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- Feb 2008
Thoughts upon the role of roleplaying in my life.
Hello there. This is a long post. In a way it is a post to myself, organizing my thoughts, perhaps a way to discuss them. I am not sure of what value it will be to others who may read it, but as I never know what might provoke me to thought, I submit this here, in case it provokes others. Does it raise any questions? Perhaps a few, but mostly in my own context. Take it as you will...
In this post I'd like to explore the different roles that the roleplaying hobby has held for me throughout of my life. It did not have a major role, more of an... accompanying role, but it played a role none the less. And I'll explore where it has brought me now. So this is my story. As such it is subjective (Despite how objectively I try to look at it), and some concepts, definitions or such are made as such.
The post does not present a question to the reader (At least not intentionally) It ideals mostly in my musings, take it as you wish.
Ok, I dallied long enough, haven't I?
"All of life can be broken down into moments of transition, or moments…of revelation.
No one knows the shape of that future, or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born…in pain."
(Babylon 5, G'kar, the end of the third season. I take my inspiration from ALL kind of places)
I'm 35 years old now. Been born and raised in Israel. I began playing D&D at 5th grade, and made my best life long friend then. I quickly came to GM group. D&D at the time was a place to find friends. I was socially awkward, but highly imaginative. This was for me a way to socialize, and explore my creativity and imagination.
But... there was more to that. Oddly enough at that young age I had the firm belief that one should strive to do good, change the world, make a difference, better the lives of others. Perhaps a bit naive, but I held to that belief firmly- I were to be good!
What is "good"? I won't go into an alignment discussion, but for the subjective definition that will serve this discussion I'll say that for me "good" was:
"To care highly for others, not just those close to you, and strive to better their lives, even at a substantial price to self, if this means a substantial benefit to others". Yes, It is somewhat vague, but I think the general concept gets through.
So in D&D, I liked to explore heroics. And I was fervently searching within my mind for a way to "become a hero"- be good. I didn't care for the recognition, power, or such. But upholding this one ideal, as stated above, was important to me. I wanted to find a way to do the most good, to have the biggest impact, whether I'm known for that or not.
And it became a small (yet well hidden) obsession. Being a kid, I turned mostly to stories, TV shows, movies, and such. Everywhere the heroes were exceptional people- They had super powers, they were destined, they were super smart/ strong/ fast/ cunning, they had special possessions and more. This frustrated me greatly, since though I was considered fairly "smart", by school standards, I was also quite "flawed"- I wasn't courageous enough, understood people well enough (I did mention socially awkward, right?), made a lot of mistakes (Which the people in the stories rarely did. Hey, even in computer games if you made a mistake you reloaded the game- the REAL protagonist wouldn't make a mistake!) and... I wasn't special at all... I was quite unexceptional. How could I ever make a difference?
I was greatly frustrated by this, but I believed... I stupidly believed that like in many great stories, where the protagonist starts like a no-one, that there will be some special uplifting/ character building event in my life, that will change me, make me into someone better, make me into the "real me". There are no shortages of such stories. And yet, I learned much later that is not how changes work, As Belkar so eloquently says here.
At high school I decided to let go of D&D, as I did not find my answer there, and try engage in the more social world. I have also began reading the Discworld Series by Terry Pratchet which have since greatly influenced my moral values. But that is to come...
Yet the frustration grew. I could find no way to "become exceptional" enough to do my work- do good. This is part of the seed of my illness to come. I found no "Way out".
Breaking down, and years of illness
In Israel, once you finish high school you go to the army. And that is quite a "sobering up into the real world" experience! If I didn't think I was exceptional before, in the army I learned how much smaller in the grand scheme of things I really was. Yet still I strove. I thought I had some values that I could use to benefit others, and so I tried becoming an officer. Yet my "not fully realistic" view of the world, and quite sub par commanding skills meant that I was not fit to lead troops. I had become highly skilled as an adviser and planner, but not as leader. In retrospect, I did quite a lot of good there, but not in the way I intended. And at tht time, I did not see it. I just saw another proof of my failure.
That, coupled with the loss of a love I was pining for for years, and the death of my mother, which I couldn't quite deal with, broke me. A psychiatric disease broke then- Hypo-mania. It is a sort of a bipolar disease, only that it's symptoms are mostly very severe depressions, with no actual "manic" episodes. Just times of over activity, barely noticeable by others.
But I wasn't diagnosed or treated at first. It took 7 years to get to that. In that time I alternated between bouts of activity that lasted 2-3 months, to deep, devastating dark depression, lasting 6-9 months. These are no simple downs... Major depressions mess up your sleep, you ability to act (It could take me 3 hours to try and opens my eyes after sleep. another 2-3 hours to get out of bed), I enclosed myself in my home, hurt and distanced all but 2 of my friends, and ruined myself.
For after the break, I could no longer see myself as capable of doing good. I was flawed, damaged, a mistake, a malfunction... And these are the the most flattering of terms. Most times I wished to die, with the fear of "What will happen if I fail?" and "What will happen to my family if I do?" preventing me. I was erasing myself. All that I ever was, and dragging myself deeper and deeper and deeper into dark oblivion.
