I was recently invited to exchange blogs with the creator of RolePages, Joseph Gambit. RolePages is a…I don’t know that there’s a word for it. Maybe there is. An in-character place to game without the bother of rules, but with an overarching story arc. It’s like stepping into a little multiverse, a text-based MMORPG. A MUSH without code. On the site, it says it’s an experimental role-playing site. Well. I had to know more, so I begged for an interview…
First, give us a summary of what RolePages is all about and why you made the decision to set up the site.
RolePages is a community website that is part social network, part writing group, and part roleplaying game. The mechanics are very similar to Facebook, except instead of signing up as yourself, you sign up as a fictional character that you create. You then tell the story of that character’s life by interacting with other characters across the site.
I’ve always been a huge fan of science fiction and fantasy, and I have experimented with a number of different websites in this genre. A few years back I started getting interested in Alternate Reality Games and the way that they could take a fictional experience, such as watching the popular TV series Lost, and make it even more real by bringing elements of that story into the world around you.
These are games that featured characters that had real Twitter accounts, with videos posting on YouTube, phone numbers that you could call or text for clues, and even in some cases real-life meet ups or clues left in physical locations. The idea was to take the gaming experience and make it as “immersive” and realistic as possible.
At the same time I saw the explosion of networks such as Myspace and then Facebook, which were essentially social games and personal storytelling devices. When I started RolePages, my idea was to take those same basic tools and use them to allow groups of people to tell stories about fictional characters, worlds, and situations that they created.
What’s your background in gaming? That is, what made you start gaming, what kind of games do you play, and–I gotta know–did you MUSH, back in the day? If so, what/where did you play?
I assume by gaming you aren’t talking about me playing Candyland as a toddler.
But seriously, my experience with gaming started about 15 years ago. The internet was relatively new to consumer households at the time, and I, like many others back then, discovered and fell in love with chat rooms. Being able to talk to and interact with people socially without having to be face to face was really important for a shy, awkward teenager like me.
I was on the Prodigy ISP when I stumbled across a small group of rooms that were labeled as roleplaying chat spaces. When I entered, I found something that was truly amazing.
Rather than chatting with one another about the latest music video, these people were playing a game that was made up entirely of written words. They were all acting like these crazy characters and were interacting with one another in a writing style that was very much like reading a novel, except that this was a novel that I could jump into and help write whenever I wanted.
And because it was entirely word-based, your character could be absolutely anyone, and they could do anything that you could imagine.
I spent several years there “gaming” with an amazing group of people before Prodigy failed and the rooms were closed down. After that I tried a number of different interactive games, MUDs, MMORPGs, and even spent some time on Furcadia, one of the first graphic-based interactive RPGs back when it was still a new concept. I also dabbled in D&D and White Wolf with friends locally.
However I was never as taken with any of these games as I was with those original chat rooms because I always felt restricted. They were usually based largely on numbers, stats, and points, which often made the game feel like math homework. I was also dissatisfied with the AIs, which seemed to get in the way of the kind of storytelling that could happen between two or more people. Even now, with all of the advances in programming, graphics, and AIs, I still find things like World of Warcraft to be a little restrictive.
How do you feel RolePages comes out of your gaming background?
Over the years I’ve played numerous MUDs, MMORPGs, Alternate Reality Games (ARGs), graphical adventures, and social RPGs, as well as a variety of chat and forum games.
RolePages is my attempt to take what I consider the best parts of those experiences–the creativity, the interactive storytelling, the art, and the beauty of the narrative–and bring those elements together in a way that facilitates the creation of fictional tales.
What is the itch that RolePages scratches, that no other gaming system/site does?
For one thing RolePages offers a fairly unprecedented level of freedom to be creative. With an AI or graphic-based game, there are going to be some inherent restrictions. Even if you have a millions choices as to how your character looks or where they are going to go, you are still relying on the creativity of the game designer for the final feel and function of the experience.
On RolePages, the entire experience is supplied by the players. The adventures, quests, and events are not operated by AIs and do not rely on a certain set of graphics or programs. Rather, these are player generated situations, which are designed to tell the best stories possible through the unbridled creativity afforded by words, pictures, and on occasion videos.
There is also an artistic element to RolePages which isn’t present in many other games. When you go raiding for hours, you get virtual gold and experience points. When you spend the same amount of time telling stories about a character that you have created, you end up with blog posts, artwork, and written interactions that detail narrative elements of a work of fiction that you are creating.
Where’s the best place for new players or interested guests to start?
I would suggest that new players check out the instructions to get a brief overview of how the site works.
We also have a community newspaper that is crowd written, detailing the overall story arc that is created by the many threads of story that are woven into the tapestry of the site.
Finally, I’d suggest people take a look at the role-playing chat. It acts as a sort of center stage for the site, with live improvised stories being written by a variety of author-actors all the time.
Where do you see the site going in the future? And have there been any extensions/coincidences into RL?
The future of RolePages will involve refining the mechanics of the social game. We have planned events several nights a week which involve the creation of fictional narrative stories in interactive ways using chat rooms and shared documents. There are also at least two independent group efforts being made to crowdsource RolePages novels.
As far as extensions into real life, we just had our first official community meet up at DragonCon 2011 where we marched in costume in the parade. Small unofficial groups also meet all the time and a number of important friendships, romantic relationships, and even a couple of weddings have come from people meeting across the community.
What’s the most inspiring work by your members to come out of the site?
We sometimes refer to the entire site as a living novel, because all of the different stories being told by all of the different characters are woven into a larger, over-arcing storyline that provides a rough backdrop for the entire experience. This is a story that is changing, expanding, and deepening every second of the day.
We started weaving these disparate tales into a single broad narrative when the site opened in 2009, and over the course of two years we were able to tell a single, cogent, logical story arc, with a beginning, middle, and even a climactic end. This was a story with thousands of characters and hundreds of plot lines that stretched in every direction imaginable, and yet was able to be contained within the backdrop of the overall narrative that we provided.
The climax of the story occurred just this past August, and since then we’ve toned down the scale of the overall narrative somewhat. However, I will always be proud of the infinitely subtle and complex story we told over those two years. You can read about that in the community newspaper that we kept detailing the events.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
I think I’ve babbled on the other questions quite enough. Thank you so much for this opportunity. I hope I wasn’t too verbose, but I am passionate about this site, so when you get me started it’s often difficult to stop.