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The most basic building blocks of all text-based roleplay are “posts,” usually written in local chat to make them available to all players in a scene. We could separate the contents of posts roughly into two types: dialog and narrative. Pure dialog (chat-boxing) limits roleplay because it conveys little context. If I just type, “Hi. Glad to see you,” how do you know whether I’m saying that in a friendly, curt, surly, or facetious way?

Roleplayers solve this by adding narrative to their posts, which includes ‘emotes.’ Emotes are NOT emoticons and NOT the tacky canned ‘gestures’ so overused at music events. Most roleplay circles frowned upon both. Emotes are not even the predetermined animations available in most furniture, chores, and other ‘sittable’ objects. A true roleplayer will not let animations roleplay for them but will enrich them with more emotes describing the action.

The term ‘emote’ comes from theater, where it means the way actors add emotion or feeling to what they do or say. It means something similar in roleplay, but in this case, we express such emotions or feelings in text. To some extent, you could use animations, facial expressions and hand gestures for that, but they are limited and require cumbersome, costly pose balls, HUDs, and other scripted devices. Text-based emoting offers a much easier, more flexible way to qualify, contextualize, and enrich your posts.

True roleplaying means writing your own ideas in your own words as the story evolves. Emoting means that you’re acting, not just speaking. Now, if you’re thinking “I’m not acting; I’m just being myself,” I should clarify that I don’t mean acting in the sense of play-acting, although there certainly is an element of that in roleplay, but in the sense of performing actions—that is, stroking or hitting, smiling or frowning, laughing or crying, sweating or shivering, standing straight or slumping.

As in acting, emotes can include your body language, facial expressions, tone of voice and any of your avatar’s physical features you want to call attention to, even if they’re not evident in the pixels. Your posts can also include the environment and how you perceive, are affected by, and respond to it, what you are doing, and even relevant background information on your character. The key is for every post to show something of your character’s personality while carrying the story forward. As author Kurt Vonnegut said, ‘Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.’

Posts can also include your appearance, actions or reactions, surroundings, and even a bit of background. They give your posts more depth and clarity than simply speaking. For instance, if I just say, ‘Hello,’ how do you know whether I’m happy, excited, sad, angry, or indifferent to see you? You’d respond differently in each situation, so I need an emote to let you know. For example, I can post any of the following:

/me turns to look at the woman, his eyes taking in her gorgeous form in a slow sweep from her feet to her long wavy hair, then gazes into her lovely brown eyes and purrs, “Hello.”

/me smiles warmly, holds out his hand for the boy to shake and says cheerily, “Hello.”

/me eyes the man warily and scowls, his hand hovering over his pistol as he snarls, “Hello.”

I’m still saying ‘Hello,’ but it means something different each time, so try to combine all your ‘dialog’ with ‘narrative’ like this in your posts. That gives your roleplay partners much more to work with when writing their responses. Without emotes, there is no roleplay.

If you overuse dialog or one-word emotes like “/me nods,” don’t expect anyone to take you seriously as a roleplayer. Try to make your emotes at least as long as your speech. It’s not a rule, but challenging yourself like that could be good practice and improve your RP. Of course, you don’t have to go overboard with it either, like emoting what is already obvious. For example, I wouldn’t write, “‘You’re a damn shit!’ he says angrily,” because it’s pretty obvious I’m angry from what I said, but I might emote snarling it with a scowl.


What did you think? Do you disagree with anything or have something to add? An example from your own experience, maybe? Please leave a comment below to make this a conversation. Thanks!

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