(This entry is in reply to a user who is unknown to me, who apparently feels vehemently that we are not only wrong but illegal, and has made a threat to report Herald Visions to Mercades Lackey's agent because he or she feels it is his or her duty to keep the Internet free of villans and scum like us. I do not know whether anything has been actually reported, but I state again, as I have from the first, that we will comply with all written requests to cease, but I would hope that before a request to cease would be issued, that the issuers would take the time to explore what we're doing and gain fuller information to make a true andinformed decision, and not merely respond with the business as usual response. I replied to him or her in the comments section of the pervious journal entry, but I feel a fuller explanation of who I am and my philosophy regarding RPG's is now called for. I hope everyone who reads this can keep a sane and calm attitude about RPGing. Thank you)
What is a RPG? At its foundation, I personally believe that a Role Playing Game is an extension of the imagination, pure and simple. This can take many forms, from the games played in real time in the woods or a park, with costumes and live people (who are, essentially, acting) to games played around the dinner table with a board and cards and dice, to a newer form of imaginative expression wherein role-playing takes place through the medium of the Internet in real time, more or less, via connections through a modem and technological innovation that allows people to move bits of computer code dressed up to look like somebody or something, or in the simplist versions, a mere bit of code that is hardly more than a chat room.
You can Role-Play on the Internet?
Yes, you certainly can. The earliest technology was created in the early to mid 1990's and was originally used as a glorified chat room, and virtually all of the RPG's that are free and text based today still use that concept. You interact with others in the same way -- the commands are a bit different between a MOO, MUSH, MUX, MUD, and a chat room, but the interface is exactly the same. You do something, whoever is in the same chat room responds to you etc etc. Role-Playing on the Internet allows fans of a particular world to expand their imaginations and enrich their lives by being able to interact with other real human beings in real time, just as though they were having a conversation face to face. The only difference is that one might be in Canada, and the other in California, thereby allowing people who might never be able to meet to interact, form relationships, and enrich their experiences as fans with one another. To me, Role-Playing is the ability to make friends all over the world, to enhance knowlege and share information.
But wait, I thought Herald Visions was a game where you decided to 'become' another character for the duration, isn't that right? That's what other games do! Right?
Yes, that's accurate as well. RPG technology has expanded the definition of fandom and broadened the scope of what it means to be a fan. Now, instead of people being limited to their own brains and their own little slice of the world, they can come online and meet other people who are just as much fans and just as imaginative as they are. They talk, and if somebody decides that they want to be a mage or a dragon or a space-faring adventurer, or a mutant, they can. There are online, real-time RPG's for almost every interest nowadays, from Harry Potter to Sailor Moon to Star Trek to Middle-Earth.
Hang on, I thought that you couldn't do that!
Well, that depends on your perspective and a number of other factors. Legally, to the best of my limited knowlege, it is my understanding that since RPG's exist and occur in real time and in private and are completely non-commercial there is no way for them to infringe on any of the original creator's rights. Much like chat rooms, on which they're based, RPG's are nothing more than people talking about the worlds and the characters, and if they want to 'become' somebody else for the duration of that chat, that is the user's right -- so long as copyright and intellectual property rights are preserved. Quite obviously you really oughtent to use characters that have been named specifically in an author's original work, but nevertheless some games permit that such as the Xmen worlds. Some authors, like Anne McCaffery, have given their permission for RPG's based on their worlds so long as a set of their restrictions are followed. Some authors, like Terry Pratchett (author of the Discworld novels) enjoy RPG's and give blanket permissions. Some worlds, such as the myriad of X-men, Harry Potter, and Star Wars themed games, have no overt permissions at all but continue to flourish. One of the main reasons people give for not allowing a RPG is that due to a US law about publishing rights, whatever is put up on the Internet for other people to see is considered a published work -- this is to protect the millions and more webpages that folks have created, among other reasons. If you put it up on a webpage, it's technially and legally published. And of course, if you publish something that was created by somebody else (a good example is fan fiction) that is an infringement of the original author's rights. Disclaimers abound online, particularly for fan fiction, stating that the author of the fanfic knows that they don't own the characters they're writing about and that they're just borrowing them for the purpose of writing. I don't know how legal that is, or if it does anything useful in preventing lawsuits, but I also haven't heard of anybody being sued just for writing fanfiction either.
