from that, and I need to go do something else for a little while."

Bleedover is, essentially, when you're too deep into your character's head -- and so it's often a good thing to pull yourself back out into real life. Go for a walk. Go watch something on TV. Hang out with some friends. Do something that changes your thinking patterns so that you get out of your character's mindset and back into your own. People will understand this (or they should) and respect it. Forcing yourself to stay in an emotionally charged atmosphere that's making you down, or uncomfortable, or whatever, isn't going to help things calm down or make the roleplay any "better".

Another example from my actual roleplay:

At one point Sanneke (my main) and her fiancee got into a huge fight, IC, rather out of the blue. It was vicious, and involved a lot of insults, accusations, and sniping at each other. Feelings of betrayal, of loss, of fear, or anger. It was a nasty, nasty public fight, that ended with one of the characters stalking away and the other crying in an alleyway. Just not a happy thing all around.

We communicated, though, OOC (rule number one!). Lots of "Are you okay?" and "Wow, that was intense." Lots of checking to make sure that we, the players, were still friends and understood that both of us were having bleedover. And then, my roleplay partner said they needed to step away and do something else. Great idea, and I was all for it. We both ended up just leaving the computer -- me for a few hours, the other person I think until the next day. By that time we'd had a bit of time to recover. We communicated more, and eventually things settled back down.

3. Be Patient

Bleedover isn't always gone in a few hours. Depending on how intense the scene was and how far you were in your character's headspace, feelings can linger for days. I cried for two days over my character breaking up with someone. Honest to god. But by the third day, I felt fine again, and thanks to the communication, we the players remained friends and knew what was going on. (I don't know if they cried too. I didn't ask. :p) As long as you're aware where the feelings are coming from, it doesn't really matter how long they linger. As long as you can tell the difference, it will work out in the end.

Positive Bleedover

Most of what I've written has focused on negative bleedover: unpleasant emotions, like anger or sadness or fear. However, be aware that there's also positive bleedover! A good, happy roleplay scene could have you grinning from ear to ear in real life for the next few hours, or longer. And, to be blunt: a good roleplay sex scene might get you turned on in real life. There's no rule that bleedover only applies to negative emotions -- they're just the ones that are more difficult for us to handle and process. Who doesn't like to be happy?

The real danger with positive bleedover is, again, when we don't realize that it's bleedover, when we fail to keep our IC and OOC separate, and we start projecting those good feelings onto the other player, rather than the characters. The fact that your character's boyfriend makes your character insanely happy and is a beast in bed... doesn't mean anything about the other player. That your character is in love, does not mean there is a romantic relationship -- or any romantic feelings, period -- between you and the other player. Sexytimes are good roleplay -- it doesn't mean anything between the people behind the keyboards.

Lastly: Know Your Partners

Not everyone is equally as comfortable with different levels of communication in general. Hopefully if you're engaging in really wonderful RP, it's with partners that you've played with a bit and you know a little bit regarding their "style".

Me, for example? I'm comfortable being VERY OPEN about things, OOC and IC. I won't be offended by most things, and if I'm sure my RP partner is comfortable with a certain subject, I won't shy away from it. I do have my limits, of course, but I'm an open person.

Someone else might be very private, and have a much more narrow range about what they're comfortable knowing and talking about. For instance, they might not want to know your real gender IRL, at all. They might not want to know that you're feeling sad, happy, or frisky after a good RP (or at least, not in any significant detail).

Some people you can tell, "Wow, I've been crying / horny for the last hour of this RP!" and they're fine with it. Other people, you might want to stick to "Okay, that was some intense roleplay. Mind if we take a break for the night?" and duck out.

Know your partners! And if in doubt, don't be afraid to ask.

So that's it! My thoughts on IC/OOC Bleedover and how to deal with it. Feel free to post comments, thoughts, etc. if you'd like to chime in!