The 3Cs of Roleplay:
Communication, Consent, and Consequences
Communication, Consent, and Consequences
It's my firm belief that all good roleplay requires three important things: the 3Cs. Communication, Consent, and Consequences. This is especially important in a game like The Secret World, with the mature themes and dark characters that it plays home to so well.
A lot of people use 'mature' roleplay or 'adult' roleplay to mean specifically sexual roleplay (erotic roleplay, or 'eRP'). I don't. For me, 'mature' roleplay means the whole gamut of situations that press moral boundaries, challenge preconceived notions of good and bad, and showcase/display the darker side of human nature. It's roleplay that doesn't pull punches. Roleplay in which good people do bad things, in which horror is a reality, in which life is lived, even the uncomfortable and unglamorous parts of it.
TSW isn't My Little Pony. It isn't Care Bears. It's a game where the survivors in a small seaside town put a bullet in the shambling, rotting bodies of their friends and loved ones. Where little boys in the Savage Coast are ripped apart by the Wendigo, who are themselves the cursed descendants of cannibals. It's cultists stringing people up on meat hooks, it's the Orochi using children in horrific experiments and juxtaposing nursuries with nightmares. It's the white, friendly smiles of the Morninglight fracturing and black Filth tendrils snaking out from the orafice beyond. TSW is a mature game, all the way around. Sex and sexual violence is certainly a part of that, but only a fraction of a much more complex whole.
Mature roleplay evokes a wide range of emotional responses (bleedover, which I wrote about, too). But in order to make this type of roleplay work for everyone involved, often we need to take extra steps that players and characters in a more light-hearted or less serious realm might not find as important.
When you roleplay out situations and events that can evoke strong emotions (whether positive or negative), or when you roleplay out situations/events that affect another person's character, especially in a potentially meaningful way, Communication is Key. Do you have to negotiate every scene out in advance, down to every detail? No. But when you become aware that there are OOC emotions bleeding over, or that things might end up becoming 'serious', it is in the best interest of everyone involved to take a moment and do a quick OOC check that everyone is okay, is on the same page, and negotiate any necessary changes or consequences before things progress too far.
When do things become 'serious'? Personally, I'd say any of the following:
- A scene becomes violent/gory.
A few angry shoves isn't 'serious', but a full-blown physical attack? Do a check.
- A scene becomes sexual/graphic.
Again, flirting or a few kisses/touches? Not that serious. But if it's going towards "not polite in public" territory, do a check.
- It involves a long-term change to a character.
Starting or ending a relationship? Hiring/firing from a job? Broken bones or physical disability? Death? Possession? Change in magical abilities? If it becomes clear that anything like this is on the table -- whether you're the one initiating it or the receiving end -- you need to do a check.
- It approaches morally grey or objectionable areas.
You or your character might not have any problem with drugging someone's drink, with blackmail, with violence towards a child, or similar. Your roleplay partner, or their character might. Better to check and make sure everyone is comfortable.
- It approaches real-life hot-button areas.
Again, maybe your character is racist. Maybe they beat their domestic partner. Maybe when they want something, they take it -- sex included. But there are real players behind the keyboard: players who may have dealt with real slurs and bigotry, who have really been beaten and abused by a loved one, who have been raped or known someone who has been. These are real situations that cause significant emotional suffering. Make sure your partner is okay with roleplay touching on that territory before you risk inflicting or re-opening a real wound.
Some people are very open and relaxed about the idea of make-believe violence, but find graphic sexual content to be taboo. Some might be fine with sexual content, but frown on violence. Some might be fine with both of those -- as long as it doesn't involve drugs. Everyone is going to have their own limits, their own sensitive buttons, and their own levels of comfort -- you included. Do people the favor of being a good, communicative partner.
When something becomes 'serious', it's time to not only communicate but get consent for what's going on. You control your character. Period. And other people control theirs. Ultimately, no one can do anything to your character without your consent. If they emote that they stabbed you and killed you, you can ignore it, and tell them you didn't consent to that. If they emote that they knocked you out, stole your wallet, got your pregnant (or that you got them pregnant), whatever -- no. It's your character, and you have their final say on things which affect them.
