Emotional bleed


  • Pitcrew

    In LARP, we discuss the concept of "bleed" -- your own emotions being influenced by your character's emotions and vice-versa. I maintain that we experience the very same thing in MUing, even if our interactions aren't face to face. Instead of just going "KEEP IT ALL SEPARATE, DON'T DO THAT", I think it would be a good idea to address the fact that it does happen and discuss healthy ways to handle it, so I started this thread as a spinoff of a discussion on a thread in the Pit. What are the ways you handle your bleed? What advice do you have for others who might not handle it as well?



  • I handle mine by generally trying to not be a dick -- and by keeping away from people who feel like they can't quite tell my character and myself apart. Unsurprisingly, my characters tend to end up spending a lot of time with people who share my OOC interests and timezone though, -- simply because we have a lot to talk about IC and OOC.

    I'll say this: People who harp on about complete IC/OOC separation intimidate me. Mostly because it's so very often an excuse to be an utter dick IC. And then pull the "lol it's just rp" defence.



  • @tek said in MU* Gripes and Peeves:

    I think it's interesting that LARPers address the concept of emotional bleed as an inevitability and discuss how to manage it, while many MUers still treat it as aberrant.

    Not going to argue that at all.

    As both a former LARPer and a former MUer, I can tell you that both hobbies have major issues with emotional bleed, and both hobbies struggle with it. Both hobbies have their obsessives who struggle with RL work and RL relationships to maintain the hobbies, build their lives around it, or have emotional issues that carry over into RL (or vice versa, RL into the hobby) due to emotional attachment issues related to conflict. I know people in RL who have lived in squalor for over 20 years to maintain their 2x LARP games per week, can't go into their bedrooms because its filled with trash and hoard so they sleep on a sofa, and have been sofa-hopping LARP houses since the early 2000s. Plenty of them never tried to advance themselves professionally or through a relationship, and many of their achievements or life stories revolve around characters they played in 2002...in 2020.

    I just happen to be of the opinion that the question isn't "What is the best way to handle the inevitability of emotional bleed?" but instead "What is it that makes emotional bleed so inevitable in those hobbies?" Why is this behavior less associated with playing Among Us and when it happens when people play "Call of Duty" it's approached like an unhealthy attachment, but when it happens in MU the inmates push to treat it like a normalized behavior that shouldn't be approached as abnormal?

    Over my "X" number of years partaking in this hobby (I LARPed for maybe 4-5 years but haven't since around 2002) I've seen a lot of people burn out and put too much of their own mental/emotional health in this particular bucket, and I'm sure each of those people had a different reason why. I'd just hate to see people struggle with this concept that some of this level of attachment is healthy or normal, because like I told many of my old LARP friends: "You don't want to wake up 15 years from now and see that this is the only thing you did."

    I just hope people are careful with that and mindful of that. No creative hobby is worth losing your mental and emotional health over, doubly so when it's not an active part of the real life you have to face when the laptop is shut off and you have a marriage, kids, etc that are affected by it. That's a lesson that I learned somewhat the hard way, and I feel lucky that I realized that when I did.

    Regardless, every individual in those hobbies has to weigh that for themselves. Some will weigh it objectively and make smart decisions and others will weigh it inaccurately and struggle with it, and like any addiction if it's not weighed carefully it's usually not realized until things have gone a little too far.

    Emotional bleed in LARP or MU is abberant, either way, and something people should keep a serious and objective eye on.


  • Pitcrew

    So, I'm sure no one is surprised to hear that I am one of those people who likes to sit with my feelings, make friends with them. A significant appeal for me with mushing is the emotional connection/content, just like it is with video games, just like it is with television. If I'm not crying at some point, I'm not invested enough to really enjoy myself, and I have a problem with being able to play if I'm not wired to my PC's brain on some level. While I'm 'plugged in', part of my enjoyment is experiencing my character's emotional content. I wrote a private journal-y thing a few days ago and made myself BAWL with it. Nobody will ever see that, I just like crying I guess.

    It becomes a problem for me when:

    a- the emotions continue after time away (turning the game off doesn't make the feelings stop)
    or
    b- I start making my feelings other peoples' problem (people on the game, people who share meatspace with me)

    Sometimes problems are OK; something falling through after a RL year of work, I'm GOING to be pretty inconsolable, whether it's a tabletop character or a mush plan. If I strip mush-context out, can I explain it to a non-gamer and they'll understand? This is OK. These emotions get dealt with just like the same emotions that are caused by other major disappointments or loss or whatever. Friends, self-care, distraction, whatever.

