Role Play: Accents and other quirks in roleplay
World of Warcraft has a wide variety of playable races to choose from. Each race comes with its own quirks — and in some cases, its own particular dialect. This means that voice files for these races have accents that help add to the overall flavor of the race. It also means that roleplayers sometimes feel obligated to use that accent while roleplaying.
But roleplay is a written medium. There aren’t any words actually spoken aloud — so is that accent really necessary? Are any of these racial quirks really necessary? And how do you go about successfully incorporating them into your roleplay?
Some argue that accents shouldn’t really be used in roleplay at all. An accent is something you hear, it’s not something you really need to read. To some people, an accent is seen as nothing more than a gimmick. It’s not necessary for roleplay — you know a character of that race is going to have an accent. It’s already part of what makes that character the race that they are. It doesn’t need to be emphasized.
Others think that an accent absolutely should be included in roleplay, for the same reason. It’s part of what makes that character who they are. And in the case of a race like the Draenei, they haven’t necessarily been around long enough to master the Common language. So adding in that detail feels not only appropriate, but expected. If it’s simply left out, the character doesn’t feel “right.”
But the biggest problem detractors of accents have is a really valid concern: legibility. Accents are never written with uniform rules. The way an accent “looks” in the eyes of one roleplayer doesn’t necessarily match another’s viewpoint. This means that in some cases, the language is so mangled that people can’t actually understand what’s being said. And when you’re dealing with a purely written medium like roleplay, being able to understand and be understood is pretty important.
There’s nothing wrong with writing out an accent. In some cases, it helps add flavor to a character. Even someone playing a Human can have an accent, depending on where they’re from. A man from the country isn’t going to sound the same as a noble who’s grown up in high society. In the case of Gilneans, there’s an entirely different regional dialect going on. However, you always want to keep legibility in mind.
When you’re writing out these accents, you want to make sure they can be easily read and understood. The easiest way to do this is to set your own rules for writing out your character’s accent. Choose just a few words or phrases that have the accent, and don’t extend it any farther than that. If your character consistently drops the letter h from “here,” but otherwise speaks normally, it shouldn’t be too difficult for players to adjust.
Another way to distinguish that language is an issue is to ask for guidance with the language itself. Have your character search for the correct word in a situation. Make them ask for clarification. Perhaps there’s a simple phrase that confuses them. Or maybe they tend to take everything literally — euphemisms go completely over their head. Asking for the correct word or getting confused by the conversation can add a little flavor without losing that legibility.
Sentence structure can also add a little flavor and give the appearance of a character that is unfamiliar with the language. Cutting contractions from dialogue adds a stilted formality. Alternatively, you can skip trying to write it out and instead have your character emote their confusion. Rather than ask for a word, note that they are searching for the correct word via emote. Make them delighted when they figure it out!
Different races also have different kinds of racial quirks. Forsaken are generally thought of as being an “evil” race, bent on destroying the living. Dwarves are almost universally known for being obsessed with a good brew. Gnomes are always cheery, highly intelligent creatures. Blood Elves are generally thought to be haughty and magic-obsessed. Pandaren are fascinated both by a good brew and by good food and cooking.
These quirks are less “quirks” and more like preconceptions we have for each race, based on how they’re presented in game. Some players assume that they’re an automatic inclusion in character development. If you’re playing a Forsaken, you must play them as dark and sinister. If you’re playing a Gnome, they have to be a super-genius. Anything else breaks the lore.
Other players point out that there’s a wide variety of people and personalities in Azeroth. Nobody is made exactly the same in the real world, and nobody needs to be a cardboard character in WoW. Leaning on a racial preconception can be viewed as lazy storytelling — by some people, anyhow. You aren’t playing a character, you’re playing a trope.
There’s nothing wrong with adding racial aspects like these to your roleplay. Used correctly, they accomplish the same purpose as an accent — added flavor. But you don’t need to feel like they’re a requirement, either. How do you know if you’re crossing the line from added flavor to trope territory?
Generally speaking, if that character trait is the only thing of importance as far as your character is concerned, you might be headed into trope territory. Or, at the very least, into the realm of predictability. If the only thing your character ever talks about is brewing, how interesting are repeat conversations with that character going to be? It’s just going to be a rehash of the same subject. So what’s the point in speaking to them again?
There’s nothing wrong with using these racial traits in roleplay. But just like accents, you want to keep it subtle. Your character should have a lot of things going on — a wide variety of topics to talk about. Sure, they might like brewing, but they should have other hobbies and interests, too. Variety helps keep a character interesting, even if there’s nothing really story-heavy going on.
And in some cases, veering far from the perceived “norm” of what a character’s race dictates can make for some compelling roleplay. Playing a Forsaken for comic relief is unexpected, but can be highly entertaining. Nobody expects an evil Gnome — or one that’s less than brilliant. Pushing your character out of the perceived conception of what their race “should” be can be just as interesting as playing the traits that are already established.
Keep others in mind
Whether you’re dealing with accents or dealing with racial quirks, you want to keep others in mind. You might think the dialect you’ve come up with is brilliant. But if other people have a problem reading and understanding what you’ve written, they may just choose not to roleplay with you at all. Similarly, a character with only one major focus in their life may be a little dull for other roleplayers.
Roleplaying is a shared, group activity — you don’t want to make it more difficult for people to roleplay with you. This isn’t really about catering to what other people will like. It’s more about being understood. The trick is finding the balance between that flavor you’d like to establish and keeping things clear for the people that choose to roleplay with you. Make sure other people understand what your character is about and what they have to say, regardless of their accent.
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