It’s anything goes, from dirty talk to dirty diapers.
Everyone knows that the Fifty Shades of Grey series got every woman with a Kindle hot and horny for the past several years, and the movie is still months away from its premiere (on Valentine’s Day, of course). So what is an obsessed fan to do? Take to Twitter and live out the life of one of the series’ characters of course. Welcome to wild underground world of Fifty Shades roleplay.
Twitter allows people to sign up as anyone they like. This makes it uniquely suited to the numerous Twitter-based groups who set up multiple accounts as characters the books: from Christian Grey, the billionaire dominant with a Red Room of Pain, to Anastasia Steele, the innocent college virgin who falls in love with him.
Twitter is full of Fifty Shades “families” – a set of accounts, each run by an anonymous user, that are all linked to one main account, such as @FiftyShadesrp. Freed from the constraints of the real world (or even the Fifty Shades world created by E.L. James), users have free reign to act out their favorite characters from the books and interact with others doing the same.
Many of the Fifty Shades fans I spoke with reported discovering such role play while searching for the mysterious Christian Grey on Twitter. Since he isn’t an actual person, there’s no verified account for him (though @FiftyShades is the official account of the February 2015 film). As a result, he exists in multiple forms: anyone, including you, could be the next Twitter dom. All you need is a little ingenuity, a working knowledge of the books, a hot photo, and others willing to engage in sound bite-sized drama with. From there, it’s anything goes, from dirty talk to dirty diapers.
It seems fitting that a trilogy that started as Twilight fan fiction is now getting its own social media-savvy second life, with elaborate scenarios crafted to keep the plot going. Sometimes, the trilogy even gets mashed up with other pop culture phenoms, like Pretty Little Liars, but for the most part, these fans are faithful to the original – with a twist.
There are a lot of Christian Greys (one of the most popular, @ChristianTGrey of Grey House, has 106,000 followers), almost too many to count. There are also plenty of Anastasia Steeles. But the action isn’t limited to the series’ two stars: plenty of users create accounts for the various characters who orbit around the central pair. There are at least 7 accounts for Christian’s mother, MILF-y pediatrician Grace Trevelyan-Grey (played by Marcia Gay Harden in the movie). The Escape to 50 Shades family has 1,280 followers, 24 active players and, according to an email interview, wants to see every character in the books play a role. Most groups ask their Tweeters to post a minimum number of times per week to provide continuity and momentum. Many, like The New Kinky Family (@NewFKS_RPG), are continually adding roles, some of which they’ve created, such as Ana and Christian’s sexy blonde nanny @KinkyEmilyR_FKS.
These role players throw virtual bachelor and bachelorette parties, give real estate advice, schedule staff meetings, weather pregnancy scares, flirt with dozens of their 106,000 followers, buy movie tickets, and react to emergencies. Basically, anything and everything, from the mundane to the XXX, some with more success than others. One particularly explicit player is Andrea Hendricks (@Andrea50SE), Christian’s personal assistant who is engaged to Anastasia’s photographer friend José Rodriguez. She regularly tweets things like “*Moaning* Please! Baby, I need your cock *moving my hands down my body touching my wet pussy* Mmmmm” alongside some very NSFW photos.
Escape to Fifty Shades was started in May 2013 by three tweeters who say that they are online day and night keeping up with the world they’ve created. “We have a very simple set of rules — basically, have fun, but always remember you are there acting out a character for the fans’ enjoyment and to always stay in that character when out on the timeline.”
Most of the role playing groups call themselves a "family," and they take the word seriously. Is there explicit talk about spankings and punishments? Yes, but there’s also plenty of much tamer — and at times utterly serious — role playing out there too. While for some role players, Christian’s brother Elliot is a single playboy, others have him married off with his daughter, 2-year-old Ava Grey, even getting in on the tweeting action (she wants a Cabbage Patch Kid, in case you want to get her a gift). Even Christian’s therapist, John Flynn, is in the mix. In one incarnation as @DaringFlynn, he goes so far as to question whether another character, @DaringSophie, has been in an abusive relationship.
While some role playing groups, such as Escape to Fifty Shades, strictly forbid any non-Fifty Shades themed interaction and want real-life drama to stay in personal accounts, others allow for moments of real-life to intrude on the kinky fuckery and respond to what followers have posted. Some, like the sporadic updater @ChrstnGrey, seem more interested in plain old dirty talk than developing the iconic billionaire (“In the mood for a little chat. Hit me on DMs. *grins*”).
