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Hear the echoes and feel yourself starting to turn
Don’t know why you should feel
That there’s something to learn
It’s just a game that you play
Time Passages – Al Stewart & Peter White

This edition of RoleCraft is being written on the eve of my 40th birthday. As I zen with the flow of words and ambient music (www.hos.com), I have thoughts of my past years floating around in my head. Some years I can plainly remember the people and places and things that happened. Other years are blurry, or jumbled up with events that may have happened in a completely different year. In some respects, marking the passage of time is easy, and even enjoyable. Sometimes it isn’t.

The same can be said regarding the lives of our avatars. Even if your character is only a day old, chances are they’ve done something worthy of remembering, some adventure that either went according to plan, skewed horribly wrong, or somewhere in between. However, remembering those adventures can become a problem after you have played that character long enough, and especially so if, like many roleplayers, you have played numerous characters before this one, and across more than one MMORPG.

So, how can we keep track of these time passages for our online gaming lives? Why even bother with it? It’s not an impossible task, but it does require some work on the part of roleplayers. I have some suggestions to share that just may help you with this, and if you put them into play, you may see how they can indeed help you strengthen the RP for your avatars.

The first and perhaps easiest way to track time is simply going with our real life years. For example, WoW has a slash command (/played) that tells when that character was created and how long that character has played. In games with a character Bio section, you could type in that information immediately upon character creation. Then it’s just a matter of matching real life time to in game time.

If addons are allowed in your favorite MMORPG, seek one out that’s an in game calendar, and that lets you make and save your own notes. If that isn’t an option, use an out-of-game calendar, such as Google Calendar. I first mentioned Google Calendar as a way to track RP events in the article Scheduling RP. I also think it would be a handy service towards tracking important events in any and all of your characters’ lives.

Speaking of events, those are another way that could be used to track the life of a character. This is especially solid when used with in game deeds and achievements. In much of written and visual fantasy tales, only the most educated could tell you the date, month, or year at any given time. Adventurers, however, mostly track time by how often they’ve faced certain death, by how many wars or battles they’ve fought in, by how many dungeons they’ve crawled through, or even by how many damsels they’ve saved, or perhaps been saved by. If your MMORPG happens to have a system in place that tracks your accomplishments, then you’re good to go. Otherwise, you’ll want to create your own system.

Though it still isn’t a standard in many MMORPGs, day and night cycles do much for roleplayers in helping imbue the feel of passing time. I use them according to my character’s personality and profession. For instance, my LOTRO hobbit burglar goes about his daily routines (fishing, farming, eating and drinking – mostly the latter) while the sun is hanging warmly over the Shire, for the most part. At nightfall, he dons his black-dyed armors and goes about keeping his homeland secure, and then sleeps. I can’t think of how one would do in a game where there is no day-night cycle, other than to say just ignore it. Personally, I wouldn’t play a MMORPG unless day and night existed within it.

Lore should be one of the first in game items used to find out any current dates, as well. Often you may find a timeline of past events that have led up to the situations that now exist in your game world. Quests also help with the feeling that the world is not static, but living and moving on its’ own. LOTRO has this almost perfected, through their system of laying out an epic storyline in chronological order through what they call Books. WoW also makes grand use of this with every expansion, including the upcoming Cataclysm, which I’m looking forward to. If the game has it in play within its’ system, then it only makes sense to bring your characters in line with it.

Marking the seasons as they come and go is one more way to track time. Many MMORPGs have holidays and specific festivals that do this in game, thus making it easier for players to follow time, and even mark character age. Another way is to go by there generally being four distinct seasons in a year, and saying that your character has “seen 40 summers” as a way to speak of age.

Finally, even if you don’t wish to take your roleplay into such depths, I think it’s still fun to have some form of record of your character’s life. That’s one reason I like reading character blogs so much. If writing is not your forte’, then try just snapping a screenshot of your character during an adventure every so often. There are plenty of free photo hosting websites where you could display them as a photo journal of sorts, thereby providing a public or private record of your character’s exploits through their life.

MMORPG gamers are chiefly long-term gamers, who log countless hours with their characters. Roleplayers take that intensity a step up, not only by logging those countless hours, but also by giving each hour, and in turn, their characters, meaning and purpose. Don’t lose track of those times, pleasant or not. Just like in real life, they can help define the very essence of character. Until next time, role on!

What ways do you track the life and times of your characters? Share your tricks of the RP trade in the Comments section here, tweet them to @RoleCraft, and join the RoleCraft Facebook Group and sound off there. Thank you for reading!

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