I’ve come across a sentiment lately (like this post on twitter, very much worth a read) that seems to be pointing to a view that is taking hold within the tabletop RPG community that there’s one right, or real, way to roleplay, and that is in a first person manner.
I do not subscribe to that sentiment. To riff off the answer given in the twitter post above and to expand on this post of mine from a few years ago, I would instead invite this:
To roleplay is to direct the actions of your character such that they are appropriate to that person existing within, reacting to what’s happening within, and from the viewpoint and mind of that person within the fictional world. In other words, you are ‘being’ this other person in this other world. That’s the RP.
The how of it is not what makes good (or real, or true) RP versus not. First person, third person, or switching between the two, doesn’t matter. Detailing every minutia of an action or speaking in generalities, doesn’t matter. The way the character is expressed at the table is not the important part – so long as the character is being expressed in a clear way, the specific method of it should not matter.
And I say this coming from a place of being very much a “method actor” when I RP. I get subsumed within my characters when I play: my demeanor changes, I speak as would my character*, I gesticulate as would my character, and even my thinking patterns change to match the character. When I describe actions (if not directly acting them out), I do so with plenty of “I do this” type statements.
I play this way because I enjoy it. And I love interacting with others who RP in the same vein. But I also won’t deny anyone who plays with a different style. “Galen speaks to the queen about their shared past, reminding her of the time they forged a cunning gambit to win the Quadathalon Cup, and the sense of honour we felt that day” is just as valid to RP as saying “Remember, my queen, when we were caught up in pursuit of the Quadathalon Cup? How the winds blew most foul that day, and we knew that should either one of us lose, the neighboring lord would… (proceed to wax poetic for five more minutes).” They’re creating and expressing the same thing.
Not everyone feels comfortable to extemporaneously play their characters in the first person. Others may have no interest in doing so. Some want to but aren’t ready yet. And sometimes even I am just not feeling it that day and choose to go third person. It’s all good. So long as the character is present (evidenced by acting and interacting appropriate to the fictional person being portrayed) then RP is present.
It’s wonderful that RPGs are flourishing right now, with scores and scores of new players coming into the hobby. Everyone joins with different levels of experience, different personalities, and even different interests in what the games can provide for them. It can be tough to get into the headspace of someone else, let alone a fictional character, and doubly let alone having to act like the person at the same time. Letting everyone RP as they’re feeling it and comfortable gives the greatest freedom to develop that key ingredient. No matter the how, being a character and weaving the shared story is what makes these games so magical.
* I once was playing in a game where my character didn’t have a good grasp on the local language, so I was speaking in very clipped and non-properly formatted English. Midway through the game, I asked the GM a question, who proceeded to look at me like I had three heads. “Do you realize what you just did?” they asked. “No…” “You just spoke to me, asking a game question, just like your character’s been speaking.” “Oh! Really?” Apparently so! And I didn’t mean to do that, and didn’t even realize I’d done it. When I say I become enmeshed with my character, it goes that far…