However, RPG's are not published works. They exist in real time, like chat rooms, and they vanish the second you turn off the technology. It is my belief that role-playing in an RPG setting is like roleplaying via MSN chat. I've done both, and there is no difference except cosmetically. I cannot imagine any author forbidding anybody to stop talking about their work, and I know that talking about *anything* is protected under the First Amendement of the US Constitution, whether it be in person or online. Well, more or less, but that's a debate that hasn't got any place here. Suffice to say that when it comes to talking about an author's work, there's no debate as to whether the First Amendement is still valid protection.
Now, about commercial interests. It is my understanding that somebody further violates the intellectual property and copyright rights if they write something, then try to make money off of it and it wasn't theirs to begin with, like, trying to sell a Harry Potter fanfiction when you're not JK Rowling. To my knowlege, all of the online text-based RPG's I've been involved with aren't making money at all. Most of them are in fact a financial drain on whoever owns the game, as it is their responsibility to get the server space, maintain the webpage, advertise their game, spend time and effort in upkeep and maintanence and they do this all out of their own pockets and resources. I know myself it's $7 every 30 days for the server and $12 annually for the website, which winds up being about $100 a year, not to mention all the time I invest on maintenance. So I know for a fact that far from making money, my game is in no way shape or form a commercial interest, and all the rest of them I've been involved with over a 10+ year span are also exceedingly non-commercial. Online, real-time, text based RPG's do not make money. They don't ask for money. They don't expect their community to support it. I have never been asked for money to support a game I play and I never have or will ask the people in *my* community to give me money. We are not like those pay to play graphics based commercial-interest games like Final Fantasy or EverQuest. And frankly, I feel that if I want to spend $100 a year on my hobby, I ought to be allowed to do so. It's my money, and my hobby, and if I want to run a glorified chat room, well, why not? Other people spend much more per year on their hobbies.
You said something earlier about the fact that it's ok because they're private. Huh?
Yes, I did. Online text-based RPG's such as I'm discussing exist in private communities, little 'rooms' or 'pockets' if you will throughout the Internet. The only thing public about them is usually the webpage(s) that exists to disseminate information about the game. RPG's are private communities. They have standards about who they allow to join, they have rules and regulations that must be followed if one is to stay in the community, and you cannot get to the community without knowing how to use a technology called 'telnet'. In my opinion RPG's are also legally private so far as the world of copyright etc goes because the information put out in the community stays in the community and is not disseminated throughout the wide world. Like any other chat room, what happens on a game stays there. The conversations and interactions are not public knowlege and there is no way to find them, unless you join the community and sometimes, what happened before isn't discussed with others because it's in the past. RPG's are private worlds, and whatever is said does not go out to the Internet community at large. As an example, would the world at large care that Shana's prize golden chalice was stolen by theives? Or that Brin's leather jacket was chewed up by puppies? By and large, what happens on a game is only noteworthy to those involved. It's a real-time interactive fan-based experience, the wide world isn't going to care. And the people playing those characters are likely to forget too! After all, Brin might be a college professor in real life, and Shana a mother of three, who is going to recall?
So who plays these games? Deviants, right? Those wierd people who are addicted to the Internet, and stuff? I've heard that nobody but sexual predators plays these kinds of games. I don't think it's very safe.