    Sometimes it's just unhealthy, particularly when you're talking about anger or SPECIFICALLY, feeling personally wronged by the choices of other CHARACTERS (not players, even though yes, players are behind them) -- this stuff is awful, and it's bleed that needs to be addressed immediately. If self-coaching / reminders of what I'm dealing with doesn't make the feelings stop (talk myself down out of the tree, these people did not just kill my darling), then I need to unplug and walk away until I'm feeling like a reasonable human being again. This actually includes the feelings that happen in reaction to genuinely being wronged, to be clear -- in the moment, it can't be addressed in a healthy fashion, so you really just do need to unplug until your behavior is at least under control.

    ETA: I mean, I am still fucking broken about (spoiler) in FFXIV. I played through that eleventy billion years ago, and my ass takes my PC to the in game grave with some regularity. I LIKE CRYING.


  • Pitcrew

    @L-B-Heuschkel To some extent, there are several different issues:

    1. People who use "have some ooc/ic separation" to be dicks in a way that would STILL BE A DICK even if we were sitting around playing cards or a board game. Like, rubbing someone's face in a loss, targeting another player to ruin their experience, mocking how someone plays - being upset about these things says nothing about one's ic/ooc separation, and trying to hide behind "oh, you just don't have good boundaries" is dumb. Bad sportsmanship is the center of it.

    2. People who use "everyone gets attached to characters" to be dicks in a way that is manipulative and creepy, and yeah, would still be a dick if you were playing, idk, Warhammer tabletop or something, and decided that your faction was objectively the best and threw temper tantrums whenever you lost. They use their "attachment" to demand, overtly or covertly, that the game and other players conform to that attachment - I think my character is awesome, so I demand that you treat him/her like they're awesome, or my heart will break and it's all your fault.

    These top two categories are 'bad actors', and the only thing that's really to be done about them is to refuse to indulge it either way, or argue with them, and ideally, uninvite them from games.

    1. People who have legitimate problems separating IC and OOC events, whether on a chronic basis, or because there's some real life stress and they're hoping to use the IC world as an escapist fantasy. This, I think, is almost all players at some point in time, but some players more than others.

    2. People who aggressively desire to separate IC and OOC, because they enjoy the freedom of the game not being 'real', and thus have a tendency to treat it sometimes very much as a 'game' even when their characters would/should take things more seriously, and thus have a tendency to be disruptive, provocative, dismissive, etc. Like 3, some people are like that all the time, to some degree, but almost everyone gets like this /sometimes/ in some circumstances.

    These two categories, generally, are actors in good faith - they're pursuing their fun, and they don't intend to mess up anyone else's game, and they're not trying to make the game "their way"...but they can get on each other's nerves to a breathtaking degree, nonetheless.

    For 3) I think it's important that each of us try and evaluate our attachment to IC events/characters, and recognize when stress or attachment levels are getting to a point where - intending to or not - you're in danger or ruining other people's fun, or your own! Like, it may be normal to 'feel sad' when something tragic happens to a character. But if an IC setback sends you into the pit of despair, if you cry when your character cries (and aren't the sort of person who is reduced to tears by Hallmark commercials like I am), or if your mood becomes /significantly/ linked to the success you're facing in RP? Those really are warning signs. It's probably time to take a break, either just walking away from the computer right now, or re-evaluating how much time/emotional energy you're putting into RP, and looking for other options to invest some of that. No one activity should be your primary emotional anchor, but especially not an activity that is, at its heart, about unexpected setbacks and conflicts.

    For 4), I think it's also important to develop senses of emotional awareness and empathy for others' experiences. Like, sure, it's objectively no big deal if your fake character drops trou at a fancy event and moons fake people, and if you don't care that they got exiled/punished/killed for it, why should anyone? But even though that's not an event that really matters, it's still disruptive to the game, and in most games, makes a significant amount of 'unfun' labor for other players. So, even if it would be a hilarious way to go out, maybe don't. Instead, maybe think of ways, if you want to have that disruptive play experience, to bring other people into it as collaborators, instead of audience/antagonist.


