Why research is important.
One lesson that hit me fairly hard when I left the world of roleplay and ventured out into the world of authorship was that you couldn’t make everything up as you go along. That’s where research comes in.
Don’t get me wrong. If you’re writing a book about elves in a fantasy world, you can fake a lot. You can’t really research a race you just created by yourself. What you can do is read other fantasy books that fit into the genre you are going for to see if your take is unique or if it at least brings something to the table that was not there before. That’s the fun kind of research. And really? If you want to be a better writer, reading and writing more are both the best ways to improve.
Right now I’ve few projects I’m working on, but even the more fantastical required me to do research. One of my projects is heavily drenched in Norse Mythology. I’ve had to dive into reading over legends from Scandinavian over and over again, and even though I’ve altered some of that history, I still needed to know my stuff. It was important to have some understanding of the muddled history of Norse lore, if only so that I knew what changes would work for it.
In roleplay, I play Natasha Romanoff. She’s a soviet spy from an era long dead. I am neither Russian nor a spy. I rely on both google translate and many Russian language sites to help me figure out some basic phrases to use in my roleplays. I also love comic books, so I have an extensive collection of issues she has been in, both in physical and digital form. For roleplay, that is the kind of research I love to do. I adore getting absorbed into 20 issues and binge reading them like there is no tomorrow.
Like most comic books, Natasha’s history has been revised and retconned quite a bit. Since I have a particular fondness for spies, I’ve also taken up other forms of research. In truth, this isn’t just to play Natasha. Right now most of my writing projects are very fantasy based, but the idea of someday writing a spy thriller appeals greatly to me. So I’ve subscribed to podcasts about spying, I’ve bought books about spying (specifically about the history of the KGB, which so far is fascinating) and I watch for other reference material about it.
Now for roleplay, not everyone is going to want to go that deep nor might they have the time to. I’ve met a few RPers who base themselves in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and they have met with people who feel if they don’t read the comics, they aren’t truly playing the character. I disagree completely. Though research is helpful and essential to good and informed writing, roleplay is just a game. Anyone should be able to come to a game, play what they want, and get some fun out of it. If you don’t like how they play, that is okay, there is a chance there are many other characters to play with, perhaps even a version of that same character.