“Grandpa, why do roleplays die?” a young boy asks his wise old ancestor. The man looks to this young child, this innocent capsule of curiosity. It is time that he is told the harsh truths of this world, this forum. It is time that he learns, so he might avoid the heartbreak and pain which so many have suffered.
So, the old man thinks: We shall this day light such a candle as I trust shall never be put out.
Why do Roleplays Die?
And perhaps, how to save them.
This question must be at least as old as the act of roleplaying itself. It is a problem faced by any who are involved in the community, not least of which are those who make the roleplays in the first place. Hours of work is often put into formulating the perfect idea, so to see it lost so easily is not only devastating, but also annoying. Then, we see that the death of a roleplay affects those who are most committed to roleplays, those who write thousands of words to develop their characters and to contribute to a world which, eventually, falls into nothing, often without even a proper ending. Finally this problem reaches the ‘casual’ roleplayers, those who participate with a few sentences, or often even just one - those who do not yet comprehend or commit themselves to character development, eloquent grammar, or beautiful descriptions. The death of roleplays is perhaps most detrimental to this group, as they have the most to gain from a lengthy attachment to a roleplay, and are the least likely to find a new roleplay to join. Therefore, I believe that it is our duty as roleplayers to investigate and understand why a roleplay dies, and how each of us can help it to survive.
In no way do I presume to be an expert on roleplaying, and certainly, I am not the most proficient at creating and maintaining a roleplay. However, in my nearly three years in the forum roleplaying section, I think it reasonable to claim that I am an expert on roleplay death - I certainly have quite a bit of experience with it. So, it is from this experience, and from my contemplation of this experience, that I have derived these observations and conjectures about why roleplays die. I write this article in the hope that it will help someone to create a successful roleplay which does not suffer this morbid fate at any untimely moment.
Now, let us define the terms upon which this article depends:
Roleplay - A text-based story with various contributors acting out the actions and emotions of various characters or entities.
The Forum - The Minecraft Roleplaying Forum, that ebb and flow of our existences.
Creator - An individual who develops, presents, organizes, and manages a roleplay.
Member - A participant in a roleplay, possibly including the Creator.
OP - The ‘Original Post’, in which the details of a roleplay are fleshed out and interest must be stoked.
Idea - The basis upon which a roleplay is formed. This is often outlined in the OP.
Death of a Roleplay - That phenomenon which occurs when a roleplay fulfills two conditions: It is no longer actively used by members, and it has not come to an official resolution of the overarching plot.
The Three Stages
It is my belief that there are three main categories into which nearly all causes for a roleplay’s death can be lumped. These seem to be defined just as easily by looking at when a roleplay dies. These categories could therefore be labeled Bad Ideas, Bad Execution, and Bad Management. There are some instances of roleplay death which do not fit any of these categories, but those will be included in this article as well, so that the entire situation can be seen and understood.
Bad Ideas are not just the bane of an infant roleplay’s success - they are also amongst the primary qualms which experienced roleplayers have with new members of the community. I dare to suggest now that it is not only these new members who have bad ideas, but also some of the most experienced ones. I, personally, have had countless bad ideas, and I am sure that I will have many more. Therefore, I have done my best to examine my failures, and the failures of others, and have looked to see where an idea can be made better.
I have seen that there is a long scale upon which any roleplay idea falls. At one end lies simplicity, at the other complexity. In an infinitesimally small fraction along this line (so small that even after extensive study I have failed to locate it exactly) lines the realm of interest. This is where any good idea must lie. The remainder of this section will be a quest to narrow our search until we have found that beautiful, promised land.
An idea cannot be empty or near empty. It must have enough flesh so it is more than a ghost, so that it can explain to people why they should choose to participate in this roleplay, and so that it can tell people what to expect. An idea which has had enough thought poured into it will convince potential members that the roleplay has potential to survive, will incite some interest in any reader, and will disarm potential members of any fears about what the roleplay will become. People need to know what they are signing up for.
Likewise, an idea cannot be too detailed. This fleshy beast must be slathered in darkness to obscure its form, to excite mystique and intrigue. People do need to know what they are signing up for, but they also need to have a reason to sign up. If a roleplay has too much information provided, if a world has too much lore and the plot is too clear and single-faceted, then interest will be stymied immediately.
Freedom is one of mankind’s most inherent desires, and creativity is one of the greatest gifts of a roleplayer. Embrace them both, but give this creativity a spark, and this freedom a land in which it can be enjoyed.
