(suggested by judd_sonofbert)
Kat’s doing some role-playing on IMVU. It’s a 3D chat site, and some people have crafted the rooms into fantasy taverns and the like. She was explaining that there’s a lot of people who have customized their avatars to look like elves or whatever, and they sit in the tavern and exchange character histories. Since there’s not much of a social contract, there’s no one who’s doing the GM-duty of “adversity-bringer” and so, not much happens going forward. But each character has a past that is rich and melodramatic and well-storied.
I think some of this has to do with the lack of trust intrinsic to role-playing in a public forum like IMVU. You could also see it in “classic” old school D&D where anyone who wanted to play, could play, and character histories (and the player interests they represent) didn’t matter, because the GM was going to lay the dungeon or the kingdom-in-peril out in front of you. Your job was to react to it, and if your character was secretly the lost prince of the Sea Kingdoms raised by a mystic order of monks in the fulfillment of prophesy, it didn’t really matter.
These sorts of situation are (in the broadest outlines) similar to the circumstances that gave rise to feudalism in Europe. After the fall of Rome, the barbarians might arrive and sack your rough-hewn village at any time. In wide-open roleplaying culture, the other players might ignore or subvert your creative interests at any time. In both cases, the obvious solution is to pull up the drawbridge and lock your treasure away where it cannot be touched. In role-playing, the best place to do this is in character history. No one can touch what has already happened to your character. Their fictional past is your Private Story Fiefdom–none may tread upon it without your express permission.
Personally, I’d much prefer to use character histories to catapult story going forward… but that’s just me.