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Volume 1 Issue 1 ISSN# 1708-3265

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The Psychological Benefits of Anonymous Escape
into Alternate Personas with an Imaginary Online Setting

Or Why Role-play is Good

by Jay Baron… AKA Jae Lightbringer

It's three in the morning in some undisclosed small prairie town. A mild-mannered teenager spends his precious weekend hours in front of a computer screen, away from human contact and completely shut off from the world… or so his parents think. In 'reality', he's living it up with at least a dozen of his closest friends at the bar of his favourite inn, downing some stout dwarven beer and playing games of Marco Polo with a seventy-foot long dragon. Also in 'reality', this teenager happens to be a charming, outgoing werewolf.

Half a globe away, another quiet bookish kid is pecking away at a keyboard in the early hours of the afternoon. She lives a mile from her closest neighbour, but as a seventy foot long dragon she spends more time with her friends than her parents think.

From childhood, we all like to play pretend. It's a natural thing, though as we grow older a lot of people forget these silly games. Why use your imagination to entertain yourself when there's television? Or the newest offerings on Xbox and Playstation? Most of the time, people are content to leave their imagination at the mercy of these mediums. When the time comes to be social, there's little chance a group of buddies any older than twelve would like to pick up some sticks and pretend to be ninja turtles. As fun as it used to be, there always comes that point of maturity where playing pretend seems just plain stupid.

Pretend games have survived for certain groups, however. Just look at the success of Dungeons and Dragons, or the newer Vampire and Werewolf games - where the participants play out their characters in a strange form of improvisational acting. Of course, no self respecting Vampire is seen without a character sheet in his pocket and a pen behind his ear to make quickly-calculated changes to his stats whenever he sees, hears, collects, hits or drinks something.

These games, due to their complicated nature and 'geeky' reputation, aren't generally accessible to everyone who likes to pretend. Luckily there is a middle ground, and it happens to be right on your computer screen at this very moment.

For our teenaged werewolf in the quiet prairies and our rural dragon girl, there's no need for hit points and rulebooks. All they're looking for is some time away from the real world, where they can immerse themselves in fantasy and enjoy the company of like-minded individuals. And by pointing their browsers to a live chat room on the Internet, they've tuned into a different world altogether.

When participating in role-play chat, you effectively become your character of choice. You act and speak as your character would, all by typing into the chat. As each person contributes their own character's speech, thoughts and actions, the screen fills up with a novella of text following a dozen interweaving stories at once. No one reading it knows what might happen next, because everyone else is writing it as they go along. This chat is interactive in a way television and video games could never hope to accomplish, because it's driven completely by other people exactly like you.

In terms of an escape from real life, role-play becomes an effective form of therapy. There are many, many, angst-ridden people out in the world today, and you know who you are. Day-to-day stress can pile up rather quickly and, for the average person, there never seems to be anywhere to turn to just let it all out. But people are surprisingly open in a chat, even if they don't know it. Their feelings translate into their character, where they can express themselves without fear of ridicule. Being behind a computer miles away from the next person in the chat room creates an extra sense of safety should they choose to bare their hearts to the world.

Role-play chat is a pastime which defies demographics. Anyone can do it, from soccer moms to network technicians, black clad Goths, cardigan-clad yuppies, teeny-boppers and baby-boomers, lawyers, doctors, naturalists (comfortably nude behind their keyboard, be thankful it's a text-only chat!), people of every creed and walk of life are free to become anyone they choose and explore a fantasy world just as diverse as real life, but much more harmonious.

Admittedly, it is very hard to paint a picture of how dynamic role-play can be without actually 'being there'. So I would suggest, after browsing the rest of this fine magazine, you pay a visit to one of the many chat networks and log in. One of the more lively networks is http://chat.msn.com, and there are usually several role-play-based chat rooms open in the categories of Interests and Entertainment. A highly recommended setting would be the Silvercrest Inn, which has been online for several years as an open and safe community for all ages. (be sure to check when it will open next as this is not a 24 hour role-playing community)

Things you will need:
  • An Internet enabled computer. If you can read this, you should be set.
  • A general idea of your character. Take some time to brainstorm… create a name, appearance and personality you feel comfortable with. Most role-play chat rooms allow total freedom in this area. Any abilities or aspects of your character's past affecting who they are will go a long way towards creating someone memorable. On MSN's chat network, you're allowed to fill all this information in on a member profile page, which can be viewed by yourself or any member of the chat. (Note that some rooms won't let you participate unless this has been filled in.)
  • For MSN's chat networks, you'll log in with a MSN Passport account. If you don't have one, now's the time to sign up. If you have a Hotmail account, it will be converted into your MSN Passport.

Once you're in a chat room, watch for a moment, and it shouldn't take you long to catch on to how things are done. Typed text appears in the large, main panel, and you can type your own at the bottom, pressing 'Enter' to broadcast it to the entire room. To type an action in chat (which appears like this) press 'ctrl+a' rather than 'Enter'. When speaking out of character (which should be kept to a minimum), tack a pair of brackets to the end of your sentence, like this:

Jae: be right back guys, need to refill my coffee ))

The members are listed on the right hand side of the window. The ones at the top with gold or brown icons next to them are the 'hosts' and are responsible for making others feel welcome, as well as enforcing any rules the chat room may have.

Most rooms will not stand for explicit violence or sexual behaviour, making them safe for all ages. There are some, however, which are created especially for explicit violence and sexual behaviour. The names of these rooms are usually descriptive enough to let you know what kind of content you'll find inside.

Mature people, who will do their best to prevent minors from participating, usually run 'Mature' rooms. If your child is active in role-play chats, be sure to know what kind of rooms they play in before flying off the handle and dismissing it all as filth. The Internet isn't as full of predators as some parents might think. Quite often, people in a role-play chat create a warm sense of community and go out of their way to help one another.

  • When role-playing, try to be as descriptive as you can, lending life to the chat and making it vibrant. There is a 255-character limit to typed messages, which is generous room for an elaborate sentence or two. Avoid lazy shortcut-typing (omg u r hot!? Lol!) and try to develop a speech which identifies your character, such as a slow drawl, or an overly formal vocabulary.
  • While it is possible to create a new character for every role-play venture, try to create one you can stick with and enjoy. Creating a unique and memorable character can be a fun challenge, and you'll know you've succeeded when you return to your favourite room and the other characters greet you like an old friend.
  • Try to keep active in the chat room. Make sure others know where you are and what you are doing at any given moment. Interact with newcomers however your character would see fit, and try not to ignore others.
  • Stay in character as much as possible, out of respect for what role-play should be. If the room you're in doesn't seem role-play-friendly at the moment (real life conversations do tend to creep in now and then), simply try another until you find somewhere you can enjoy.
  • Have fun! People in role-play tend to get goofy from time to time. While serious, character-building storylines are a regular occurrence, so are pillow fights and tickle wars.

After a short while, anyone can become immersed in the world of role-playing. All it takes is a little imagination and an open mind. I hope this article inspires you to return to the world of pretend, and that you enjoy yourself in the process. Good luck and happy chatting!

Jay Baron is like any other twenty-something web savvy professional; a witty nice guy with a penchant for japanese cartoons. When he's not knee deep in the latest Castlevania release, Jay works from time to time on websites from his home studio in Saskatoon. He enjoys thunderstorms, chatting with his online sweetheart, playing guitar, and beefing up his computer with cool stuff… oh ya… and roleplaying!

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Any advice given is for informational purposes only.