The Role-play of Ill Repute - Part I
In this article I endeavor to try to try and unravel the black lacey veil draped over the role-play genre known as ERP (Erotic Role-play). It has been a sore point and topic of much contention for years and we are still no closer to any definitive conclusion as to its merits in the hobby and if the behaviour should be condoned.
The first part of this article is a very brief introduction as to what ERP is, why it exists and the main players in this ongoing controversy.
Does ERP have a place in RP?
I’m very much aware that I’m walking into very sticky territory, as it were, and that one needs to handle such a topic with great care. Still, if you are to follow me on my little journey through the world of gaming and it’s impact on our psyche then I feel this matter needs to be addressed at one stage or another. I forewarn that this article will be in a more serious tone than it’s predecessors and that it covers themes of a sexual nature. I assure you that there will be nothing explicit in these paragraphs but I am aware some people have no wish to face this side of their culture and if this is you, please, I will not press you to continue.
Over the years of discussing this point with gamers it has made me acutely aware that it elicits extreme feelings in people and what I am about to try and dissect is a highly complex beast. There have been many heated debates on the subject and most seasoned or frequent role-players are likely to have encountered this “phenomenon” at some stage or another. Indeed, those who simply engage in any game with online multi-player elements could have easily stumbled into a seedy scene of debauchery. However, for those of you who are uninitiated allow me to start at the beginning.
ERP is the acronym of Erotic Role-Play and is rather unique in that people have felt the need to define this behaviour as apart from the “normal” role-play elements. ERPing, as the term has been coined, is when players act out sexual scenario’s with their characters which can go anywhere from mild erotica to extremely explicit behaviours. Players may choose to engage in such role-play either privately via whispers or openly in a game world where any misinformed adventurer may blunder in having mistaken your tree hollow as the location of that epic, purple staff he’s been after all his life. Ahem...
As with general role-play the calibre of what is out there differs greatly. Some people will treat ERPing with the same respect as all their creative endeavours and make full use of descriptive emotes and weave it into a rewarding narrative that many authors would be proud to publish. Then there are others who think making their character dance half naked before kneeling in front of another and making their avatar do chicken motions while typing “gobble, gobble” is enough.
ERPing has been around in some form since humans decided to get together and pretend to be someone other than themselves so by no means think this is a creation of the digital age. In fact, ever since we have been able to formulate fictitious stories you will see sexual themes threaded through them all. The key thing we must remember here is that fiction, no matter how far fetched, has a grounding somewhere in reality. Our sexuality, no matter what form that may take, is something we all share and therefore an anchor for our understanding.
Be honest, most of you have engaged in erotic role-play in real life. Ever bound someone or been bound with silk scarves or handcuffs? Ever slipped into a maid’s outfit that is clearly meant to elicit a sexual response? Even just the use of terms and phrases like “depraved little whore” to your significant other is projecting onto them something they’re not for excitement... at least, I’ll assume that’s not what you actually think of them. The point here still stands. These behaviours are ingrained into the fabric of our very being and have probably been practiced since before the Pharaohs ruled Egypt.
I also believe that, although sex is not something that should be added for the sheer sensationalism of it, it does have its place. Writers have always understood this and it adds yet another dynamic to fleshing a character and making them identifiable with the reader. In many ways then, it’s natural for this to have spilled into games as it is essentially an interactive storytelling medium.
The RPG genre has always been its greatest stage and before they became multi-player, fantasy/sci-fi and sex have always gone hand-in-hand. It could be something written into the main narrative to explore like we see with Dragon Age and Mass Effect or it could be a tantalising extra that you could miss completely. One example would be Divine Divinity where you can stumble into a brothel, pay for a whore and behold you are rewarded with XP points. No explicit cut-scene, just tongue-in-cheek humour. Still, it’s a reference nonetheless that really doesn’t need to be there but somehow enriches the game experience. I wont digress further as a whole article could be written on the relationship of sex in a fictional narrative but I feel I had to cover a little history to help illuminate our path.
Back to the matter at hand. Although role-players encompass a very broad spectrum of society for the sake of simplicity I have tried to narrow them into three distinct groups based on their views and opinions of our subject matter.
The Traditional Role-player:
I hate to use the word “traditional” in the way I am about to but it has the necessary connotations I’m looking for. This type of role-player tends to adhere to strict values and guidelines, none of which holds ERPing in any favourable light.
