ROLEPLAY AS AN ART FORM
Updated: Jan 8
(Adapted from Learning to Roleplay in Virtual Worlds)
Roleplay in virtual worlds can be seen as a new art form in its own right, on a par with—and even encompassing—the other seven arts described by Ricciotto Canudo. Set on the stage of a roleplay region, it includes the plastic arts in its use of 3D modeling; the graphic arts in photography, ‘textures’; style and fashion design in the outfits; architectural arts in the interior, exterior, and landscaping design, auditory arts in the immersive soundscapes using music, natural sounds, and others; and even choreography in the MOCAP animations and poses that move our avatars. Bear in mind that in a virtual world such as Second Life, all of these elements are created by the users themselves.
And to all this background, roleplayers add the literary element through the narrative and dialog we post, plus an improvisational dramatic or theatrical aspect as we move and interact like actors in an ongoing improvisational play. All these art forms come together in an opus magnum involving thousands of artists from around the globe, ranging from professionals to wannabees—ourselves included—in an immersive, collaborative mise-en-scène that evolves in real time before our eyes. In his contribution to the campaign “What Second Life Means to Me,” virtual worlds polymath Loki Elliot said:
I… studied art, then left college conflicted. I wanted to do it all, not have to specialize… When I stumbled upon the Second Life platform, I didn’t realize it straight away, but here was a place where all my creative interests—illustration, story-telling, gaming, 3D modeling, music—it all merged together, and with an audience to boot!
Some question whether virtual art is real, to which Croatian artist Eshi Otawara answers, "It’s not a non-existing universe. It’s there. It exists. If you just free yourself from that prejudice toward what’s virtual—that it’s not real—it will make you happy… Virtual artwork, just like physical artwork, stimulates the brain, so how much more real does it have to be?" Zander Greene, a co-organizer of Fantasy Faire, adds, "The medium isn’t what makes it real; the experience it creates within me is what makes it real." And Second Life film-maker and documenter Draxtor Despres says:
Second Life to me is, simply put, like walking into the creative minds of other people… Many people assume Second Life is a videogame and that the avatars are non-player characters, but they’re not. They are digital extensions of the people who inhabit this world… Second Life… is proof that if you learn how to derive happiness from expressing yourself creatively, you will be happier in the long run, and that obviously reverberates back into the so-called ‘real world.’ Second Life empowers people who have never been told, ‘Hey, you’re a great artist, keep on going.’ People like that can now be at the table… The only thing that matters is what you contribute to this community, and that’s a beautiful thing. Actually, everything we do, even in real life, is roleplay, and we act like a different person in each role. We behave one way with our boss and another with our subordinates, one way with our spouse and another with our children, one way with our siblings or friends and another with our enemies. But we never say that it is ‘just’ roleplay; we call it real life.
Granted, much of our art is impermanent, blown away by the winds of time like the brightly-colored sand mandalas fashioned by Tibetan Buddhist monks. It may only be experienced by its creators, but there’s nothing wrong with that. The greatest value of art resides in the process of creating and performing it, not in a finished product put on display. Nevertheless, roleplay has also transcended the virtual and been made available to the broader public in more permanent forms such as machinima and the LitRPG or RPG GameLit genres.
So let’s seek excellence in this art form—an excellence defined not as a final destination to which we can eventually arrive but as a process of continual improvement and ongoing perfecting of our craft.
What do you think? Do you disagree with anything or have something to add? An example from your experience, maybe? Please leave a comment below to make this more of a conversation. Thanks!