Unstable Platforms #1: Chat Room Roleplaying
Five seconds into a chat room called “Slave Adoption Center,” I receive three invites to private sex plays. “Want to get pervy?” says one message. “into nekocats?” says another. I snub them, exit the chat, and skim the other room names: “Beastality 4U,” “Nekocat Daycare” “Dirty School Girl RP” and “You are in a mansion rooming with an opposite sex roommate what will it turn into.”
I enter a chat room called “Hooter’s Bar and Restaurant,” and scan the room’s posts for a significant other. Names like “Panda_girl” and “Daughter_of_hades098” post what looks like nonsense, but I can feel them too searching for a heart to warm against their own, a muse who can convey themselves better than the language they possess.
After nearly an hour of voyeuristic lurking, I finally find a post that charms me into their universe:
Rose Lunaria Sits silent, with a herding pressure in her heart.
Though brief, the sentence is just strong enough to catch me in its gravity, pulling me in. I scan her profile:
Special: fire type
Personality: bubbly very childish and is chill until u annoy her then it burns
Can turn into fire breathing dragon
With this self-description in mind, I launch an opening salvo of posts into the chat room, hoping to bombard her in the way only a roleplay veteran like myself can.
KawikaG You could recognize Kawika creeping open the tavern door, holding the bracelet’s silver chain to keep those crystal charms from announcing a new presence. From the small purview beneath a sunhat, finds a table and, kicking legs up, sifts through a newspaper kept rolled up in a left sleeve, letting the sweat-mixed print rub off on fingers.
This is my first time in two years entering a roleplay chat room, and though the medium has transformed time and again since I began, the writerly high I get from spinning the perfect post, and partnering up with an anonymous writer to clash literary talents, still remains palpable.
Rose Lunaria Cheeks sunk with the thoughtfully casual pucker of glossy, vemon-stung lips, silent, eyes squinting down at @KawikaG as if she couldn’t quite see words to describe her.
A shot in my direction. I dig deeper into my trench, and prepare the next round. Game on.
The Chat RP Mix
It was early in 1997 when I first entered a chat room and pretended to be an invented character with an anime face and a pansexual appetite. Within chat room roleplaying (Chat RP), 1997 was a very crucial year. The game Final Fantasy 7 was released in January, elevating character-driven stories in video games. The game’s strange universe forced young adolescents like myself to go into online chat rooms to seek interpretations of the game’s eco-terrorist characters and biopunk style. What we found was not direct explanations of the game’s characters, but styles of playing with those characters, sometimes brawling, sometimes erotic.
The golden age of chat room roleplaying was mechanic in nature. In December of 1996, the internet service provider, America Online, rid users of arbitrary hourly limits, and introduced unlimited usage, allowing eleven-year-old me to cruise on the internet without accumulating steep charges for my parents. Included in this unleashing of infinite play time was the AOL chat room service, which allowed users to create and manage their own rooms. Guilds emerged in the hundreds, some favoring the game dynamics of dice-rolls and experience points, while others, the “literates,” promoted experimentation, creativity, and the sacred bond between character and writer.
The new examples of complex characters in gaming combined with limitless time in chat rooms made Chat RP unapologetically character-focused. The writer was known as a mun, meaning “mundane,” and was only referred to via the character (“Kawika’s mun”), while written gestures like “eyes rounded like those of owls” or “soft voice, arms folding,” need not mention the subject at all.
For those “literates” who come to Chat RP to practice detailed writing, chat rooms continue to offer space and time to bond with their character, to foster the savvy and know-how to respect that character’s actions, to attune themselves to their psychological imprints, and to play them against other settings and peoples.
Chat rooms act as springboards to attract like-minded roleplayers (RPers) who, after parlaying with a potential mate, will then organize into private storylines within whatever genre they fancy. Likewise, public chat rooms are often chaotic meeting grounds, with names like “all creatures tavern,” “outcast orphanage,” “insane mental hospital” or “monsters academy,” all of which splice genres and storylines, creating aberrant worlds of experimentation that test characters against the truly out-of-their-world.
In 2005, with the release of World of Warcraft, the chat room roleplay community became a desert. Guilds and storylines went from hundreds of members to twenty to five, and even the community treasured comic, Elf Only Inn (2002–2008), took a year of absence, only to return focused solely on MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online role playing games) like Warcraft.
