Written by: Abdel Hyx
Images by: Daeden Jessop
Don’t Tell us … SHOW US!
In the 1950’s, Albert Mehrabian, a research psychologist, broke communication (and how we kooky humans respond to it) down into the “Three V’s” of ‘Verbal’ (just the words), ‘Vocal’ (the tone of voice, inflection, and other sounds), and ‘Visual’ (facial expression, body language, and so on). According to his findings, one V accounted for 55% of the message in communication between people, another 38%, and the last, merely seven. (If you guessed ‘Verbal’ as the lowest percentage, you are correct!)
The majority of how we receive and interpret a message in real life interaction comes from something other than the words. I’ll demonstrate a bit of what I mean by that shortly, but first, you might be wondering what in name of all that is kinky and naughty this has to do with Gorean Roleplay, or Roleplay at all for that matter?
In a simpler but sadly bygone era (which is to say, the 1990s), a clever, strapping, and starry-eyed young man (yes, I mean me…I mighta been strapping, you wasn’t there!) stumbled into a Gorean chat on Undernet (ahh, Undernet…adjusts his pocket protector). Being IRC, and in the early days of that grand old dame of ‘the intarwebz’ to boot, we had no graphics (ok, there might have been internet porn, but, anyhoo…), so the word was all, what was said, and how. We had to set our little part of the scene, and sometimes more than once (I think I once had eight times) giving a modestly detailed description of our character’s appearance, demeanor, and general mannerisms.
With the visual medium of Second Life, alot of the ‘scene setting’ is done for us. We don’t have to imagine the grungy, dank, and dimly lit back alleys of Port Kar, or the warm fire and low furniture of a crowded and boisterous paga tavern, because we can see them on the screen. Certain aspects of our character, also, can be conveyed by our avatars, height, build, appearance, dress, weapons, and something of a demeanor can be conveyed, and interpreted (if you’re willing and able to spend the L$ on a super-duper mo-cap AO) to some extent.
But… (ain’t there always just a but?)
To coin a phrase, “appearances can be deceiving”. Let’s take a look at a few example characters. We’ll start from the visible (what the viewer provides) and work our way inward. I’ll be using ‘types’ to describe groups of personality traits and their associated behaviors. In a way, these are like ‘tropes’ (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HomePage) that define some aspect of a character’s behavior or personality.
Enter one Rarius, we’ll call him ‘Bulgin Thews’.
Bulgin stands about six foot sixteen, and has to hold his breath while walking through doorways. Sideways. Bulgin has a thick head covered in stubble, craggy, weathered features, and proudly wears the red of his caste. He walks with a rolling swagger, and stands in a succession of bold poses that show off the fruits of a warrior’s life. He seems particularly fond of (and adept at) rolling his shoulders, keeping himself loose so he can cross his arms.
All of this, we can see in the viewer, but maybe something about the warrior’s demeanor (what the player provides us) is a bit different. Our Bulgin, he’s a quiet fella, so quiet that pretty much nobody has ever heard the big guy talk. He owns a very devoted kajira, and he tends, fairly often, to send her to deliver his messages and orders. He’s pretty well written, and tends to send detailed memos in his neat, orderly hand. He’s also got a reputation for busting people’s heads over small arguments, so it might be good that he rarely speaks, people give him a wide berth anyway. He’s an old campaigner, and tends to go a hand or so between baths, though he does take one every passage hand (sing along if you know the words) whether he needs one or not (mhuhuh!). His faithful girl, Suzy, keeps his clothes as clean as she can, and his armor polished (and his lance waxed…mhuh…I make another funny), but she has learned that a rabid sleen is easier to get into the bath than her beloved Master. In addition to his ‘eau du sweaty leather’, when people do get within arm’s reach during a conversation, he tends to loom, invading people’s space in a vaguely threatening manner, but maintains a closed off posture himself (more on this later).