  • Pitcrew

    @Ghost LARP has changed a lot philosophically since 2002. Now, there are all sorts of structures in place and best practices for managing bleed, including debriefings, warmups and cooldowns.


  • Pitcrew

    I think also personality factors really big here, because there's going to be a significant difference between someone who just has Big Moods all the time (hi) and someone like my partner, who is pretty emotionally reserved. My muppet flailing and his muppet flailing are going to be VERY different, and one can be ignored where the other one reaaaaaaaally should be addressed.



  • @tek said in Emotional bleed:

    @Ghost LARP has changed a lot philosophically since 2002. Now, there are all sorts of structures in place and best practices for managing bleed, including debriefings, warmups and cooldowns.

    That's good. I think I'll always miss LARP to some extent. I'll have to check in with my buddy who still does it avidly to hear about some of this, stuff. I know back in the day LARP was very dogmatic between OWBN and CamFanclub, but not sure how well it's done here in my town.


  • Pitcrew

    @Ghost There are also more aware and trauma-informed gamerunners, as well as feminist approaches and things like Nordic LARP, which are rules-basically-nonexistent and entirely based on emotional play. It's more than Cam and whacky-bat these days, and even whacky-bat games that aren't toxic are learning to address the emotional health of their players.


  • Pitcrew

    I don't divorce myself fully from my characters - if I did that, I'd be flat and completely boring. IT's my own personal experiences and the abiliy to "act" those out that help me to have any depth at all to my characters.

    This also keeps me from being able to divorce myself fully from what they are feeling... and I don't necessarily think that's a bad idea? I mean, it does sometimes lead to consequences IRL (not being able to sleep because of excitement, or straight up crying). It means that when I act OOCly I have to check and see "am I acting this way because something ICly happened, or OOCly happened?"

    I'm not always successful.

    The inverse is also true. If my RIL has gone to pot I just //can't// RP some of the things I usually would. I don't have the emotional bandwidth - and I think that a lot of people in 2020 who participate in this hobby would agree with that.

    I don't want to jump around and have a princess cake omg look unicorn tea party when I just learned about a death in the family of someone close to me. It ain't happening.



  • As a current LARPer and MUer, I'm not super prone to bleed these days. I'm not sure why that is because I was certainly way more vulnerable to it when I was younger and experienced a certain amount of it. I was fortunate that it never had destructive consequences and that the people I larped and mu*ed around were constructive, healthy enough to participate in making sure there were boundaries to prevent that.

    When I was in mid-20s, I was in a game where my PC was in an intense romantic relationship with another PC. The game was online but myself and the other player knew each other from local larp circles, so we were friends offline before this pairing in-game happened. He happened to be married at the time. I was not. Things sloshed over for both of us in terms of bleed. We were able to hit the breaks, acknowledge there were feelings that while 'real' they probably didn't actually mean that we wanted to hit self-destruct on our social circle and his marriage just because we felt that way, this was an infatuation, and we just let the thing run its course.

    I was lucky because if we hadn't taken a step back, we probably would have enthusiastically let bleed dictate behavior, a huge explosion would have happened, and at the end of all that, it would be the last few minutes of The Graduate but in real life, so the slow seep of regret and divorce attorneys.

    This is all to say that I think the first step is acknowledging that it happens and that none of us are robots and that brains and hearts are easily mutable and changeable things when it comes to manufacturing emotions and then leaving them unattended. And I think having serious conversations with the people around you that you trust about how to pull the fire alarm if something happens, before it happens.

    And there are other kinds of bleed for sure. Nordic format larps and some MU* are really good at the suffer puppet game where intensely shitty stuff happens in a game and then you're stuck in your feelings about it. The larps at least have a de-role and debrief process that gives you tools to separate yourself from the events at the very end of the event (often with mental health professionals involved)-

    A de-role exercise I really like is taking a piece of your PCs costume and then literally putting it in a box and basically giving your PC a eulogy. It really helps, I think, with reframing context: this PC was 'alive' for a weekend and now, it's not. There was then and this is now.

    I think some of these exercises can be translated into MU* spaces.


  • Pitcrew

    What I mentioned before Tek split this off into its own thread is that I think a real issues can be in the community sense of "bleed is bad, only bad players have it, so if you have it you are a bad player." This doesn't help anyone, and in fact will actually compound problems, because then people who are maybe just having a little bleed are now also going to feel shame spirals about having their feelings to begin with.

    Feelings cannot be controlled. Our behavior in reaction to them is what we control. It's much better to just let your feelings be your feelings, to validate them, even, but then also recognize when they're yours to work through (as opposed to someone having actually wronged you in some fashion or something like that, where there's a problem that others have some responsibility in that might require a conversation with them to work it out).

    What I find immensely invaluable is having a small few trusted friends who are good at virtually squeezing my hand, validating my feelings and empathizing, while also being on the same page as far as understanding that these are INSIDE FEELINGS to work through, not ones to take to other people who may be involved in whatever situation I'm having feelings about. They're the ones who will empathize with the experience of feeling unpleasant things while also helping me keep perspective.

    I'm also a player who cries easily at media in general, like I cry plenty at movies and whatnot, so I do cry sometimes during RP. Like, just recently, I cried through scenes I was playing in on Arx about my PC losing one of his best friends that he'd been in love with for years. Not because I was upset that the choice had been made for the character to die or anything, but because it was a really sad story! And I think that's generally okay to feel feelings like that.


  • Pitcrew

    @Roz I totally cry at good emotional RP. I think that's fine, as long as you know how to process that sort of face-leaking. I was once doing a one-on-one game with the man who is now my husband and I was being a bad student and scening with him while I was in a boring class in college and of course he chose that moment for my character to have an emotional reunion with her father and I had to TOTALLY PRETEND LIKE I WASN'T CRYING IN ASTRONOMY CLASS.



  • @Pyrephox said in Emotional bleed:

    @L-B-Heuschkel To some extent, there are several different issues:

    People who use "have some ooc/ic separation" to be dicks in a way that would STILL BE A DICK even if we were sitting around playing cards or a board game. Like, rubbing someone's face in a loss, targeting another player to ruin their experience, mocking how someone plays - being upset about these things says nothing about one's ic/ooc separation, and trying to hide behind "oh, you just don't have good boundaries" is dumb. Bad sportsmanship is the center of it.

    People who use "everyone gets attached to characters" to be dicks in a way that is manipulative and creepy, and yeah, would still be a dick if you were playing, idk, Warhammer tabletop or something, and decided that your faction was objectively the best and threw temper tantrums whenever you lost. They use their "attachment" to demand, overtly or covertly, that the game and other players conform to that attachment - I think my character is awesome, so I demand that you treat him/her like they're awesome, or my heart will break and it's all your fault.

    I'm someone that tried to maintain a pure separation between IC/OOC, so I'll chime in here.

    As someone who has been threatened, threatened with self-harm, yelled at by players for their emotional/marital health, had to wriggle out of uncomfortable RL attachment issues, been told "I love you" out of nowhere, been the target of trying to breach RL separation with promise of sexual favors, repeatedly dumped into situations that were I need you to do this for my RL needs, etc etc etc....

    I came to the belief that at all times the best policy was to make it clear the following:

    • This is a character, like a character in a book, that I am writing
    • I am not the character. I will make decisions based on what I suspect the character's focal point is.
    • YES there may be some thoughts and/or language ICly that derives from my own style of speaking and/or thinking, but that's not because the character is an extension of myself, but because from a writing perspective it just kind of happened that way. I am not my character. If anything this happens as a failure to find the PC's "voice".
    • Do not contact me to try to coerce or guilt me into the character making specific actions
    • I can, and will, exercise my right to play, drop, or delete the character for whatever reason I think is appropriate

    I came to that point because, frankly, I was sick and tired of people accusing me of off the wall shit or make me feel like their emotional health depended on my attendance and/or action through a PC. Which, I'm sympathetic to people who are at that place emotionally, but the only way to keep myself sane and healthy was to accept that if anyone is like that towards PCs in the hobby, it's probably not because of one player's existence; if it wasn't me getting that attachment it'd be someone else next week (or maybe I wasn't the only one getting that level of heat at the same time).

    I think that list above is healthy, sets fair boundaries, and is a good mantra to follow. IC/OOC separation avoids bleed, and I think it needs to be a practice (like meditation or yoga). After all, plenty of actors have mental/emotional issues because they committed too much to a character. Why should amateur "roleplayers" on the internet be any different?


