When I woke up naked on a beach on one of Ark: Survival Evolved's largest roleplaying servers, I had no idea what to expect. Being drugged and forced to sing karaoke, however, was at the bottom of my list. But that's just life on TwitchRP (opens in new tab), an island of oddball characters where one minute you are doing cannonballs into a pool and the next you're charging forward on a sheep in a jousting tournament. Roleplaying in Ark is bizarre, hilarious, and unexpectedly liberating. It's also the most fun I've had in a multiplayer game in ages.
Last night, I streamed my journey into Ark roleplaying. I became Lazarus Astros, a man stranded on the island with only the hazy memory of a woman's face. My first 20 minutes were spent trying to survive in the darkness as raptors nipped at my heels, but then I ran into another player who whisked me away to safety. Moments later, I was drinking mojitos in a beachfront bar talking to some of the strangest characters I've ever met in an online game.
If you want to watch the full stream, you can find the three parts here (opens in new tab).
(A note about the Twitch videos: other characters can only hear me when the microphone icon is displayed in the top-right corner. Otherwise my conversation is only with the viewers on Twitch.)
Looking back, I was fortunate to meet Joeskie and Evie—two of the more sober players—right away. Their kindness and relatable personalities helped ground my whole experience. They gave me food, drinks, a pteranodon, and a job as a bartender at the Twin Cove bar—a gorgeous waterfront watering hole guarded by a lingerie-wearing gorilla named Candy.
Then I met the island's more eccentric characters. Roxas, whose absurdly toned chest was only outmatched by two massive locks of hair that protruded from his scalp like insect antennae. Dotty, who gave me a sexy coat of body-paint made to look like lingerie to celebrate Valentine's Day. And then there was Emilene, who I can only describe as the more endearing form of crazy—like Harley Quinn from Batman minus all the promiscuity.
Ark is home to hundreds of roleplaying servers, each one with their own flavor. Some, like Seven Kingdoms Roleplaying, are serious about roleplaying characters appropriate for their world. TwitchRP, however, is more loose in its restrictions. Despite what the daunting list of rules (opens in new tab) I had to read before joining the server led me to believe, characters are free to be who they want as long as they don't break the golden rule: Always be in-character. That freedom gives the roleplaying on TwitchRP the kinetic energy of a live improv performance. There's a constant air of comedy to everyone's interactions, which also helps contextualize some of Ark's absurd designs like everyone frequently pooping on the floor.
There's rarely a dull moment on the server. Emilene had a slightly unsettling game she played called "Party Time" where she'd throw a gas grenade into a crowd of people. Those who didn't run away fast enough were knocked out and completely helpless as she messed with their inventory or dragged their bodies so that they woke up in strange places. It's a bit creepy. The whole time, she'd giggle like an absolute maniac.
My second game of Party Time did not go well. When Em lobbed her grenade, I was behind the bar serving drinks and couldn't get away. With my screen blacked out and the sounds of giggling flooding my headphones, I didn't know what was happening. And then, like some kind of high school nightmare, I woke up on stage in front of an audience of over a dozen.
"Karaoke!" They shouted. "Sing!"
Too afraid to sing and too afraid to be the poor sport who refuses, I desperately tried to think of a song I knew some of the words to. I'll never forgive my brain for betraying me in that instant because the only song that I could think of was Celine fucking Dione's "My Heart Will Go On."
Barely stumbling through an entire verse, I forgot the lyrics and roleplayed having to vomit into the ocean from performance anxiety. Seconds later, a topless man wearing a tophat told me to follow him and took me to a wall with a picture of me—naked except for my lingerie body paint—standing on the stage. One hour on this server and I was already immortalized on the wall like a rowdy college bar's "Wall of Shame."
I was feeling genuinely embarrassed and flustered, and then Em took the stage and sang her heart out (opens in new tab) to Peter Schilling's "Major Tom." I was floored. Being forced to sing karaoke wasn't a cruel joke, but a lighthearted initiation to bring me into the fold. As another player, Skippy, took the stage to crush an incredible rendition (opens in new tab) of Spice Girls' "If You Wanna Be My Lover," it was bemusing to realize that a group of internet strangers had gathered in a virtual bar to sing into their headsets. And yet, just like all of my experiences at real karaoke bars, I was having a great time.
The winds of change
Karaoke wasn't the only crazy thing that happened that night. After someone took a stab at (opens in new tab) "We Will Rock You" everyone hopped on a party boat and set sail to a nearby resort for a pool party. There, Em Party Time'd everyone, Kohi lamented about her dead wife, and Jeff—who is apparently super cool—taught me how to jack my pectorals by doing pushups while thinking about all my ex-girlfriends.
There were quieter moments too. Later in the evening, Joeskie and Evie took me on a tour of the island's community center, a neutral ground for tribes to meet during times of war (though I can't imagine war ever sprouting up on an island this laid back). They took me to a library where players left messages and poems on a bookshelf, and slowly the droplets of lore that exist on TwitchRP began to condense.
Every five or six weeks, the server is wiped and players must start over fresh on a new map. Inside of TwitchRP players refer to these apocalypses as "the storms." I asked Joeskie what will happen to the library and the books that players have stored in it. "Sometimes people will transfer their stories over. You know, rewrite them," he said with that hopeful tone a parent might use to tell a child that their dead relative is watching over them.
