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The Art of Role-Playing – Understanding The Emote

Written by: Umberto Giano & Vanatosis Arentire
Images by: Filipa Thespian

When the word “emote” is spoken, many people think immediately of LOL, OMG and those little smiley faces (“emoticons”) at the end of text messages. The emote, however, can be much more than a convenient little acronym. When used in role-play (RP), the emote conveys emotion and action. Used well, emotes can impart unparallelled richness and immersion to the role-play experience.

Clarifying Intent & Emotion

Voice is not always an option (and rarely wanted in RP) in MMORPG scenarios, so the emote becomes indispensable to providing a window into the thoughts and mind of an avatar, revealing emotions such as anger, joy, fear, elation, pain, confusion, attraction, and much more. The emote can also clarify tone and intention in situations where flat type-based chat will not.

Compare the examples below:

Vanatosis Arentire: Tell me the truth.

… AND …

Vanatosis Arentire glares at the stranger menacingly and in a harsh but low tone demands,
“Tell me the truth.”

The difference between the two lines above is striking. The second line conveys intensity, resolve, and anger and gives the second role-player cues on how to react, building a richer interactive experience.

Describing Action

Another function of the emote is to describe action. Complex role-play often involves physical actions avatars are unable to perform, whether it is a finger snap or a simple facial expression. The realism of a good RP storyline will often hinge on these subtleties: a smile, a playful whistle, or perhaps wiping your opponent’s blood from your sword.

Once you have a handle on basic emotes, try combining emotion, action, and speech:

Vanatosis Arentire knelt and wept mournfully beside his fallen comrade, swearing in a choked up
manner, “I will not allow your death to be in vain.”

… AND …

Vanatosis Arentire stares the Ronin down, eyes narrowing to meet his unholy gaze and silently
mouths “Never again.” Then with a deft motion he jumps to his feet and races towards the pillar
of the temple, leaping high and planting his foot upon its base and launching himself the opposite
direction flipping over the dumbfounded Ronin, landing with cat-like grace behind him.

Here’s an example of a two-way conversation with another player, again illustrating how the /me command would appear to the reader along with regular text:

Vanatosis Arentire: And who is this luscious addition to the Court of Harkenshire?
Vanatosis Arentire eyes the beauty with an appraising leer
Grace Harkenshire: Who am I, sir? Why, I am someone who prefers not to speak with insolent strangers
covered in the filth of the countryside, that’s who.
Grace Harkenshire pours a bucket of water on Vanatosis and storms off, glancing back just once
with a challenging smirk.

Ways of Making an Emote look like an Emote

In many role-playing game systems, emotes are created by typing a command before one’s words. In Second Life (SL), for example, emotes are created by typing “/me” before typing what you want to convey. “Vanatosis Arentire:/me is happy.” will appear to the reader as “Vanatosis Arentire is happy.”

How does one differentiate an emote from regular typed speech?

RP HUDs are available which feature a command for emoting; usually /e or /em. This command will set the text off in italics, showing the other characters around that it is, in fact, your character performing an action. Some RP HUDs also change the color, usually to green, to set the emote off from regular speech. If you prefer not to use a HUD, using asterisks ( * ) or arrow brackets ( < > ) is an acceptable means to set off your emote.


Vanatosis Arentire: *glances down at his watch, grimacing as he notices the late hour*
Vanatosis Arentire: <runs down the slick cobbled street towards the inn>

A last option for those who prefer to dispense with the rigorous typing required for an emote is the gesture.

Gestures are usually prefabricated emotes, often including animations and/or sound. Many avatar HUDs are preloaded with gestures that can be used to show anything from dances to facial emotions, even flirts. While these are fun and easy, they are also limited in their scope, and the amount of memory that a larger, more complex gesture demands may outweigh its usefulness.

Vanatosis Arentire ponders his latest installment of RP University, hoping this information is useful.
He sets his quill down and leans back in his chair, smiling. “Yes, I do believe it will be. Happy role playing, everyone.”

Reproduced with permission from Roleplay Guide Magazine.
April 2011June 2011August 2011Sept 2011Oct 2011Nov/Dec 2011January 2012 – Oct 2014

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About The Author

I am Filipa Thespian, Editor-In-Chief of Nu Vibez Magazine and Founder/Publisher of Roleplay Guide Magazine (now a part of Nu Vibez). Additionally, I am a builder/content creator inside Second Life (, am CEO of iMoogi Entperprises, LLC, owners of, and other brands and am a graphic artist/web developer/marketer and all around multi-media professional with more than 20 years of experience under my belt.

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