That is not true. It is a perception aided and abetted by those who believe that imagination and play, of belief in fantasy and anything other than what we call 'real life' ought to be left behind the second we turn 13 and start to become adults. This perception that RPG's are filled with nothing but predators and social deviants is also fueled by media hysteria when a predator *is* found online. In over a decade of RPGing I've met literally hundreds of people playing RPG's. Not one of them was ever a predator -- well, at least not in the legal sense. I have met one or two people who were definately not quite normal by society's standards, but then, as a person with a neurological learning disability, neither am I! I have, however, met people from all walks of life, whom I was able to verify that they were who they said they were. Many are college students, undergraduates or graduates, searching for something both fun and intellectual as a break from the amazing stress of college. Quite a few are homemakers, both men and women, who when the kids are at school or asleep take a few hours for themselves and have a break. Some are professionals, people who work and haven't got families. I know a few truckers, there are some teachers, a couple office workers, and a few artists as well. The age range in my experience seems to be from 16 or so to 35, with most folks comfortably in the 20-30 range. The one thing they have in common is that they are all fans of the world I see them in, whether it be Middle-Earth, anime, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Pern, or whatever else takes their fancy. There are games to every taste. Now, that said, there *are* adult themed games out there which cater to adult pleasures, mostly in the sexual realms. Perhaps there are youngsters out there logging in and creating characters on those games. I don't know. Maybe there are sexual predators hoping to find those youngsters. I would hope not, but it is a morally corrupt society we are currently living in. All I can say is that just like there are adult-oriented chat rooms out there on IRC, there are adult-oriented RPG's. It is up to the game's owners and staff to keep their games as safe as possible, but the rather anonymous nature of the Internet makes it difficult to do. It's not impossible, just difficult. Most games put safety precautions in place from the start. I know for our game on our character application form we encourage people to be at least 16 years old in real life. Our game has the technology to view IP addresses and therefore, we can know their ISP if we ever need to report them. As the game's owner and Head Wizard, for example, I have the ability as well to permanently disallow access to my community if I ever do run across somebody who is a pedophile or harasser or anything else either illegal or undesirable. Most if not all of the games I have experienced as players have similar safety precautions, again, the same as chat rooms. My game also has rules which people are expected to obey, or they will forcibly be ejected from the community and not allowed to return. As owners, we take our community's safety very seriously, and do everything we can to make sure that everybody is happy, healthy, and safe when they come to interact in our communities. It is our responsibility to make sure that everybody is as well as we can make them.
So, ok, what do you personally feel about RPGing?
I feel that online, real-time, Internet based RPG's are a venue to interact with other fans, to enrich our fan experience, and to enhance our lives. I think RPG's are a tool that is widely underutilized by the authors and creators of the worlds (the advertising potential alone combined with the potential of brainstorming or the accessability of new ideas for the world is tremendous, and currently untapped by and large) and that far from being banned, they should be allowed to flourish as much as possible within the legal intellectual property and copyright guidelines -- or even further than the legal guidelines if the author/creator allows it. Mercades Lackey (who has been writing the Heralds of Valdemar fantasy novels among other works for at least twenty years) has said that text-based RPG's are a good way for apsiring writers to get practice writing, and I fully agree. They allow language and social skills to improve, not to mention motor skills like typing and practice using grammar and spelling. RPG's also allow the imagination to roam in a context where you receive immediate feedback in real time, thereby allowing the brain to expand its horizons. I believe that RPG's enhance many aspects of a fan's life. I also believe that if allowed to exist, RPG's create income for the author/creator of the world. For example, I did not start spending more money on Anne McCaffery's Pern series until after I began RPGing on PernMUSH -- I was a fan, but I had few of her works that had been published prior to 1994 or thereabouts. After I got online and started to RP with other fans, I started buying not only her previously published works but also her works that were created as I was RPing. Others have admitted to me that due to my own Valdemar game, they are considering spending (or have spent) money buying the Heralds of Valdemar books, which they never would have thought about doing otherwise. RPG's can introduce people to whole new worlds, and make the authors money in the process. I think RPG's have a ton to offer, and I think they should be allowed to exist for the reasons I've stated above. But beyond improving skills, enriching lives, making money and helping create new ideas that can be used by the authors/creators, I also think that RPG's provide a free source of endless entertainment by allowing others to interact with each other in real time. If you go online to my own game, Herald Visions, you might notice that there are few folks on it. When there are, the bulk of interaction is not spent actually role-playing, but in casual conversation -- time spent entertaining ourselves, and possibly the others we interact with.
Why do people do it in the first place?
