If it’s hard to imagine why a person would want to serve as an inmate in an online prison role-play, you may think it’s perhaps even harder to imagine why anyone would want to be a prison guard.
At first thought, it sounds like fun, especially after a hard day’s work. Power. Control. Authority. Your own private kingdom. “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever”, someone once said. Yes, that can be your boot. Doesn’t that sound good after that lunatic nearly broadsided you at the interchange of 4th and Main on the drive home tonight? A chance to beat back at the cruel world, with the inmates as the target.
That kind of role-play release might be entertaining, for a while. But like all role-play which is one-dimensional – here, the absolute physical abuse of power – it tends to get same-y pretty quickly. And once you’re bored as a guard in an online prison, you’re really bored.
And yes, I’ve been there, and I guess at least a couple of you will have been there as well.
So is there another approach, one which combines the role of a prison guard in a Second Life SIM with a more interesting, involving play-style? I think there is, although it’s only fair that I get my cards out on the table at this point. After playing a prison guard for almost a year, and an inmate for almost three years, I can say that playing the inmate role has often been a lot easier from a role-play perspective. The guard’s role took a fair amount of time to grow into. I felt I needed to think through what I wanted to achieve and needed to invest a lot of time to realize that goal. In the end, though, it’s a brilliant role to try and I can guarantee that in doing so, you’ll feel that you’re really giving something back to your SIM and the players in your prison.
Think of the guard as being less of a boot stamping on the inmate’s head. Think of the guard as being the balance between different events, styles and players in the prison. Much of the mechanical role-play in a prison revolves around a guard. She or he opens the cells, shackles the prisoners, takes them to a location, and takes them back again. And a lot of the emotional and personal role-play in the prison is initiated by a guard or results from a guard’s actions. A guard who helps one inmate probably antagonizes another, and in-character consequences can spiral out of control fairly quickly.
Without doing much the guard is providing settings for role-play and is providing a balance between the different inmates’ actions against, and between, each other. Once a guard realizes this, they can work, alone or with inmates and other guards, to steer and direct action, or open opportunities for new role-play.
What started looking like a role suited for sadists or control-freaks starts to evolve into a role where a lot of the action can revolve around a guard who’s switched on and tuned in to what other players want to try and experience in the prison. When that happens, the guard is not just a turnkey, but a person who the inmate players really look to, confide in and trust as a co-player aiming to create the environment best suited to the inmates’ role-play wish-list.
That doesn’t mean that the guard needs to lock away the baton, nightstick and shotgun. Those kind of threats in the background always heighten tension, and that helps role-play. But a collaborative approach to playing a guard is a lot more involving and interesting than stamping on heads forever. And in the end, what’s interesting is what keeps a player playing – and that’s to everyone’s benefit in the long run.