9/30/99, When the Universe Slumbers
by Pieter van Hiel

It was a dark and stormy night.

Yes, that is the single most infamous sentence that it is possible to begin any sort of prose or essay with. It betrays a lack of originality on the part of the writer. We can pretty much guess what’s going to happen next. Dark and stormy nights always harbor dark deeds and turgid emotions, and a story that opens will likely proceed along a pretty obvious course.

To some extent, the role-play I’m seeing on IMC is reminiscent of a “dark and stormy night” novel.  We know we’re it’s going. This is due in large part to the venues that we’ve chosen for role-play. How much variation can you expect in a room based on a TV series, for example? You know what’s going to happen in any given role-play session. The hero runs into trouble. The hero comes close to defeat, but wins in the end. The bad guys are killed, or more likely slink off and return to menace the hero next week.

We’re not on IMC to emulate television, or movies, or even books. No! We’re are here to construct artificial and original worlds, and to live new lives in those worlds. We’re here because we like to play roles, which means by definition that we’re more imaginative than the poor mundane souls out there. Let’s prove it! We have to strike out into uncharted territory! You can’t be afraid to do something unexpected! We shouldn’t let the universe run on autopilot like this.

First, we have to be willing to get involved in adlibbed role play sessions. Pre-planned plots are fine sometimes…but I’d much rather get involved in a plot with a cloudy ending. Even if that end spells the death of one of my characters. Frankly, it’s a lot more fun. I hate the sort of action movies where I know the heroes are going to win. You know the sort of movie I mean – where one man has to fight off an army of bad guys single-handedly, armed only with a convenient cell-phone so he listen to the villain rant. Let’s use Under Siege 2 as an example. We all KNEW who was going to live and die right at the start, didn’t we? The plot and characters were just a hook on which to hang stunts and fight scenes. Bah. BORING! It’s even worse when they make a sequel…

Second, you shouldn’t be afraid to make your handle different. Look around the site. You’ll see plenty of noble heroes, dastardly villains, and scoundrels-with-a-heart-of-gold. These roles are well and good, and very little could be done without them…but they can also be clichés. People in the real world do not fit these ideals. Ever! At least some of your characters should reflect that. Make someone who’s neither a champion of good nor of evil…just someone responding to the situations that meet them as best they can in the same morally ambiguous way we all do. Yes, we are all morally ambiguous. We all think we’re the exception to the rules. Role-play that!

Or make an incompetent handle. A cripple, a drunkard, a moron, or a feeble old man. Who cares about yet another male model vampire or knight or superhero? They’re a dime a dozen. A street person who gets involved in a superhero fight or a mystery is a much more interesting. And much more fun to role-play, trust me. Not ALL the time, but everyone should try it out. J

Our nonexistent universes shouldn’t become stagnant, dull arenas of repetition and cliched plots. Be daring! Be innovative! Don’t be afraid to be on the losing side, don’t be afraid to completely mess with the existing canon of the universe you’re playing in! Even better, invent your OWN universe!

Your brain will thank you.