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   Rohini Kapur

Surfing randomly you might stumble upon a journal or blog maintained by Matt Damon or Jennifer Aniston. Before you start jumping with delight, read the fine print. They are fake.

The owners of these journals aren't real celebrities. They are merely 'role-playing', part of a game popularly known as RPG. This novel version of an RPG is appropriately termed 'celebrity RPG'.

Unlike other RPGs, players of this form take on the role of a celebrity, usually a well-known actor, singer or wrestler. Instead of fighting gory battles, players represent their characters in online journals.

Getting started

All you need to play this game is register and get yourself a journal on Blurty, LiveJournal, Ujournal or any similar site. Your user name will have to match the one of your chosen celebrity.

For authenticity, add pictures of this personality to the journal. Add a few friends to your list, link to the community disclaimer, and start playing. Most RPG communities have storylines and rules, which make the game fun and easy. The usual rules are to update the journal regularly and make new friends. Most importantly, gamers should be tuned into the latest events in the celeb's life, incorporating the information in the journal.

Origin of celebrity role-playing games

No one is sure how this form of RPG originated. Charles (name changed), moderator of Must be Pop role-playing community says, "There have always been fake celebrity journals. The first few people did it out of fun. There was a journal for model Kate Moss that talked about her binging, because she'd eaten a whole Tic Tac. The one for Christian Slater had an advice column."

Most role-players came across a fake journal, loved the concept and decided to play along. Becky, an avid role-player, liked the idea of creating storylines around famous people. "I found it more appealing than fan fiction (written by fans of a particular fictional series) because of the interaction between people," she says.

Stepping into your favourite personality's shoes is just a fraction of the fun. James (name changed), a Coby Dick role-player says, "The best part is proving to people what a huge fan you are, and receiving compliments on how realistic you are."

Vicki, a Michael Shinoda role-player, enjoys meeting different people and has made many new friends. She adds, "It's also a creative outlet for me, since I love to write."

For Trinda, who role-plays controversial rap musician Eminem, it has been a good learning experience. "I've got a little taste of what Eminem goes through, because I get crazy e-mails and messages from fans. Plus, I now understand how much work he does and how little time he has for his family and friends."

Lexie, who role-plays four celebrities, finds it a good retreat. "When you feel like getting away from it all, you can go into somebody else's life through this journal. And you can express yourself without worrying about it."

Addictive, but not always fun

There's also some trouble that comes with the fun. Many role-players face negative reactions from readers. Becky says, "They'll tell us we don't have lives or we should stop trying to be someone we're not, which is just completely off base from what we're doing. It's just a game. It doesn't mean that we don't have lives."

Vicki adds, "Sometimes they get mad, and usually that results in me getting angry because I don't like being insulted." An Avril role-player says, "Some people criticise my motives, but I haven't got any nasty comments."

But there are other issues at stake too. For James, it's the stress involved at being accurate, and conflicts with community members that make the game less enjoyable. Lexie agrees. "The fights are pointless," she says lightly. What Vicki hates most is when she writes a good piece and people don't read it. Or when nobody talks to her besides her friends. Charles says, "It's time consuming, because it has to be done regularly. And besides, it's addictive."

In spite of the disclaimer, many surfers believe that the role-players are the real celebrity. Becky says it often happens: "I just point out the disclaimer website which states that the journal is purely fiction."

Walking hand-in-hand with celeb journals are character journals, based on fictional characters like Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and Harry Potter. Kelly O'Guinn, a writer, is one such role-player. She enjoys the game, but admits that her work suffers: "When the game is really moving, I can really lose myself in it. My 'real' writing suffers when I'm pumping so much effort into the ongoing storyline on LiveJournal."

A recurring question glares in the face of role-players - is it legal? The Must be Pop website claims that these journals are not "libelous as there is no malicious intent, and no intent to misinform fellow role-players or anyone who may read the journal. We also believe that this constitutes "fair use" under section 107 of the US Copyright Law. These journals are nonprofit and meant as a commentary on a public image and not meant to use that public image for any personal gain".

Not surprisingly, this trend has caught on rapidly. The Must be Pop community started out with ten journals, and within a couple of months, it had a 100 members. Today, it has over 700 members, and is still growing. "Now the fake journals are so well- known that everyone knows what the deal is. In the beginning people just didn't know what to make of them," says Charles.

Yahoo Groups has several celebrity RPG groups. RPGers, bid goodbye to Luke Skywalker and Prince of Persia, and step into the shoes of Britney Spears, Ben Affleck and Julia Roberts.

(Some names changed on request)

Also Read:
-- Kill! Kill! Kill!
-- Multiplayer gaming

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