Joeskie and Evie then took me back to Twin Cove to show me the rest of the facilities that include a jousting arena, breeding hall, the bar where we did karaoke, and even a battle arena. The arena is particularly impressive, with stone pillars and ramps that create obstacles between contenders. Suspended above it is a glass floor where viewers get an eagle eye view of the action below.
Looking at all of these amazing projects, I realized they must've taken weeks to build. Rumors on the island suggested a new storm might be coming soon—but no player will know until after it happens as the exact day is kept a secret. I felt a bit sad at the thought of all of this disappearing in a week or so.
"Eh, it gives us something to do," Joeskie said. And I realized that, sad as it is, pushing the reset button is needed to keep life on the island feeling fresh. By making everyone a mortal, TwitchRP has also given them a purpose.
You don't have to put on the red light
As the night continued, the group eventually ended up at Skybar, a brand new club that only just opened. Almost entirely made of glass, it was easily the swankiest place I'd seen on the island. It's only fitting I met Allison there—perhaps my favorite character on all of TwitchRP. Though she never said it directly, insinuations made by the rest of the group led me to believe she was stripper. Of course, her painted on bow tie, bikini, and luscious red hair didn't exactly dispel the image either.
But that's not what I enjoyed about her—I swear. One thing that separates roleplaying in Ark from online roleplaying I've done in the past is the necessity to use your voice. It's easy to build a personality when you're typing it out, but acting over Ark's built-in voice communication is another thing entirely. Allison blew me away with her ditzy valley girl persona and constant remarks of "how wasted" she was. She stood out among the mishmash of wacky personalities on that quality alone.
Settling into the conversations at the bar, I overheard Allison asking another character who of us is single. When "the bartender" came up, I got a bit excited. I mean, it was Valentine's Day after all. I've already sang karaoke—hell yes I'll go on a roleplay date.
Allison asked me if I want to check out a distant tower and I immediately saw my opening. Two strangers alone, looking out at the vast majesty of the island on Valentine's Day? Bingo. Discouraged to find the tower locked, we wandered over to a nearby home and bumped into its owner, Zeke, who happened to have the keys to the tower. He accompanied us to the top, and I fretted that this third wheel would ruin my chance to find Jurassic love. Turns out Zeke wouldn't be the one to ruin the date.
On the parapet of the tower, Allison asked Zeke a very suggestive question. Just as he began to answer, she disappeared. "Did she just fall off?" I asked Zeke. Hundreds of feet below I saw a smudge of red hair splayed on the sand.
My date, the stripper, just fell to her death.
Zeke and I parachuted down to confirm the worst. Allison's lifeless body was frozen in a falling animation, but she was certainly dead. I grabbed her items off of her body so they wouldn't disappear when she despawned and asked Zeke if we should say some words. Just as I was about to finish, the rest of the gang arrived.
"Oh my god what did you do to Allison? You monster," Kohi said to me.
"Allison fell off the tower and died," I tried to explain.
"A likely story," she shot back. And just like that, I was in the prime suspect in a suspicious death.
I was able to explain the story well enough and Zeke backed me up to the point where I think the group was willing to drop any charges they laid against me. Eventually we decided the best course of action was to drag her body in the sea and forget the whole thing.
As Allison's corpse sank, so too did my chance at finding love.
The kindness of strangers
Of all the feelings I experienced, what struck me the most was how welcoming the eccentric locals of TwitchRP could be. I've lamented about toxic online communities before, and still I struggle with feeling like a valued member of my World of Warcraft guild, but I felt continually amazed at the generosity and kindness shown to me as a stranger that night. I was one of the gang, even if I didn't realize it.
During one of Em's Party Times, I regained consciousness to find Evie standing over me. "Why are you always next to me when I wake up?" I snidely accused her.
Joeskie stepped in to explain: "If someone gets knocked out in our family we make sure no one goes through their pockets," he said. I felt a sting of regret—she was only trying to protect me.
That wouldn't be the only time I'd accidentally mistreat my tribe, either. Back at Twin Cove, I was trying to whistle at my bird to follow me. Instead I used the whistle that applies to every dinosaur in our tribe. Screen shaking with their steps, I watched in horror as a parade of gigantic dinosaurs broke free from their pastures and lumbered toward me.
Evie and Joeskie had to take them back one by one and place them back inside their designated spots. Despite apologizing profusely, both insisted it wasn't a problem and cheerfully hinted to watch what whistle I used to call animals.
And then it happened again.
To be fair, it was a different whistle this time but the effect was the same. 20 or so dinosaurs came stampeding out of the houses and stables they were stored in. This time, wracked with shame, I ran away and tried to hide. Joeskie found me and asked if I had been messing with the animals again. I genuinely expected him to be upset. Instead, he helped me find the dinosaur I was trying to call and told me how to do it without also drawing every other beast nearby. Despite screwing up twice, he was kind and understanding.
Patience like that feels like a rare thing in online games these days. It's so easy to get wrapped up in winning that match or gaining that next level, we can sometimes lose sight of the people on the other end of that connection. But while roleplaying in Ark, I was always acutely aware that those around me were—despite the absurdity of the characters they played—people. In a post-chatroom internet, having a genuinely great time with a group of strangers feels exceedingly rare, but TwitchRP has inherited that spirit of the early internet.
I came to the island expecting that at the end of the evening I would never return. But now that I have a bedroom with my name engraved above the door and a tribe waiting for me, I think I'll stick around.