They tend to place more value on group interactions or those that further some over-arching plot that they are working within. This is not to say they don’t spend time on their character’s personal friendships and some even have romantic links in their sub-plots but these stay firmly in the Emily Bronte school of writing. It is strictly romance with the bedroom door firmly shut and the furthest physical interaction will likely go is a passionate kiss.
Many of these Traditionalists believe that sex is never needed to define their characters and there are many who also hold personal moral values against it. Just as they would never engage in such intimacy with a stranger in real life they would not do it with people online. Those who are already in established relationships personally view ERPing as akin to cheating and therefore something always to be steered clear off.
They will also use the argument of how dangerous ERPing can be and that it should never be trifled with. You are interacting with another human at a very base level and if we follow the train of thought that our characters are always in a way an extension of ourselves then we are exposed to deep, carnal emotions. It is said that few are capable of having a sexual relationship without developing some feeling and attachment to the other person. The same can be said of engaging in role-play of such a nature.
If this type of personality ever comes across ERPing in their role-play sessions they will at best ignore it and carry on as if nothing is happening and leave or at worst, create quite a scene. Most of these people however, will happily read erotic passages in novels or happily engage in romance in single player RPGs as there are no other parties involved. It is strictly following a narrative and there is no real person to ever become attached too.
The Worldly Role-player:
The Worldly role-players still share much of the Traditionalist views on their hobby but will openly embrace the sexual side of their characters. They feel that to portray their creations to their fullest potential then their sexuality must also be brought out and expressed.
This is where lines will start to become blurry as views are very broad in this class. Most will happily tolerate player run brothels, prostitutes that cater to very “unique” tastes and will react appropriately to witnessing such behaviour. They will accept characters with polygamous tendencies, adultery etc but as long as this has all been agreed to out of character and it still has a significant relevance to their creation and story.
Most are still very respectful of other players and will conduct any role-play of a sexual nature privately or keep it reserved to certain areas that everyone is aware of. They try to create an experience as close to what would actually happen in that world and encompass every perversion of the human nature as possible. If your setting is a Viking stronghold then you can be assured sordid affairs and violence would be carried out so why should this not be added to spice up a storyline?
There are still those who are very respectful of the wishes of their real life partners. Some will not engage in ERP unless they are single or they at least need consent from their significant other. I have met many who will only role-play with their partners so their characters can have that love interest to explore to every conclusion without crossing any boundaries. Then there are those who see it as simply nothing but pixels and a saucy read that has no bearing on what they do outside the game at all.
Many in this category will argue that the character they play has nothing to do with who they actually are. They are purely fictitious and they view them with fondness but no attachment whatsoever. The joy is in watching them walk and talk through a myriad of scenarios and challenges and the outcome has little impact on who the player is as a person.
The main thread here is still that there needs to be a good, plausible reason to be engaging in such explicit activity to begin with. Worldly sorts still like everything in context and sex for the sake of sex is still very much frowned upon.
The Gratification Role-player:
If the Traditionalists and the Worldly Ones have issues with each other they can rest easy knowing they are united in the fact they both look down upon this last classification of role-player. Indeed, many would not even give a nod to these types as their style has very little to do with furthering a character in a plot and more to do with their own, real life satisfaction.
Gratificationists are generally only seen engaging in ERP. They care little to nothing for narrative or the history of a character and believe that pornographic material of any sort only has one value - gratification. I cannot say that other types of role-player never get a thrill out of their antics but this is a pleasurable side to their creative labours.
Some do find the game setting a must to their fantasies where for a large portion it is nothing more than cyber sex which is conveniently accessible in a game they enjoy playing. There are those who are respectful of other players and like to conduct their deeds privately but there are many who simply do not care who hears or who they offend.
With that we have come to the crux of the matter as it is the Gratificationists that most gamers have become familiar with. They have managed to create quite a public outrage and many would agree they have tarnished the name of the role-playing community on the whole.
Now that we have a greater understanding of the main players and their focus in this argument we can start to look deeper into the maw of this monster. It is from here we shall finally dive in to the natural home of ERP from MUDs to MMORPGs. In the second part of this article we will look at what I like to call the “Goldshire Effect”, explore further the dangers of ERP and the ultimate question as to whether the activity actually has any merit in the genre.