Why online, interactive, text-based role-playing is the best hobby for writers/authors!

Posted: January 25, 2013 in For fellow writers

Dear fellow lovers of the written word,

some of you might think, that online interactive, text-based role-playing is something for nerdy kids.

Au contraire!

Maybe it was ten years ago. Today it is an art form of writing and it can be highly enjoyable and a very good training for professional writers!

Let me first explain what it is, for those of us who haven’t spent most of their lives online.

Online role-playing is available for many different fantasy worlds, which are mostly based on famous TV shows or movies. As an example I will take one that is based on Star Trek, an epic TV show that 99% of all people have seen at one point in their lives.

Anybody can join this text-based role-playing game. The first thing you do is to create a character (sound familiar?). The only condition is that the character traits fit into the Star Trek Universe, so you could make a Vulcan character, but not an Ewok, because that’s from the Star Wars Universe.
You will then be placed as a crew member on a starship (one coherent role-playing unit within the game), with the entry rank of “Ensign”. On this ship, you have all the other characters too (Captain, First Officer, Chief Medical Officer, Chief Engineer and so on) and each of them is played by another member of the RPG (RolePlayingGame) community.
Each ship (or role-playing area) has a Gamemaster. He or she guides the the ship and its crew through a specific mission (the equivalent of one TV episode).

So for example, the GM might write:
‘The bridge crew saw a Romulan warship de-cloak right in front of them.’
Then it is up to the players whose characters are on the bridge, to react to this. If you were playing the Captain, you would respond by writing for example

‘John jumped up from his chair and shouted “Raise shields, go to red alert.”’
If you participate in this game on a regular basis and write well, your character will advance in rank. Once you are a Captain, you can get your own ship and you can choose your own crew. But for writers, the job of a Gamemaster is much more alluring. Think about it!

You constantly get to create new characters if you wish to interact with the crew during a mission – very good training!

Planning an episode for the crew of your ship is almost like planning a book. Running an interactive episode is even more challenging, because you have to stay very flexible and react on the reactions of your crew. The job of a GM is not to shine him-/herself, but to write a great story that challenges each player to respond with more depth, feeling and quality that make them shine! You are the equivalent of an entertainer running a show on TV, only what you do is much more demanding.

You will have to train your skill to improvise and re-write your story-arc as it develops. At the same time, this is a very creative and inspirational process, because the inspiration goes both ways. You will find that the reactions of your players inspire you and make you do things in writing that you have never even thought of before!
The same happens when you play a character of course, but as a Gamemaster it is happening on a much larger scale. I can not stress enough how much you can learn by writing interactively!
You learn new ways to use language. Those games have players from all over the world. American, English, Irish, Canadian, Australian and even non-native English speakers whose English is good enough to participate. They will teach you expressions you have never even heard and enrich your vocabulary greatly.
You gain like-minded friends. Yes, it is possible, even on the web. If you have interactively written with some people for a long time, you get to know them very well. Besides, most of those online RPGs have their own community sites, where people meet up to chat. It is easy to become part of them, because everybody knows one trait you all share: In this case the love for Star Trek.

In short – it is the perfect hobby & enjoyable training for writers!
You get to immerse yourself into an alternate world that you like/love, you get to create deep, believable characters, you get to train your spontaneous writing skill and you learn a lot from those who interact with you in writing. Contrary to common belief, you do not need to be online at the same time, nor do you interact via email. This wouldn’t work for a community who has a large number of members all over the world.

My personal experience

Interactive, text-based writing has changed my life, by giving me the courage to go public with my writing and get published!
I have learned a lot through it and I have made real friends in six different countries, two of which I have already met in person.

After a long day of writing for my next novel, I am still looking forward to go online and interact with my characters in my RPG. It is a different kind of writing and I feel it to be very relaxing and fun. At the same time, it can become incredibly intense and deep, because you know the other character is not just another part of your own mind, but a real person. Some of the threads I have participated in or read truly reach the “Tolkien level”.
I have been a Gamemaster in my RPG for many years now, but I’ve just recently read my first book for authors and their “tools of the trade”, the “How to..”.
It read like a description of what I have been doing in all those years as GM! But then of course I had to train to become a GM too. I did a course and the exam. All this is offered at no charge by my RPG.

If you would like to know more about this great hobby, feel free to comment on this post.
If you are indeed a Trekkie like me, this is your game: www.star-fleet.com

All yours
Julia B. Kingsley

  1. alisonwells says:

    Hi Julia, thanks so much for linking to this on my blog comment, I’ll do a proper link to it from a blog post. It’s a fascinating area because it’s a wonderful example of how you can jumpstart creativity. You need to just get in there and create as you go, digging deep into your love of Star Trek and your affinity with the character and your involvement with the situation in which you are put. It’s improvisation, it has elements of fan fiction, it’s like writing a serialized novel but even quicker and you’ve got immediate feedback that you can use to modify your output. I’ve got to think about this more because it works on so many levels and as a psychology graduate I want to think about the learning process that’s going on here. I’m not involved in this area but my kids are well into interactive stuff like Minecraft. They love writing though and I can see how this in time would be right up their street. It definitely sounds a great academy for being a writer.

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