Because it's fun! And free, and in this day and age where free diversions are hard to come by and money is tight (how much are you paying for gas right now?) something as simple as an Internet based glorified chat room where you can meet others of like mind is, well, fun. I could speculate and say that people RP because they want to be able to get more deeply involved in the world they are fans of than just reading about it but that's just a speculation. I could also speculate that people do it because they want to escape for a while from the hum-drum routine of reality, but again, that's just a speculation. I don't know for sure why others do it. I know why I do it, but my reason might not be (and probably isn't) somebody else's reason. I do it because I like to meet other fans and talk to them about the world, because most of the people I meet face to face in daily life really don't understand. To them, I'm a geek, and a wierd geek at that, but to the people I meet on the game(s) I play, I'm just like them. It's a community where I can find acceptance and understanding at best, and at worst, just somewhere where there are others like me.
So, what do you feel is acceptable use? What would you be happy with if an author/creator came to you and said "You can use my world but here are some restrictions"? What kind of restrictions would you be willing to operate under?
Well, that's a fairly easy question. I already don't use characters that have a name in the original material in my game -- I feel that's a HUGE violation and (aside from the legality) doesn't promote imagination or originality. So I would be ok with a restriction that says "If a character has a name, you cannot play that character, no matter if that character is only mentioned once in passing."
What else? Because of the definition of 'publishing' being anything that's online I can see a restriction that says "Anything that happens on the RPG can't be put up online somewhere in a text format, or indeed, printed/distributed at all." In other words, you might be able to talk about Finny's new set of clothes that she stole from Lord Smythe online, but putting the actual events someplace (they're called logs) on a webpage would be a no-no. I'd argue that making/keeping logs for your own personal use would be fine, since that's private, non-published, and non-commercial, and also a practical way of being able to remember what happened before.
I could also see a restriction of making sure that the role-play that happens on your game doesn't actually occur in the same time as what's already gone on in the original source material, the books or whatnot. That's one of Anne McCaffery's restrictions and I think it works very well. Most Pern RPGs that I have knowlege of are set either in an alternate universe/timeline or in a period she hasn't written about yet and it works just fine.
And another thing I use is that on my game, the rules are such that if anybody creates anything, whether it be their character or a place on the game or even a clothing description, if Mercades Lackey wants to use it, she can, and we can't say one word about it. Not a peep. I figure, since the world is hers anyway, she has every right, legal and otherwise, to whatever she wants to use from us. Personally I'd be thrilled to death if I saw something I created on my game in a future Valdemar book. But the fact remains that she created the world, we're just fans, and the intellectual property isn't ours to begin with. On my game the second you create a character you agree to give up your own rights in favor of hers, and if people don't want to do that, tough. They don't play.
And I can see an author wanting to make sure the essence/core of her world wasn't too badly warped -- Anne MCCaffery has laid down the law regarding what can and can't happen in the Pern games (no pink dragons, for one!) to ensure the game doesn't stray too far from the source material. So long as the author wouldn't attempt to micromanage the game, I can see things like (using my game for an example) "no black Companions" or "no sentient animals that aren't specific species mentioned in the books". It absolutely makes sense to me that the author would want to have something to trust that their world wasn't being pulled out of its proper shape by eager fans.
And a final word. . . :
Personally I would also be thrilled if Mercades Lackey or Larry Dixon or both stopped by to inspect my game and to tell me what they like and what they want to see changed, once a week, once a month, once a year, every day, whenever. I'd have to verify their identities first, of course, but after that, I'd be more than willing to have them involved in the glorified chat room that is Herald Visions. I haven't got anything to hide. I've never tried to keep HV a secret. I'm just a fan trying to have fun and show my respect for the world that's been created by an author who quite literally kept me alive at a time when I didn't feel any reason to keep living. I was 19, having a nvervous breakdown, and what I needed most was reassurance that I wasn't alone and that the pain would stop. A friend gave me The Last Herald Mage series to read, and those books saved my life. In creating Herald Visions I just want to try to give back some of the pleasure and comfort I received then and continue to receive from Mercades Lackey's Valdemar works. I haven't got some kind of nasty ulterior motive and I'm not trying to undermine her achievements. Rather, I hope that this RPG helps celebrate her world, and brings together all of her fans in harmony and happiness so that we can all celebrate these books and the writer.