Now, after nearly a decade of wandering in the wilderness of online fragmentation, Chat RP is re-emerging on smartphones, with apps like Geeking and Amino combining chats with hashtag (#) and mention (@) mechanics. Yet nearly two decades since Chat RP’s heyday, there is still very little (if any) awareness of it. Literary scholars and magazine writers don’t notice it, and in fiction circles, Chat RP is still practically unheard of. Perhaps this is because chat room roleplay produces no library books or consumer products, and is too transient to promote. Users often remain anonymous, and their written words only last until they reach the chat room’s loading limit before transpiring into white space. Chat RP slides between definitions of interactive fiction and collaborative writing. It is, in other words, an unstable platform: a medium unrecognized by the stable traditions of the literary, the official, and the popular, but one with the power to destabilize.
The Love Roles
Perhaps the negligence of chat room roleplay is due to its fetishistic, erotic nature, which one encounters instantly, with chat programs highlighting rooms like “the futunari hotsprings” (the room I was instantly zapped into at https://roleplay.chat/). The bond between character and mun is inescapably erotic: losing yourself in your character does not mean knowing him from head-to-toe, but submitting yourself to his will, letting yourself slip into him (or “bleed” as roleplaying scholars put it). The act of roleplaying lies somewhere between transition and drag, between taking identity seriously and making fun of it.
Nearly every character you meet in the RP realm is pansexual. Neko-cats, the old and the “enhanced,” the elf and the tentacle alien, all mix in orgiastic pleasure, for it’s not merely the imagined body that titillates the mun, but the writing, the opportunity to extend your literary imagination. My own characters have profile images of “anime traps,” men who are either gay or so feminine that cisgendered males find them attractive. In my roleplays, I transform these “traps” into androgynous beings whose biology I never feel necessary to reveal as male, female or queer, since RPers need not use pronouns (him, her, they).
Chat RP’s unique combination of eroticism, fan fiction and transience, makes it easy to disregard as smut, or, even worse, as mere “workshop” writing. Yet the most descriptive and talented writers in roleplay are often also the most sexual. They are able to imagine modern day settings like Japan or New York as playful and erotic stages of powerplay. They can transform well known characters from Game of Thrones or Attack on Titan into queer avatars from which they can enact fantasies, fantasies that have no other platform for articulation. When others come along to play, new spheres on intimacy open up, where desire is not merely staged, but re-created, and driven beyond what one’s own language can capture. And this new lover need not reveal the mundane boundaries set forth by their race, nation, or gender. They are an invisible challenger, forcing the writer to confront their own desires, to probe them: why this role? Why this fantasy?
After two hours of playing with Rose Lunaria’s mun, I begin to retract, feeling the gravity in me disperse as she, or he, or they, grapple me into their own world.
Rose Lunaria Her stocking clad feet and lower legs — or what was visible of them from under her long, black dress — were dainty and voluptuous, a characteristic which wouldn’t be so amiss to describe the woman herself. “I have no qualms with very slowly disrobing,” turning back to @KawikaG, “I didn’t catch your name, miss. But I’ll dare, since you seem so tired, to imagine something to wake you. A show? Specifically, a lap dance, from you, to the lucky volunteer, me.” Voice was sweet, dripping playful charisma, “But don’t you think about touching me. I’m a exo-breeder, I can ‘pregnate you just with my skin.”
In every great roleplay, there’s that ecstatic moment when the lunacy of the content meets the purity of the form, when the imagination of the mixed, cornucopia universe shocks you with its boundless frontier (“I’m an exo-breeder”). Time stops. I am enchanted, bewitched, made an infant, only capable of faltering prose:
KawikaG Tbh I’d love a baby right now.
KawikaG I mean, I’m a broke student, but still.
I respond to Lunaria’s mun with the brief breaths of mid-dissection, calmed by fulfillment, but feeling still the nascent pull of a new desire.
The platform of these desires is the chat room itself. The chat room, which allows unregulated intimacy that crosses the animal, the human, the supernatural, and the laws of physics. This illegitimate medium where intimacies take place make it indecipherable to the outside world, affected by popular culture but not shaped by it. The casting of this art as illegible makes it unreadable and unnoticed. All of these intimacies occur in a space where the mun’s racial, age, gender and sexual identity seem like dispensable weights that would only serve to disrupt the fantasy (am I getting off because I imagine they are too, or because I imagine they are not at all?). Your identity can only tell others what you are. Who you are appears here, in the chat room that pulls you from the imposed blur of your identity, down into the focused dedication of your role.