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Mary Sue and You: an online RP primer.

I'd forgotten how often we saw Magritte

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Mary Sue and You: an online RP primer.

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What is Mary Sue? Mary Sue is the character in fanfic that the author inserts for self-justification- self-gratification. Mary Sue is the female who's descended from a unicorn who goes to Hogwarts and who is mysteriously fascinating to every professor. Mary Sue is the werewolf kinfolk who is a mage's consor and who's got a vampire in love with her, in WoD fanfiction. Mary Sue's the woman who turns up in Queer as Folk fanfic who's hot enough she turns every one of the guys' heads.
She's about making yourself feel better- more important. If Mary Sue's world is so great, you can sit and dream about it when you're doing your tiresome data entry job, or your annoying retail clerking, or... all that stuff you have to stagger through to make ends meet that you hate doing.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to have a character who's so perfectly fulfilled in her life (or his: the male characters are called 'Gary Stu's). There's nothing wrong with building a fantasy where everything works the way you want it.

So what's wrong with Mary Sue in an online RPG?

She's just fine to imagine. You're the ultrapowerful sole childe of a vampire a thousand years old. Every man wants you. It's a powerful feeling, imagining such a storyworld for yourself.
The trick is that it's always for yourself. Everyone else isn't in your storyworld. You're imagining yourself as, oh, let's just take somebody from fiction-- Anita Blake.
Who the fuck wants to RP with Anita Blake? The whole world revolves around her- not around her and her friends, not around the group of people she's involved with. The narrative's all about Anita, it's not about the Guy she's Screwing Lately, ever. He only exists in relationship to her.
Can you see how that would suck to RP, as Anita's beloved? Sure, Anita's player would be having a ball- but there's no thought given by the narrator- and presumably by the storyworld's shape- to the other actors in the little drama.
So people who have to deal with Mary Sue RPG get really bored, really quick, and start to either flake off from dealing with her- or start bringing IC consequences to bear. Meanwhile, Mary Sue's reaction to these consequences is that nobody but herself has the right to demand anything in the world. The headmaster at Hogwarts starts saying that Nadine Crossburton is taking entirely too much on her own shoulders as the Astronomy professor, telling students what is and isn't right, and so on- while Nadine's player is sure that she's the center of the universe, and should be allowed to do whatever she damn well pleases because she knows she's right because Nadine's always right because that's how she was made and that's what's supposed to be--

And eventually, Nadine winds up RPing with herself.

What can you do, then? First thing you should do is: accept that you might have gone too far already. It's possible that you've already burned so many bridges with your other RPers that it's going to take a ton of work- perhaps even more work than you're willing to do- to rebuild them.
If you are going to give it a try, then here's a few things I've done for myself when I've found myself going too far down this path and still had time to pull myself out of it.

* Pick a person to consider as the primary character in your world. This can be your IC spouse. This can be a friend IC. act like you're the secondary character in that person's world. You're a standard-bearer when that person's on-stage: you aren't the central character.
* Build a plotline that features someone else. This is much like the prior suggestion- however, in this instance, you build a scenario in which RP might unfold around someone else.
* Ask. If you think you might be being too self-serving- or if you think people are thinking it- just ask. Try to ask gently- try to ask in a constructive manner. You're trying to build RP together with this- not find the traitor.

There may be more on this as time goes on. If you've got a comment on it, please feel free to give it in comments.
  • Well-written.

    Every once in a while I contemplate some sort of Mary Sue round-robin RP in which each person takes a turn being Mary Sue for a month, and the other players do stuff geared around Mary for that month. (These would have to be players who don't suck, of course.) Just as a silly sort of fantasy thing. So if you're Mary Sue this month, I might be your wardrobe mistress or social secretary or boy-toy or chauffeur, and part of my role would be to do things that gratify your ego and make you feel special. Pick a genre. Arrange for a short plotline - say, celeb MarySue is going to a celebrity awards banquet. All the other celebs fawn all over her, give her roses, and she wins whatever award of her field, or three fields. "Gosh, Mary Sue, you're amazing! What kind of woman could win the Nobel for science in the same year as her screenplay takes three Golden Globes? I hope someday I can be like you! Will you take me home and let me lick your toes?"

    ...and so on. Next month, it's somebody else's turn to be MarySue, and you can be her celebrity crush who's given up their career temporarily to drive her limo and have her babies. I think it might be amusing with the right people, but I'm an egomaniac.
    • (no subject) -
      • In a good RPG, yes, there should be an over-arching plot or a couple of plot hooks to hang off of, and also a taking-turns of being on center stage. But I've considered just going crazy with the Mary Sue game idea so that we could not worry about rules or settings or anything; in February, colubra can have a sort of high magic-Velvet Goldmine setting in which David Bowis is his bitch or whatever, and in March, it's your turn to be Queen of the Goddamn Gothboi Vampyr Deymon Sluts in Eyeliner, and Duran Duran play nightly in the spooky club you run beneath your music store and seraglio. Continuity? Rules? What?
        • i want to write something here about a metaphor involving a rock band performing songs, sometimes with one vocalist and sometimes another, featuring solos from various performers, but the damn phone keeps ringing, and i lose my train of thought.
  • Nicely done. I like your suggestions on how to fish oneself out of Mary-Sueism.
    • Hee. Not just suggestions: tried and true. I've HAD to fish myself out these ways. :/
      • Well, then they're still suggestions, just suggestions which have previously been tested. n.n
    • 20: Love, vaspider leading.
      • I believe I will let Drina's little grin speak for me. Also, I shall take a bow.
    • *giggle*

      And Colubra... nice article! I like the instructions on how to fish yourself out. I had someone I was close to go both Gary Stu *and* angsty, aie. But he didn't try, just genned another character whom everyone then shunned. :(
      • thanks!

        if it works for you, heck, pass it on: lord knows a lot of people just don't think of this about their own play.
        • Re: thanks!

          You betcha... it's very nice advice. I've seen a lot on Mary Sue but no practical advice on digging your way out. I have my own advice which seems to boil down to 'have integrity' and 'be reasonable' but I don't think that's nearly as practical. I've also had some success with simply applying consequences with clear outs (in the direction of better behavior) but that doesn't always work.

          For what it's worth, I'm pretty sure I played with you on Amber and sensed not the faintest whiff of Gary Stu. If you were who I think you were, I thought you were 'very weird and very cool.' But it's been so long that I no longer have my rat trap brain for who was what there. :)
  • A lot of Mary Janes I've seen around are easily distracted by shiny or sparkly my little pnies.

    Try tossing thoese over your shoulder to distract the Mary Jane in question every time she came around. I mean comes around.

    Not like I can talk - I played Velvet. She wasn't really the center of the universe, but certainly she was a little too special for her own good.
  • t. rev

    Oddly enough, my escape from this type of laziness and egotism was...more laziness and egotism.

    The crucial step for me, when I was playing Jonathan on AmberMUSH Back In The Day, was this observation:

    When I stopped looking for plot, and just sat down, the plot came to me.

    Jonathan grew from a spiteful, egomaniacal loner to the spiteful, egomaniacal patriarch of a sprawling family and a fearsome political machine, loved and admired by all. And I conceded not a whit of my essential self-centeredness.

    Colubra's suggestions above address character and plot. To that, I would add this: Make yourself part of the setting, and the story will come to you.

    It helps, of course, to be as clever, witty, charismatic, and all-around fascinating as I am.
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