It should come as no surprise to anyone that roleplaying is much older than Dungeons and Dragons, even as shared worlds are much older than Thieves' World. In their earliest incarnation, roleplaying games were the playground of children. "Let's pretend" is at the core of everything we do together, be it sitting around a table with dice, responding over instant messengers back and forth, or writing long and detailed posts on Elliquiy's forums. "Let's pretend we're pirates, seizing treasure along the Spanish Main. Arrrr!" "Let's pretend we're the crew of the Enterprise, beaming down to a new, unexplored world!" "Let's pretend we're superheroes, running off to save the day!"
As we get older, the games get more elaborate, the structures more... well, structured. Certainly, they carry into the bedroom, if in a slightly different form. "Let's pretend I'm a pirate, and you're a governor's daughter, and you were just captured alongside the colony's treasure." "Let's pretend you're the Captain of a starfleet vessel, and I'm the innocent young man who has the information you need, and you have to convince me to cooperate." "Let's pretend we're superheroes, after the patrol."
Still, at their heart, these are all roleplaying games, in all their forms.
Well, I come from a writing background, and a roleplaying background, but I also come out of the theater. And in the theater, we have our own version of "Let's Pretend," even beyond the putting on another person's life on stage. It's called improvisation, and among all the forms of Let's Pretend in the world, it's the one that has the most restrictions. Improv is all about opening yourself up to your fellow actors, taking a premise that's tossed out and making it into something unique. At the same time, you need to be wary of steamrolling over the other performers, and you also have the additional pressure of actually entertaining an audience at the same time. There's no room for chaotic freeform there. You have to work together, perfectly, with no time to even think.
Naturally, this is accomplished through training, through dedication, through practice and -- as stated -- through trust. You learn to answer quickly instead of taking time to think. You learn to react. You learn to speak up.
And you learn to listen.
One of the most basic, and most valuable tools in Improv training is called "Yes-And." It's a simple exercise, really. You and a partner are sent up on stage. You're given a premise of some sort. One of you makes an assertion about that premise. And the other one answers, starting their sentence with the words '"yes, and." So, given the premise 'waiting for a bus,' the first person might say "These buses never arrive on time." The second may reply "Yes, and it's way too muggy to wait long." The first one might then come back with "Yes, and we're dressed for much colder weather than this." And so on.
Each and every time. "Yes, and." You must always agree with what's come before, and you must add something new. Every time. You're not allowed to contradict the other person. You have to keep the entire structure in your head, so you don't accidentally negate (or 'neg') something that came before. You have to actively listen, and you have to respond, and your response can't break what's already been established.
It sounds easy. It's not. It's so, so not. It's so hard to keep building on events as they happen without ever reversing or arguing. It's especially hard when you're actually trying to build a scene with real conflict -- your character may be 'arguing' with the character they're talking to, but you and your fellow actors are always agreeing on what's come before. It's hard work, but the training pays off -- in lots more ways than a short run of improv in Summer Stock.
Which brings us to collaborative Roleplay, Elliquiy style.
Some roleplay on Ell is basic, blunt sex. And in those cases, it's easy to build on what the other writer has written. You accept whatever they did and you move on. But so much on Elliquiy is elaborate writing, done by two or more people. And no matter how much they may have discussed in private message before posting, at the moment of posting one of the writers is making assertions. This is what their character is doing. This is the setting they're doing it in. That is the Summer Sausage they're utilizing in an oddly discomforting way.
There's only one way that kind of worldbuilding and assertion works. We have to Yes-And.
I don't mean we literally have to type "Yes, and" at the top of our posts. That would get really old, really fast. But we have to actually read and pay attention to what our fellow writers have posted, we have to affirm it, and we have to build on it. We can't negate their character's actions or setting assertions because it's not what we had in our head. We need to respond to it -- acknowledge it was said, and done, and move on from there. We can't railroad a plot in the direction only we want -- we have to let our partners shape and guide us.
When I'm roleplaying, especially during tense situations, I tend to put in qualifiers -- I write out what my character tries, when it impacts someone else's character. I only list what my character does when the situation has reached a point where there could be no question. This gives my partner the best chance to respond, to refuse something without negating me, to accept something and build on it with the most freedom they can muster. When my partner mentions something about the setting or atmosphere or the way things work, I try to refer back to it, and whenever possible -- I'm only human, after all -- I try to never contradict it.
When Yes-And breaks down in a scene, the sense of trust that lets us interact with each other breaks down with it. The scene becomes forced. The negated person loses investment. It becomes a literal bad scene. Done to the extreme, it becomes the dreaded God-Modding, where you literally force their character to do what you want instead of what their writer wants.
So, when you're writing with someone on Ell, or when you're IMing, or in a bedroom with your partner, or just running around playing "let's pretend," remember. Yes-And. It'll make the scene better, and help have your partner come back for more.