For a lot of changes in-character, there's no 'watershed' moment where whatever happened, happened. It's a gradual build of things that change a character over time. But this isn't always the case. If the 'serious' things are on the menu of potential consequences, you need to get consent from the other player that they are okay with this happening to their character (or their character doing this to yours).
In most cases, it's a simple 'yes/no'. "My character is going to try to steal your wallet." ("Okay!") "Since our characters have been lovers for a while, how would you feel about her becoming pregnant?" ("Oh, no. No kids. That's totally not something I want to deal with in roleplay.")
In other cases, it might be a negotiation of things instead. There's nothing wrong with negotiating. "My character is going to try to drug your drink." ("I'm okay with that. But I'm not okay with any kind of sexual assault or anything like that. But if you want to steal his/her wallet or go through his/her briefcase while he/she is out, that's fine.") If it comes to a point that you and the other player can't come to an agreement, then call the scene off. It's better that it never happens, than it ends up with someone feeling uncomfortable and unhappy. Happy roleplayers will recommend their roleplay partners to other people and give them 'good reviews'. Unhappy roleplayers will do the opposite, and people who get a bad reputation will find themselves quickly lacking opportunities.
Also, a personal recommendation: if you are engaging in roleplay that is very intense or taboo (for instance: torture, rape, character death) -- make a log of the conversation where you and the other player discussed communication and consent. In a perfect world you'd never have to defend yourself against roleplay actions, but it can happen. For instance, maybe another person sees part of what's going on and reports you to a GM. Maybe the other player changes their mind or feels negative about things later, despite the communication. In either case, you'll have the text proof that you had the conversation and got the other person's consent before anything happened. CYA.
'Consequences' apply to every event, no matter how small. Slap someone? Consequences. Mouth off to your employer? Consequences. Lie to a loved one? Consequences.
Every roleplayer has to understand that their actions are going to have consequences. 'Consequences' isn't always a negative thing, despite how people often use it. Actions can have very good consequences as well. There is a (small) subset of roleplayers who like to ignore consequences. These are the people who love the excitement of playing out a fight, confrontation, or similar, and then don't want to deal with the "boring" aspects of what happens later. They're the kids at the party who want to drunk drive, but complain when they get arrested (or worse, get into a wreck).
Consequences can be worked out in advance in detail, or not -- it depends on the characters involved. Sometimes, a scene may only be really relevant to two or three characters. If you cheat on your lover, it's not like the police are going to show up at your door. On the other hand, if your Illuminati character openly assaults a Templar character while in Ealdwic, you can bet there's going to be consequences on a much larger scale. If you threaten or blackmail someone powerful, they may have the means to hire people to come after you.
The 'problem' with consequences in roleplay (whether in TSW or otherwise) is that people have to be mature enough to play out those consequences. In real life, you can't just tell the police (or a judge, or an angry person in a bar) "No, I don't want to" and ignore them. (Well, you can...) In roleplay, though, we have no way of actually arresting someone, beating someone up, hacking their bank accounts, etc. We rely on the other person to play these things out. Thus, if someone simply refuses to accept the consequences of their roleplay actions, there's absolutely nothing you can really do about it, other than avoid that person in the future.
Consequences, though, ultimately lead to character growth and interesting roleplay. Think of actions and consequences as a stone you throw in a pond. The ripples spread out, and just like in real life, people are an interconnected web. It's very rare that anything effects just one person. It affects the person, their friends, their families, and so on. It provides interesting hooks, potential changes, and new ways of looking at things. Sometimes great, wonderful positive changes can come out of horrible events -- and vice versa, very negative developments can come from what seems to be minor or well-intended actions. Part of the fun of roleplay is seeing how it all turns out.
"All that's wonderful, Spell," (says you, so I imagine) "but can you give an example where....?"
Why yes, yes I can -- if they're needed. You're more than welcome to ask for examples here on the thread, or in private conversion, if you'd like to discuss anything in this post further with me.