Of course, the level of detail is not all that is important for an idea’s success. Ideas must also be original and unique - this is perhaps one of the greatest problems faced on the forum.
On the forum, there are perhaps thirty active members. This estimation might be somewhat high, but I include members who lurk in the shadows, awaiting the appearance of a good roleplay, one which fits their tastes. Each one of these members has tastes, (preferred genres, preferred topics, preferred themes, etc.) and each of these members has a limited amount of time or energy. Therefore, there are only certain types of roleplays and only a certain number of roleplays in each of these types that can succeed. Thankfully, there are already tools to help us learn where these ‘sweetspots’ are hidden.
By looking at the first few pages of the forum, we can immediately discern certain trends. Fantasy and “Superpower” roleplays have historically found success, so it might be assumed that making a roleplay fitting these criteria will automatically increase one’s chances of success. Trust me: many have tried, and many have failed. I believe that if one were to try this tactic right now, they would fail again, as there are already roleplays fitting these categories which are currently experiencing or anticipating some success - see Genetic Destiny, College of Althalos, and Mysteries of the Ancients.
Actually, on an interesting anecdote, I would like to spend a short paragraph examining my personal experience with the College of Althalos and the Mysteries of the Ancients. An interest check for MotA was posted on October 23rd, and for just over a month work was done on creating it behind the scenes. Meanwhile, on November 23rd, CoA was created. It quickly received applicants - there had been a paucity of medieval fantasy roleplays on the forum for about a month or so. Then, four days later, on November 27th, MotA was officially created. Suddenly, there were two medieval fantasy roleplays. Both had somewhat different takes - one somewhat more structured, the other more open-world, both figuratively and literally. Personally, I was in strife, as both appealed to me, but I did not want to commit to two roleplays which were so similar to each other. Being as weak as I am, I eventually succumbed and applied for both. All the same, I do think that the situation would have been better had the roleplays been posted at different times, so they both had a captive audience to draw from.
Now, let us look at a more numerical example of the situation which I am describing. Assume, for a moment, that there are five people on the forums. Here is a brief description of each:
Adam likes science fiction. He wants to participate in one roleplay.
Bob likes science fiction and superheroes. He wants to participate in two roleplays.
Callie likes science fiction and secret agents. She wants to participate in two roleplays.
Deanna likes secret agents. She wants to participate in three roleplays.
Eli likes superheroes and secret agents. He wants to participate in one roleplay.
Now, imagine the following scenario:
Adam creates a science fiction roleplay. Bob and Callie are quick to join.
Bob, seeing the success of Adam’s roleplay, creates his own science fiction roleplay. However, since Adam does not want to participate in another roleplay, Deanna and Eli are not interested in science fiction, and Callie, already in one science fiction roleplay, wants to save her time for a good secret agent roleplay in the future, none of them join the roleplay.
Eli, wanting to join in on the fun, makes a superhero roleplay. While Bob and Callie are both interested in superheroes, they have already joined all the roleplays which they want to join. No one joins Eli’s superhero roleplay.
Eventually, Bob shuts down his science fiction roleplay, having unfortunately sacrificed some of his ability to participate in Adam’s roleplay in his efforts to keep his own roleplay alive.
Now looking for another roleplay, Bob joins Eli’s. Eli is miraculously still alive, and is boosted out of his depression thanks to the kindness of Bob. However, the delay, paired with only two members, causes the roleplay to be slow to start. Eli has also, over time, lost some interest in his own roleplay.
All along, Deanna has been lonely without a roleplay to join.
Hopefully this explains why creating a roleplay which is too similar to a current roleplay is a bad idea.
There is another way in which unoriginality can be bad, and another tool from which we can learn. By looking at the perennial failures, we can see which roleplays will almost certainly fail again. This is especially important for those who are new to the forum, which may be a reason why it is best for experienced roleplayers to create roleplays, and new members to join them. The paradoxes created by an execution of this idea are worthy of another article, but alas, they do not fit into this one.
Finally, one specific note on bad ideas is that High School Roleplays have, on this forum, been destined to failure after failure after failure. I do believe that a good High School Roleplay could be made, but this is not the type of roleplay for beginners to make or participate in, as it only encourages blandness and mundanity. So, please, if nothing new is to be offered on this front, consider High School Roleplays, as a whole, to be bad ideas.
