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Forums » RP Discussion » Self-Insert Characters: Yes or No?

I've been RPing for a looong time, and one thing I've seen, usually in fandom RPS, are self-insert characters.

For those of you who don't know what they are, self-inserts are just a variation of the writer in some way that is inserted into the story. Younger or newer RPers are more likely to do this because it's easier than just making a full-on OC.

In my opinion, I think they're somewhat lazy. Most of the self-inserts I've seen are written by younger writers, they have similar backstories, usually tragic or edgy ones, and have some sort of secret (Think 'Secretly a princess of a lost kingdom' or 'Is actually a werewolf or vampire') that contributes little to the plot or tries to make it the center of attention, usually by revealing it in a way that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. The people who play them are sometimes super clingy to their characters and never let anything bad happen to them (They could be physically invincible, or be so fast they can dodge an absurd AoE attack. I've seen it.).

With that being said, a well-written self-insert can be amazing. In a way, it could make the RPer more invested in the story and get immersed into the world you have created together or find similar interest in. It's also a good way for newer writers to get the feel of roleplay, it's easier to roleplay a character that does the things you would do. The character could branch out to be something completely different from what it started out as.

Anyway, I should quit rambling. What do you guys think?
Interesting topic! When it comes to self-inserts it really depends for me. I don't write them, they're not my cup of tea, but I've encountered many that do write and prefer them. A character that shares some characteristics or qualities with their writer are completely fine with me. That will happen it is natural for a lot of writers.

Personas and characters that are just straight up carbon copies of their writers are usually a hard no from me, however. It usually has to do with OOC things though, and not so much the character itself. In my experience with encountering inserts they don't usually have a clear line of IC/OOC, which is obviously going to cause issues for everyone. Because then you find yourself dealing with jealous roleplay partners and the whole nine yards. Not fun.

Granted, people are still going to be weirdos about boundaries even if they don't play a persona/insert, so it's a toss up really, I just find it's a more likely risk with the latter.

That said, I think self inserts are not lazy perse, but maybe a little uninspired. And that is okay. I believe such characters are essential for the growth and development of some (because I know not everyone goes through this phase) writers and roleplayers, because at the end of the day they are still a character that you created. They are a character that will change with time, especially as people learn writing and roleplay etiquette.

That is coming from my observations, I never went through the whole insert thing even when I was younger. The whole concept was very foreign to me at the time. But anyway, like you mentioned, they tend to be characters belonging to younger people and usually there is a point where things click and they go "oh hey, this character is way too similar to me, I want to try something different", which is great! On the flip side though, you have the adult self-inserts that tend to be on the weird side, and it's usually them that like to be the center of attention with their characters (again, in my experience), and push OOC boundaries. They can get wild. Unfortunately the latter don't usually change or grow, they just bump around until they find more people like them, or others that they can bend to do whatever they want. But like I said earlier that can be a tossup. It happens with people that don't play inserts too. I knew a roleplayer years ago, back before my discovery of roleplay forums, that would wig out every time another character said their tween character looked like a fresh faced youth, or described the character in a way that "did not fit them" (like if another character did not perceive them as nice or the most perfect character in the room 😂), and then would be all passive aggressive and post rants about it. Super bizarre but funny to look back on.

And I'm probably going to be the odd one out here, but while I abstain from writing and interacting with inserts, reading and watching how most of them interact with other characters can be genuinely so funny. Yeah the runaway princess that was raised by wolves and became a assassin to avenge the death of her parents is edgy, but it is genuinely so fun to witness them on the observer side of things. It's like the legendary fan fic My Immortal; the main character is obviously an insert, an edgy "goff" with blue eyes like limpid tears, named Ebony (sometimes enoby) Darkness Dementia Raven Way (like the goff hottie and icon Gerard Way, but no relation), and is the best worst character in the fic. She's absolute agony whenever she is in a scene, but it's a fun sort of agony.

And also, you got to give the writer props for having the bravery to bring her own emo outfit wishes to life through the character. Were they questionable? Oh yeah. But a My Chemical Romance corset with all the band members faces on it will never not be hilarious.

But that's just me, and maybe I'm just really mean. All in all, I think people should be able to have fun and write whatever character tickles their fancy within obvious reason, but they should be open to learning as a writer and a creator, and respect boundaries just like everyone else.

tl;dr: Not for me, I try to avoid them unless they have a clear line of IC + OOC boundaries, but they are entertaining to read about. Also, My Immortal is legendary.

And for anyone who read this and plays inserts: This is by no means a rip on you, but please please please establish and respect the boundaries you and your roleplay partners have established. Communication is key. And this applies to all things, not just stuff involving inserts.
I have honestly never heard of self-inserts for roleplay! fanfiction, sure, but the whole conceit of roleplay was always to write through the eyes of the character.

when i started writing fiction as a preteen most of the main characters were self-inserts, because i didn't have any guidelines on how to do otherwise. young adult fiction and entertainment tends to reinforce this issue, with protagonists aiming to he more relatable and have mass appeal for wider marketing, blank slate protags that a reader can project onto.

so my problem with early writing wasn't the fact that a SELF insert was based on my point of view, but that my attempts to write a broad appeal character had no other sense of originality except to add personal flourishes based on the characters i myself found cool or interesting at the time (cartoon action heroes and sherlock holmes).
I have never heard of self-inserts for rp either. Sure my characters do inherit traits from me, but I would never call any of them a self insert. As for rping with I'd be rather leery since that does tend to go hand in hand with undesirable rp/writing traits, though of course it doesn't have to. If I ever ended up rping with one, it would probably be because I didn't know they were a self-insert.