Why get involved? Partly for the same reasons that fans participate in any Fifty Shades-related activity, like the three-day Fifty Shades fan soiree this summer. But there’s also the fact that rather than just passively responding to every latest bit of news about James and the film’s development, role playing allows fans from around the world to exercise their creative control. It allows those with free time to engage in extended story lines, such as this dramatic back and forth between @Daring_CG and his wife @DaringAnaS:
They can also play with gender. The common assumption may be that every female reader wants to be Anastasia, but some women enjoy playing male roles. The Netherlands-based player behind @DaringKateKav got her start playing Christian Grey in a different RP group. Now, she enjoys playing Kate, Anastasia’s roommate at the start of the first book, because “she can be stubborn and she hates Grey. I give Kate a big mouth; she’s totally the opposite of Ana.”
@KatherineGrey_ is played by a stay at home mom in the Midwest, who estimates she spends five to eight hours a day role playing. She got involved after responding to a casting call (yes, some of these families have casting calls). Her first role was Hannah, Anastasia’s assistant at Grey Publishing, and through that she was asked to play Katherine. “I always wanted to write but never thought I was good enough to do so. This gave me the opportunity to write and see how people reacted to my writing. Fifty Shades also inspired me because E. L. James wrote fan fic before publishing her book.”
So what exactly makes a good role player? According to the Tweeter behind @ElliotG_Darker, who stumbled into role playing while searching for Fifty Shades, “You don't have to be a good writer; a creative mind would be helpful though.”
While Fifty Shades isn’t the only romance novel series that’s inspired role playing (Sylvia Day’s Crossfire series and Jodi Ellen Malpas’ This Man trilogy are among the notables), it has the distinction of having spawned numerous active families. Chrissy of Fifty Shades fan site Laters, Baby! says fans’ ardent devotion to Fifty Shades makes continuing its themes a natural fit. “Role-plays allow the fans to visualize scenes they don't get to see in the books, but happened in the background, or to extend the series and find out what may have happened between characters,” she says. “Many people reread the series, this is just another way to continue to live and visit the world of Christian and Ana.”
They also appreciate breathing new life into characters who were either minor players in the books or who they want to amp up. Reading the books may be a passive activity, but Twitter gives fans just as much control as E.L. James, albeit within a much smaller sphere of influence. Says the woman who plays @DaringKateKav, a 27-year-old from The Netherlands, “I think role playing is more fun than an offline book club because you can be another person than you are in real life.”
Sarah Wendell, co-founder of romance novel site Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, locates the popularity of romance role playing in other areas of pop culture. “It seems to me to be a natural progression of role playing and cosplay in general,” she says. “People who adore comics, graphic novels, movies, or television characters, particularly in sci-fi or fantasy genres, often dress as the characters they adore, particularly for conventions. So it makes sense that the same devotion and eagerness to interact with creative works would translate to those who adore Fifty Shades.”
Chrissy of Laters, Baby! takes this idea one step further, emphasizing that the way the trilogy itself is told lends itself to interpretation and creativity. “The use of emails in the series really lends itself to a transition to a Twitter platform that can mimic text messages. Taking the lead from the emails in the series, role-playing is often witty, but they are also at times practical and loving — a bit like real life.”
I fully admit that I’m new to the world of role playing, so while I found some of the storylines fascinating, especially the back and forth between players, I found the pacing of some of the interactions, such as the one below, agonizingly slow.
Some story lines and characters are so elaborate that, unless you’re the most dedicated reader who can answer any and every trivia question about the books, you’ll be hard pressed to know exactly who everyone is. Case in point: the guidance counselor, Jenner Stone, fantasizing about a high school student, Sophie Taylor, during sex. The best accounts play off each other in real time, offering up a lively back and forth. These networks of new characters seem to have room to expand infinitely, yet it’s unclear, at a certain point, who they’re targeting. After all, @ClaireHarlowRP, assistant to @TheAnaGreyRP, seems to do little more than loll around at her desk, retweet Grumpy Cat and shop online, and anyone bored on Twitter has probably already done that themselves umpteen times.
What impressed me as I dug into this world was how passionately the players care about what happens in their storylines. Their anonymity removes the pressure of a deadline or byline, but they still have the chance write and engage with people who are already inclined to want to know more. One gets the sense that these events are as “real” to the players as the ones in the books. When asked to pick a favorite storyline, the woman playing @KatherineGrey_ responded, “the wedding with Ethan and Audrey Kavanagh. Her parents showed up at the wedding and Audrey believed them to be dead. So it was a big shocker.”
Intrigued? Families like @OnlyFifty are all too happy to add another voice to the mix. Just make sure you’ve done your reading, or you’ll likely get tripped up. But if you’re lucky, you may hit what some would consider the holy grail, as @LukeSawyerRP did, and get a little back-and-forth with @E_L_James herself: