Beware the RP Police
A common trend on many small-scale games, and on private server games, is mandated roleplaying. This is a horrible horrible idea, especially in a wide area network environment. It’s a direct backlash of the "serious roleplayer" community against "kewld00dz," a term that expands in meaning for every player to encompass "people who don’t represent their characters the way I think they should." This arrogance is then handed down as law by the game administrator, who must then waste time monitoring the roleplaying or lack of same. Pretty soon, he manages to convince some like-minded RP nazis to do this for him, and before long the entire game is filled with people actively policing each others’ roleplaying, judging everyone around them against a set of standards that none of them can actually agree on, and the game message board starts filling with lame accusations and arguments about "who’s not roleplaying properly." To me, this is the first indicator that I should be looking for another game.
My girlfriend is currently fond of a Sphere shard with this sort of roleplaying-mandate attitude, and I can’t stand it. Much of the apparent time spent on the shrd is dedicating to policing roleplaying, while there are some glaring flaws in their default Sphere .52/Linux scripts that have obviously never been addressed. There are a number of guidelines on their page describing how you must be in character all the time, which extends to such absurd lengths as to say that it’s wrong to just log out in front of someone, or to go afk without first making your excuses and goodbyes, then finding a remote area, then logging. What the hell is that? If someone in a pen and paper game said, "Damn, hang on a sec, pizza guy’s here," I wouldn’t accuse him of being a bad roleplayer for it. Needless to say, this shard’s message board (the OOC board, of course) is filled with ridiculous back and forth banter about whether person X is roleplaying, or whether he should be penalized, because he did something that offends the tender sensibilities of the posting RP cop. It’s funny to note that the reaction of the "true roleplayer" in these situations is to immediately look at a non-roleplaying solution, i.e. GM intervention or banning.
I’ve already made this argument in a little-read old UO rant, which deals with a situation involving high-handed RP nazis on the Catskills shard. The gist of it is this: you cannot mandate how people choose to represent their characters, you can only encourage them to do it in a certain way. People do not subscribe so they can take acting classes from a bunch of geeks who suck at acting themselves, they do it to play the game. The perceived problem is that the "bad roleplayer" is ruining the flavor of the game. The real problem is that the whiner can’t bear the thought that other people might not envision the play world in exactly the same way that they do, and they can’t deal with it. From a player standpoint, it’s really easy to deal with. Simply have your character accept that people are different sometimes, although this may be outside the scope of possibility for the player in real life. If someone is spamming net talk around, just treat them like anyone in the real world who mouths off uncontrollably and unintelligibly: as an insane person.
This seems to be largely an issue for the players of a game, rather than the developers, but the two are subtly linked. Much of the behavior that breaks fiction on the players’ part is due to shortcomings of the system. If your game rewards players for macroing in a mana pool or hiring an NPC to spar with for a week straight, they will do it. If the mechanics of your game are visibly numerical, people will talk about their abilities in terms of numerical scores. If there is a weapon imbalnce that makes a billy club the most powerful weapon in the game, everyone will carry a billy club regardless of its unrealism. Certainly you cannot eliminate these sorts of references to game mechanics by players, but you can minimize their fiction-breaking potential through design. In this case, you can control these impacts by reducing the appeal of macroing, hiding the numbers, and careful balance. A game should never dictate to a player how he should approach the game, but it can certainly encourage certain behavior.