Alright, it's maintenance day, and I'm on vacation. Incoming (hopefully entertaining and insightful) wall of text.
I play WoW on a roleplay (abbreviated often throughout this entry as "RP") server. I'm not going to go into the idea that this is the "intended" way to play WoW, because every server type has its merits, but I am going to say that if one rolls on a RP server, they must accept the existence of RP or they are "doin' it wrong". This entry is for those that not only accept, they embrace this fun and entertaining aspect of the game.
If there's one thing I am sick to death of hearing, it is "RP is dead", whether as a declarative statement of condemnation, or a woeful lamenting. For those outside looking in, condemning those that RP, fine, that's your opinion. For those that love RP, I have news for you, the only reason RP might appear wounded or dead to you, is because you choose to see it that way. This entry will attempt to heal what "ails" RP. I personally think RP is only as "dead" as the RP'er lets it get, and together we can fix that stigma within ourselves, but it will (in my opinion) take an adherence to an axiomatic (thank you, Chris Jericho!) set of ideals I shall now lay out as this writer's "rules to RP by".
Rule number one, the cornerstone of this whole school of thought: Roleplaying is the willful assumption of a persona you choose to "wear" because it is interesting to you, the person doing the RPing of said character. I will be referring back to this rule many many times throughout this entry, as by itself it just kind of sits there as a "well DUH!" statement. Trust me.
Rule number two: Although interesting to you, your character will never be as interesting to anyone else as it is to you, otherwise, you would be playing someone else. See rule #1 (see?). This is where the rules start becoming rules, since this one gets broken ALL THE TIME, which is a cornerstone symptom to what "ails" RP in WoW. Almost every complaint I hear about "bad RP" (that doesn't tack an "E" onto and before RP) comes down to people not observing this rule. To break it down, you have chosen, as per rule #1, to play an interesting character of your choosing. If you are "out for RP", you are willfully looking to advance, interact as, and generally "be" this character through engaging with the gameworld, or another player. That player is, if they are also out for RP, looking to do the exact same thing. Your character is the principal, main character of his or her story, and that truth exists for every roleplayer. Accepting this is the first step to RPing "better".
Rule number three: While not and never as interesting to anyone else as it is to you, roleplaying your character with others requires interaction, and interaction is best facilitated by making your character interesting and accessible to them. There aren't enough shadowed, dark booths in WoW for us all to be Strider, and there isn't a Barliman Butterbur to close the gap for us all, so don't require him! This is where flagRSP is your friend, and a bit of a pleasant cheatcode for RPing. We can actively show that we are both a RPer, and are looking for contact, without awkwardly walking up to someone for "no good reason", but make no mistake, sometimes that random walk-up is outright required. Another important extension of this rule is to embrace every tool the medium (that being WoW) allows us: that means RPing in whisper, party, or whatever channel (though first meetings are often best done face to face, I'll admit). Regardless of how you motivate it, being so interested in your immersion that "RPing in whisper is silly" is breaking rule number 2 and 3. Observatory, introverted characters can and will exist within this rule, they're just harder to pull off (without RSP) and get the interaction this rule requires. Keep in mind that the observatory RPer is still a RPer, RPing as per rule #1, and #2, and while you are entitled to being very interested in your quiet, brooding observation of a dark and smoky room, it's not as interesting to you as it is to everyone else, so it alone won't generate your RP, you have to bridge the gap to your audience. If you don't, you don't get to complain that "RP is dead", because you haven't RP'ed, you just sat in a corner (or across the world, accessible only through whispers, that aren't "good enough" for you), while a room/server full of main characters from other stories did their thing and didn't walk over to (or whisper) you, because you didn't give them a reason to, or didn't accept them. They followed the rules, and you didn't.
So our three principal rules are established, let's put them into practice in a standard, iconic tavern meeting.
Gromach the dwarven warrior is sitting in the tavern, nursing an ale, when Verlinda the elven priestess walks in. And it begins. Through emotes or RSP, Gromach exhibits that he is indeed here in character, for a purpose, not just AFK in the dungeon finder. He's in cloth gear that looks pretty cool, obviously in character, looking for contact. Being also in a RPing mood, Verlinda notices this and is now faced with two options: sit across the room, equally in character, or find a reason to sit near and initiate something. Being a smart gal, Verlinda chooses the latter, as spreading the light of Elune is part of her calling (rule #3!). She sits across from the dwarf and greets him. She asks him what has brought him from the battlefield to drown his sorrows in a tankard. She is extending interest to Gromach as per rule #3, and now it is his turn. Gromach, a curmudgeonly, typical dwarf has the option to grumble into his ale and shoulder her away, (very interested in his own curmudgeonliness, as per rule #1) but also wanting to RP, and so as per rule #2 and 3, he still grumbles, but slips in a crack about the death knight he saw in the human palace, and how the world's going to hell in a handbag. We have conversation! Verlinda nods solemnly and orders for herself some white, sweet wine, taking up the dwarf's observations that the death knights are a necessary evil, though her faith to Elune is also causing her to be troubled by king Wrynn's decree. The dwarf eventually asks her, being a pious sister of the moon, what brought her to the inn in the first place, (not wanting to dwell on his own story... as per rule #3) to which she responds that she had traveled far from Darnassus on important business (leaving the options for more questions) and was looking to relax a bit... and so on, and so on. RP is generated, and all is good in the world!
All of this took but a little perspective of the unquestioned interest we have in our own concepts, enough to realize that everyone is not only equally invested in their own stories, but wanting very
much to share those stories. Now I accept that introversion of player and character is a factor here, and having had an RPG themed call-in webradio show once upon a time, I know that RPers can be dynamically split between hams and shrinking violet wallflowers, both extremes that will "hurt" RP if not identified and counteracted for the betterment of one's own enjoyment. Forgoing this objective self analysis, and countering one's own fears or overzealousness, however, does diminish one's stance to complain that "RP is dead", because if you're not following the rules, you can't expect to meet your goals of RP enjoyment. A RP server is neither your private audience, nor "waiting to serve you", you've got to go out and "get it", and when you find it, you need to respect that everyone is their own protagonist, and the best way to talk to another such "main character" is in kind, in full acknowledgment of this mutual fact.
In closing, folks, always remember that RP is never "dead" until we lose interest in it completely, as individuals. Fracturing of the above rules (and unwanted ERP...) has left many of us afraid or reluctant to reach out and add to our sequestered troupes of roleplayers, but we are out there! In this time of "RP deadness" I have found myself often swamped with tell conversations with RPers coming out of the woodwork, hungry for character growth, eager to "just be" with someone else. This bodes well for the future, because while long nights in the tavern can't happen every night, interest in gameworld immersion is spiced and sweetened so excellently when we have others immersed with us, be it from across the world via whisper, or across the table in the inn.
I know that was long, two cups of coffee long even (to write anyway), but I hope some of you found this insightful and helpful.
Thank you for reading.