I also never wrote with a self insert because for me, rp was an escape from being me. I wanted to pretend to be someone else, at least for a little while, for fun naturally, but also as an escape and coping mechanism. So the last thing I wanted was to self-insert. Of course my very first character was a horrible mary sue mess born out of both ignorance and an entirely unsuitable rp teacher who failed to correct my dumpster fire of a character and even encouraged it by making a sister character she would play. So I can't say I escaped the beginner's pitfalls either. XD
Mixed feelings. Self-inserts tend to make me worry about how well the player will maintain the boundary between IC and OOC, especially since I've run into some folks (mostly when I was younger) who didn't keep that separation very well.

But they're often a very important part of developing, as a writer and/or as a person. I can understand them seeming "lazy," but it's more that it helps lower the barrier of entry, and they can end up being pretty therapeutic for the player - even if they often look back and cringe after they've had more time to grow and learn. Of course, self-inserts can more comfortably (for everyone) be done in solo writing, I think.

And I've seen cases where the player doesn't even seem to realize that they have, indeed, created a self-insert (and these ones may be the riskiest for that IC/OOC blur). I'm not sure how effective it is overall to point it out when it's seen, especially since self-inserts tend to be seen as inherently bad and so it can very easily be taken as an insult. But I think it's good that a person is learning more ways to express themself.
Mina Moderator

"Self-inserts" date back to the Renaissance. In some paintings, you can see the artist's face. In writing, the author typically becomes the narrator. This practice is just a part of art, and for as long as there has been art, there has been method difference and critique. People have criticized the practice as lazy since back then, and yet some people still enjoy it, and it's still used.

So, it just boils down to not everything being everyone's cup of tea, you know? Within fandoms, self-inserts are older than internet roleplay. People used to write fanfiction and send it into zines for publishing. You see self-inserts in movies, on television, and in books. Books like Fifty Shades and Twilight have been widely criticized for this. These properties are far from enjoyable to me, but I respect that they are enjoyable to some people.

In terms of "carbon copy, the main character, protected at all costs", the term that you're looking for could be "Mary Sue". Which originated from criticism of a 1970s Star Trek fanfiction. In this work, the main character was essentially a female version of Captain Kirk. Regina Yung-Lee, an AP of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies said: “I'd define a ‘Mary Sue’ as a perfected, self-insert protagonist used in fan fiction to explore a created world in safety” While this term is rooted in misogyny and the gatekeeping of geek spaces from women, the concept itself applies to characters of any gender. It's just a way to be discouraging of others, I think.

I've been roleplaying since AOL 7.0, which is now over half of my life. The first RPs I remember stumbling across were mostly canon universes with some canon players and a great deal of OC based within that universe. It is a stepping stone for many people, having the option to build a character from a familiar place, while not having to do the worldbuilding.

I don't see them as lazy, because they're still a creative endeavor. I haven't ever gravitated to these writing styles, but I understand their appeal. For many people, a full-on self-insert is a way of living a life they cannot live for whatever reason. Whether that's because humans cannot fly, because they are living in a body that doesn't feel like their own in the mirror, or are struggling, like many people long to feel seen, heard, and valued. Engaging in escapism is helpful for many people, and projecting themselves into a place of status or a world of excitement can be nice.

It's okay not to want to engage with these characters! I don't get into the whole "Knights and Elves" thing, and I don't like any sort of anime derivative. Not every person has an imagination that works in the same way, nor do they share preferences about which worlds would be most enjoyable to write. I have several vampires and have faced a lot of assumptions over the years about what that means regarding my creativity. It used to bother me, but over time I have learned to shrug it off. Nothing of value is lost in the early detection of incompatibility, after all.

Each of my characters has one or more of my experiences or traits, I enjoy writing from my own lived experience when I can. They don't have my name or look exactly like me. Though some are short, others are petite, some are nearsighted, and some are neurodivergent. Maybe to some degree, this is self-insertion of a partial nature. Whether that's social, professional, hobby, physical, or psychological. It's cathartic for me to describe some things in detail so that I can examine them through a lens that doesn't feel selfish. Additionally, I feel that speaking from a place of experience in terms of professional work, hobbies, views, or otherwise can help add depth to the material.

That being said, there is a careful balance to be considered when self-inserting! Self-inserts, when too indulgent can fail to be relatable to readers and make a "connection" to a story difficult to form. Investment in the characters involved in an RP is important, and some of the time it comes from the connection we feel to characters who we can relate to. A character doesn't need an exciting and diverse background to be interesting but they do require development for me. I cannot fathom having a character who is constantly exalted or constantly victimized. I want highs and lows, failures, successes, lessons, and evolution. I don't have pure villains any more than I have pure heroes. I think that depth in terms of characterization is the most concentrated within the cracks between those designations of good and evil. No one in my mind is just ONE thing if that makes sense.

TL;DR, Not everything is for everyone.

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