The elimination of bad ideas should be the prime directive of any individual trying to create a roleplay. A good idea will attract attention, and once applicants have been found and accepted, success becomes attainable. However, the route to this prosperity is marked with various obstacles. Creating and orchestrating a roleplay is perhaps the epitome of the Hero’s Journey, and as it is in any journey, one must use one’s tools - or in this case, one’s idea - in an effective manner.
Oh! Woe is to he who squanders a good idea, for ideas are like gems: they must be polished to become invaluable. Many a roleplayer, however, does exactly that: they take what could be a great idea and, unfortunately, fail to put enough effort into developing it. I am as guilty of this as the rest of us.
There are various ways in which an idea can be executed poorly, but perhaps most important is how an OP is written. Too long, and interest can be lost, but too short, and one might fail to convey the depth of an idea. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes can be the doom of a good idea, as they are the most efficient manner in which a writer can discredit their self. Even using the wrong font might throw off some potential members - coloured or large text is often a warning sign that a roleplay might not be as serious as members are hoping.
The rules outlined in an OP can also dissuade readers from applying. Requirements about post length or grammar may appeal to experienced roleplayers, but would be devastating for those new members who still need to build up their skill. Having too many rules can drive off us free-spirited individuals, and I do believe that one can never have too few rules - after all, roleplaying is an outlet for creativity, and such an outlet should be as multi purposed and wide as can be.
The easiest way to summarize how to execute a roleplay well is to try to find as many applicants as possible. There are various types of roleplayers, and each will find different things appealing in a roleplay. Everyone can benefit from a roleplay, and a roleplay can benefit from (almost) anyone. The trick is to make sure that everyone knows this.
A good execution is like a good advertisement - striking, memorable, intriguing, and with a large audience. But even the most powerful company can be felled by poor management. We need to make sure that the products keep selling.
Let it be said, here and now, for all to see: this is the single most horrible way for a roleplay to die. By this point, work has been put in by all parties: the creator has done their best to generate interest, the readers have worked their hardest to entertain this interest, and the applicants, hopefully now members, have often put in hours of work developing unique, interesting characters, and then placing them into this wonderful world which they are so excited by.
Then the meteorite strikes. The volcano explodes. The WiFi crashes. Something goes wrong. Perhaps the affliction is small and incremental, but invariably it occurs, and it produces a horrible screeching sound of metal on metal, ripping apart the fragments of this fictional universe and sending its Gods into disarray. What really goes wrong?
It is often difficult to know exactly what the problem is, but the problem can usually be found by looking at the actions of the creator, the person whose actions have the most influence over the roleplay itself. Once the roleplay has been launched, it is their job to keep the gears turning and the waves rolling. Often, a roleplay’s death boils down to a lack of interest. Sometimes this is the creator’s fault.
One of the first management acts of a creator is to accept applicants - and one of their first errors can be made here as well. If they accept too freely, they can add the ingredients for chaos or mediocrity. If they accept too strictly, they can dissuade others from applying for fear of rejection, and they can come to rely too heavily on too fragile a group of roleplayers. Both are easy mistakes, because again we search for Goldilocks Zone where everything is just right. With the lack of applicants that most roleplays receive, it is often difficult to be strict, because we feel as though we need all of the members we can find. I would suggest that this is a false presumption, and I will explain why I believe this later in the article.
Another problem a manager can have is that they can allow for too many rotten apples - or, in some cases, they reveal themselves to be one such rotten apple. The fish rots from the head, it is often intoned, and this is true. If a creator allows a toxic environment to fester within their roleplay, or if they make that toxic environment themself, then their roleplay will suffer atrophy as members slowly opt out of a situation which they do not enjoy. Alternatively, a roleplay might become so bogged down in inter-member drama and dispute that it forgets its goals and members lose interest.
Then, there is inactivity, to which many a roleplay has fallen. It is imperative that a creator ensure frequent activity on a roleplay, else interest will be lost and members will disappear. In this world of the internet, we are used to being constantly bombarded with data and facts and news and content. The same must occur on a roleplay to maintain interest.
Make people feel connected to the roleplay, on a deeper level than their application. Engage them in conversations about rules, the plot, characters, or anything else - but don’t become distracted by your newly formed friendship. Focus your connections on the roleplay itself, and in that way you will maintain both your own interest and the interest of the members. Work hard to create a community. If people feel an obligation to each other, they will post. As well, despite popular belief, nagging does work - if someone needs to post, remind them (with friendliness) that they are needed. Never stagnate. Never allow a loss of interest. Keep some hidden details of the plot to reveal in times of trouble. Save your roleplay with your own dying breaths.