As a roleplay challenge, a character who doesn’t talk much is a doozie. As a player, you have to spend a lot of time on gestures, mannerisms, and everything except talking. I hear you…why in the world would anyone do that on purpose? Many of us spend some time developing a character’s story, where they come from, how old they are, and what they might have picked up along the way. Every character has a story to tell, sometimes even the static, non player guards that are popping up in the fair cities of SL Gor (and Port Kar, too grin). The second or so time someone sees Bulgin whisper in Suzy’s ear to have her relay a message, or gets one of his Scribe-quality missives, they might want to know a little bit more about him. The letter, especially, might turn heads, since people tend to think of Bulgin as, well, let’s say a classic Rarius based on his tendency to flex and grunt.
From a practical, kinesic (the study and interpretation of body language and facial expression) perspective, we would describe Bulgin as:
‘guarded’ or ‘closed off’: crossing the arms, leaning a little bit backwards (away from) people when they talk, moving so that there are obstacles between himself and people speaking to him, or will use gestures that cause him to put out his fists or palms (as if to say ‘back off!’). Conversely, he might also loom over people, showing himself to be a bit…
‘confrontational’: leaning in on people, way closer than he needs to be. This is also a ‘proxemic’ (study of proximity between people in social interaction. Yep…people study that too.) indicator, along with his tendency to body odor and bad breath. In playing a character like this, feel free to give people a good idea how bad he smells. You know, tastefully-like, but leaving no doubt. A confrontational type will also make pointing gestures with hands and fingers (possibly even poking the person he’s talking to), especially to someone who offends them. Guarded types, also, may use such gestures.
‘hyper-vigilant’: This would probably be common to warriors in general, as well as a mark of anyone who has spent time on the run. Hyper-vigilant people will have eyes always in motion, and may instinctively reach (or look for) a weapon (or find a place to hide) at the moment of a loud noise or sudden event. Additionally, they will be aware of exits, even down to asking after them in a strange place, and will be very careful not to sit where their back is to an entry or exit from the room. They may also be hesitant to let people touch them. Some of these behaviors, as you might guess, would be displayed by a ‘guarded’ type as well.
‘protective’: Bulgin’s worked his share of guard duty (and probably some of a few other people’s too). This will make him inclined to extend his hyper-vigilance to threats to other people, particularly those he views as ‘weaker’ and friendly (the women and possibly slaves of his home stone, for example). Protective gestures are generally very similar to those exhibited by a ‘guarded’ type, but will tend to use his own body as the barrier, the last one, at the very least.
To give some examples of Bulgin’s interactions, I need to introduce at least one more person, since very few people want to engage in…call it solo RP.
Meet Mehkin Goodcopy…
…rumored by many to be next in line for leadership of the scribes in his city. He lives in a modest flat, across the courtyard from our mutual friend Bulgin. He strongly favors the blue of his caste, opting generally for long, loose robes and soft boots. Goodcopy is tall, rail thin, and a bit, well, twitchy. Unless he’s at his desk he’s almost always in motion. He paces, stretches, moves his arms and head.
Our Goodcopy just can’t sit still unless he’s working.
He owns no slaves, but is a regular patron of some of the finer taverns and makes frequent use of the finest bath girls in the city. His voice is fairly neutral, but very quiet, the result of spending long hours in libraries and scriptoria. He is comfortable talking to people, but tends to look down his (long-ish, at least) nose at those he deems ‘under-educated’.
He exhibits the following traits:
‘superior’: Mehkin Goodcopy is brilliant, and he knows it. He generally knows that when he enters a room, he is the smartest person there. As a result, his tone of voice will tend to be condescending, or he may deliberately use words that are too large (to show his intellect) or too small (to show the inferiority of the listener), and make great apparent effort to explain something, “So you can understand it”. If someone is his intellectual inferior and not near to being his equal (or superior) from a social standpoint, he may go so far as to be openly rude, sneering, regarding the hapless lackwit with narrowed eyes, he will also tend to be…
‘impatient’: Impatient types will tap their fingers on surfaces or their arms, tap their feet, pace (pacing can also indicate nervous tension or anger. The thing to remember with defining a character’s kinesic and proxemic ‘signature’ is to combine traits and behaviors. Pacing alone won’t necessarily indicate impatience, but the pinched, slightly annoyed expression on his face, and constant checking of the time while he does it will give you a pretty good idea what he’s about.)