  • Pitcrew

    I admit, as an individual, I lean towards desiring a strong IC/OOC divide between characters and players, because I do tend to see a lot of...unhealthy bleed. This can be the relationship pressurey stuff of 'our characters are in an IC relationship, so you have an obligation/relationship with me OOC', but it's also just more bedrock things like character values bleeding from players to characters in settings/systems where those values aren't aligned with the setting. Or, worse, the bleedover that assumes that 'oh, you play a sexist/racist/classist/whatever character, so you must looooove these things as a player'.

    Part of my IC/OOC boundary routine is to try and make sure every character I play disagrees with me on at least one and often more than one fundamental value/motivation. A lot of the characters I play are, to some degree, assholes - not really because I enjoy getting people's goat, but because I find playing ambitious, energetic, and opinionated characters who aren't always (or even half the time) right to be a good way to make sure that I feel free to be ICly wrong, and that I always have a way to push a scene/plot forward when I need to.

    I build characters with an eye to be good delivery pieces for the RP I want to have, not really to convey my personality or values into the game world. I admit that it absolutely bothers me when I realize that someone else isn't doing that, and instead has IC morals/values that are very tightly wed to their OOC values.



  • @Pyrephox said in Emotional bleed:

    I build characters with an eye to be good delivery pieces for the RP I want to have, not really to convey my personality or values into the game world. I admit that it absolutely bothers me when I realize that someone else isn't doing that, and instead has IC morals/values that are very tightly wed to their OOC values.

    To build off of that....

    I always kind of daydreamed that if many players took my list approach (see previous response) then the feedback coming would be really great for people aspiring to write/build characters because the feedback would be bound in the player's ability to create and convey a character rather than a potential critique on the personality/wishes/dreams of the character they're trying to RP those through, if that makes sense? I've had the pleasure of having RP partners who set clear lines on IC/OOC bleed and the feedback in terms of story ideas, writing ability, character design, humor, plot twists, etc was very fulfilling feedback that I could apply to self-confidence on a creative level without exposing my own personal RL issues, etc on because it was about crafting something and not a quasi-IC version of Second Life.

    90% of everyone in the hobby is still really a stranger to me, even if I'd Rped with them dozens of times, and I've never been comfortable having that much impact on anyone's emotional well-being based on which decisions the character makes in my little amateur puppet show.



  • I have to concur; one way to avoid the worst bleed is to play characters who are very much not you. I share some opinions and traits with all of mine -- but they are never the same traits, and I disagree dramatically with them in at least some ways. Even my most community building, socially responsible characters have aspects of personality that makes me want to grumble at them.

    They are, after all, not me. And they're not meant to be.


  • Tutorialist

    @Pyrephox said in Emotional bleed:

    Or, worse, the bleedover that assumes that 'oh, you play a sexist/racist/classist/whatever character, so you must looooove these things as a player'.

    I concur with this, but also contend that this goes in the other direction, too, and is almost more problematic for doing so.

    Character 1: Says something jerkass.
    Character 2: Calls jerkass out for being a jerkass.

    Player of Character 1: Hey, that's not cool. It hurts my feelings and I want you to stop.

    ...then maybe work toward that IC? You don't get to excuse what happened based on the fact that it hurts your feelings. And more and more, staffers are siding with Character 1, in these situations, and letting the player get away with things IC because they say they don't like the consequences OOC. There was a game where this recently happened, and before that, an entire conversation about the need for real consequences for IC actions, in which some vocal people here disagreed.

    Bleed is happening, and IMO, it's becoming worse. It's also running both ways, and we should really take steps to remember that IC and OOC are distinct things, and what happens in one shouldn't dictate the other in either direction.

    Granted, feelings are real, and some things can make people uncomfortable, but you very much need to maintain at least the idea of healthy separation. Otherwise you're gonna get into real weird territory where IC = OOC and that's supremely unhealthy for anyone involved.



  • @Derp A player I play with regularly tossed a nugget of wisdom at me the other day. They often have very controversial opinions IC -- and said, "but I always make sure to touch base on the OOC channel right away, make sure that people know that it's ok to call my char a dick when he's being one."

    And maybe that really is all it takes.


  • Tutorialist

    @L-B-Heuschkel

    I agree. That's the approach I usually take.

    The problem I see is when the character is being a dick and the player doesn't want to accept the character being called a dick because the player gets hurt OOC. It feels like a 'get out of jerkass free' card, and I'm really not on board with it, nor do I think it's healthy for any player involved in such a situation.


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