But for our collective sanity’s sake, don’t abandon your own roleplay!
I could not count on my hands the number of times that I have seen or been a part of a roleplay which has died due to the loss of its creator. If these creators were bailing when the ship had already sunk, perhaps I would not blame them so unequivocally, but alas, the number of times that a roleplay has been abandoned while there was still roaring interest - it infuriates me!
I was once part of a roleplay which was new, unique, and well-executed. It had a solid core of at least five people, which is exceptional for a roleplay on these forums. It had lasted for over a month, enjoying success after success, and while there had been some hiccups, none had been drastic.
Suddenly, the creator announced that he would be leaving and the roleplay would be closing. That was that. I was devastated.
I wish that I had possessed the audacity to say, “You had heaven in your grasp, and now you have thrown it away!” I wish that the case which I have given was the only time this fate has befallen a roleplay which I have partaken in. I wish that less roleplays died.
I wish that roleplays would stop dying in this one, single way, for truly it is the most detestable manner of death, simply because it is the most avoidable.
If, when making a roleplay, a creator believes that they may, at any point, lose interest in their creation, perhaps it is not the roleplay for that creator to make. Perhaps the idea needs to be changed to make it more interesting in the long term. Alternatively, if a creator ever realizes that they are losing interest in their own roleplay, it is never too late for them to search their soul and find what they need to add to reinvigorate their own interest in the roleplay. Being the creator, they have the power to do this! If ever a creator feels discouraged by a lack of activity, a lack of length in posts, or a lack of anything - do not despair! Fix your issues, do not run from them! If worst comes to worst, and there is no choice but to flee the failing fleet, then throw that torch to those who can save your roleplay. Don’t let a good thing die!
Of course, one cannot presume that a roleplay will prosper, even if it succeeds in each of the various manners of creation and management listed above. Some circumstances are beyond the control of any one creator or roleplayer. Some circumstances are exceptional.
One such circumstance has to do with the fact that, despite what many of us may want to believe, the Minecraft Forums are not dedicated solely to the Minecraft Roleplaying Forum. There are better, more single-goal-oriented website which exist, and which lure away some of the most advanced and ambitious roleplayers. In a way, these Minecraft Forums are a breeding ground, where average folks are turned into roleplaying aficionados. Few of us were experts at roleplaying when we first arrived here, but so many of us have become them, and in the future, so many more will. Then, unfortunately, so many of these birds leave the nest. They fly off to greener pastures, and they leave behind that womb which nourished them. This is perhaps why so many roleplays on this forum die in their prime - they fly too close to the sun, and their wings, those roleplayers who make their roleplays great, take off into the universe, burning hot and golden with promise and prosperity which they will not return to this mortal world.
However, I would deign to offer that there is a certain magic which these forums possess, one which I hope could convince countless others to stay here long after they have ‘outgrown’ their peers. Many would argue that roleplays require large memberships in order to survive and thrive. I would suggest that this is in no way true. I have carried out various roleplays with only one, occasionally two, other people, and these have been quite successful, and quite fun, if not for the forum as a whole, then certainly for those who participated in the roleplay. This intimacy is something which I believe can easily be lost on forums where there are so many active members to drown each other out, or on forums where everyone is so advanced in their writing that no one is there to learn or teach, only to impress and exercise.
The slow, horrifying loss of those god-like roleplayers we all have known and loved is one of the greatest afflictions suffered by roleplays on this forum, and the only way to stop it is to find the beauty in the present. We need to stop looking to the future, and we need to stop anticipating ‘better’ roleplays. Instead, make the roleplays we have even better. If we always leave for better pastures, we never make the most of the pastures which we have.
So, why do roleplays die? They die because they are weak. Why are roleplays weak? They are weak because their components are weak. Weak ideas, weak components, weak members, weak forums. No one ever makes a roleplay with the intent of having it die, but sometimes, somewhere along the line, we lose interest, and we think, It’s okay if this dies. I can do better.
Ironically, we often only need to embetter one thing: ourselves.
To strengthen ourselves, we must strengthen our ability to write, our ability to formulate ideas, our ability to create and manage a roleplay, our ability to recognize the successes and failures of our roleplays, and our ability to fix these failures, and find more successes.
Only the roleplayers themselves can stop the epidemic on this forum, and they - we - are fully capable of doing so.
“Oh,” the little boy finally replied, very confused by his grandfather’s ramblings, which had only produced more questions for him to ask.