‘nervous’: Goodcopy the Scribe lives a quiet, almost monastic (well, okay, maybe not monastic, but quiet… Right? Right.) life, and tends to react to sudden movement, loud sounds, or shocks by looking for cover, or making ‘comforting’ gestures (hugging himself, smoothing his robes, picking at dust or detritus that only he can see). In many ways, once the event happens, he will react similarly to a hyper-vigilant type, but he definitely won’t have seen it coming beforehand. Nervous types startle easily.
‘curious’ or ‘inquisitive’: As hyper-vigilance is to warriors (a generally but not always sort of deal), curiosity often is to Scribes. An inquisitive type will look at the papers on your desk, or the ones you carry, and will tend to poke their noses into corners, and occasionally even drawers or cabinets if they can justify it. They will ask questions, sometimes even embarrassing or personal ones, and will exhibit some behaviors common to the hyper-vigilant. They aren’t looking for exits, traps or even ninjas. They just want to know what’s over, in, or behind there.
Hopefully, this first installment will give some food for thought. As we go through the series, we’ll dig deeper, but for now, let this percolate a bit.
So you’re ready for next time, you might find it insightful and fun to do the following:
- Make a list of ten to twenty adjectives that describe your character. These are largely regarding his or her personality, but may also be about their appearance or smell. A character might always smell of some particular scent (this is useful when they suddenly don’t smell like that).
- Try to combine as many of the adjectives as you can. Often, in lists, we tend to be trying to convey some point very strongly. This leads us to the dominant traits of a character, and leads us to questions of why they are that way. By way of example…hmm…lets pick on a kajira. Suzy’s player might come up with vain (she’s a hot and heated pleasure slave, after all), beautiful, aaaand… fastidious. All of these would combine to those classic behaviors we’ve all seen. She’ll be unable to pass anything reflective without looking at herself. She’ll check her body and appearance and hair often (often, meaning near constantly unless ordered to be still). See how it works? Don’t worry if you don’t, just keep at it, and keep on the lookout for more from me!
- Using your own experience or self awareness, or observation from television, movies, and such (good psychological thrillers and crime dramas work well for this too. Oh, by the way, there is actually a whole TV show on this, called ‘Lie to Me’. It’s on FOX, I think…check your local listings. It’s a pretty cool show, and the science is pretty close), define some behaviors that demonstrate this in role play. Also define some things for emotional states, anger, love, fear, and so on. Again, you’ll see some duplication, probably. This is also helpful in determining the ‘dominant’ or most frequently observed behaviors.
- For fun, take some time in a populated public place (mall food courts are great for this), and watch people. Look at them as you might watch actors in a movie, and try to interpret what their ‘character’ is feeling, thinking, or going to be up to later. If I recall, James Joyce used to do this as an exercise, telling stories about the people he saw at parties and in his daily life. Assuming you don’t look too much like your character in real life, this is usually a safe and fun way to get a feel for people in their more or less natural habitat.
- One last thing. While kinesic and proxemic researchers and practitioners have observed behaviors indicating cruelty, sadism, dishonesty, and other ‘criminal’ behaviors (and yeah, you’ll see a lot of this in ‘Lie to Me’. You can also find some helpful stuff in the Kathryn Dance novels, by Jeffrey Deaver, some of which isn’t quite as criminally oriented.), please keep in mind such things are rare on Gor. Additionally, with the permissive and simplified life that they lead. Being guarded will be fairly rare, except around strangers. It’s not like a big happy shiny family, but it is a simpler, and in some way, idyllic culture.
- Keep it fun, simple, and – it’s a garnish, not a main dish. Don’t feel compelled to use this in every emote, or to fill the chat logs with long displays of body language. Use discretion, and try to follow that ever so wonderful but delightful flow of the scene.
That’s all for now, but be sure to tune in again, dear readers…Same Gor Time, Same Gor Channel!
Reproduced with permission from Home Stone Magazine.
Past issues are available online here: Home Stone Magazine.