How I hated myself back then... and again, roleplay came along. Now, this isn't exactly roleplay games, but there are quite a lot of various roleplay rooms on the net for all kinds of play. Some quite sinister, horrific. And I took part in those. For subconsciously, if I could not do good, than I assumed I must be a monster. Along with the my depression and self hate, I tried to justify that, and tried to delve into darker and darker depths of myself.
I have become a monster.
I am ashamed of myself still, to this day, of the role plays I played. I have done (On play only) things that make my stomach turn, that I would imprison myself for it today. Why didn't I do anything in the real world? I do not really know. My hope is that I had some decency, some sort of a morality to know better, even then. But to be frank- I think it was my lack of volition and action due to my depression, along with fear of re precautions.
I have nearly tried to kill myself twice. Twice I was ready to take my life, for the world would be better off without me- I was a dysfunctional worthless horrific monster, and it hurt so much! I don't know what have stopped me. But on the second time I understood that this is a recurring theme. And I also understood, that on the third time I may not stop... I decided to seek out help.
Climbing my way up, one small step at a time.
I was finally diagnosed correctly (I've been diagnosed incorrectly before, which caused me to doubt the medical profession, which led to me not accepting help for so long) and began treatment: Lithium pills plus quite a lot of psychotherapy. I won't go into all of that, but lets just say that for a REAL change, you gotta go through a lot of a lot of pain! Spiritual and mental surgery, minus the anesthetics.
Through the treatment I learned to separate myself from the disease, and starts building myself again, for In the process of the illness I have erased nearly everything that was me. I was trying to find a core me, and couldn't find it- I have obliterated most aspects of personality and character I had before. So we had to build it a new. As part of this we have addressed the "hero complex", that I spoke of before- the firm solid belief that if I can't do a lot of good, than I'm a failure.
We have addressed "normality" for once, and what it detailed, and slowly, slowly I tried to find a way to fit into the world from which I ran so long ago.
And D&D came along once more. I found a group, and started playing. This was a... "safe" place to interact. A familiar ground, with mutual goals, and I could pretend to be someone else. And so came Bruthus- an ex soldier, a cleric of the Red Knight (Who quickly turned to worship Lathander, god of new beginnings). There are many reasons why people choose the characters they play, but I think quite a lot either put in the character part of what they ARE, or what they WISH to be...
And Bruthus was a healer, a friend, a believer in change, a believer in doing good, but more moderately. Oddly enough, in him I have started seeing some of my old values back. I have also resumed reading Terry Pratchet's books again (I couldn't before. It was too... painful!) When I was stronger, I decided to GM the group. I brought in my old friend (From my very first group), and we had a blast!
It took me two years to come back to a semblance of functioning. I have accepted that though I had good intentions, that I wasn't exceptional in anyway. But that was fine by me. Being normal, and doing my own small bit, was fine by me.
Med school and volunteer work
Which had led me to a strange decision, but a most welcomed one. I decided to try for med school. This decision filled me with dread, since I still felt like I wasn't strong enough, capable enough, "good" enough, and the people who applied seemed so much more skilled, sure of themselves, and experienced than I am. But... I knew that if I won't try, I will forever regret it.
And I'm now nearing the end of med school. This has been a hell of a ride! A lot more growing up in the process, a lot more "coming at peace with one self". And as I grew stronger, I started to volunteer. First with criminal youth, than with refugees from Eritrea and Sudan. And this has opened... SO MUCH in me... that I can't describe.
Roleplay in these 4 years have also changed. I have continued to GM, but played another D&D character- Lynn, an ex soldier who is trying to figure her own place in the world (sounds familiar?), but I also played Shadowrun, in which I played... you guessed it... Jack, an ex soldier, dealing with some mental problems. Leaving in a burnt out clinic inhabited by ghosts of the past. I know it may sound strange, but I never saw the thread between the characters up till recently. Jack was a much darker figure. I guess it was me trying to deal with the monster I have become in my illness. This being Shadowrun, we have done quite a lot of shadowy (Or outright sinister black) things in the game, with a lot of them I was highly uncomfortable with, to some I opposed. Yet the game was very laid back, with a session every 4 months or so. It didn't occupy my mind a lot. I have also played quite extensively on PbPs. Strangely, there my characters differed quite a bit. Exploring different bits of me, of experience- trickster, savage, joker and more, yet all strove, in their way, to do good. My friends often joke that I would play a paladinish rogue.
And through this looooooonnng transitions, changes, struggles, undertakings and more, I have finally come to a simple, yet profound (To me at least) revelation:
You don't need to be exceptional in any way- super powers, special destiny, superior smart,s skill, talent or so on,
to do great good, to do the exceptional, to make a difference...
It is all about choice, and the choice is always ours.
In this modern world, we are faced with great corporations, countries, religions, and a myriad of incomprehensible and seemingly overpowering forces. We are taught that on the grand scheme- you are insignificant, so why try at all? Live your small lives, and don't bother...
We are taught not to care. That the world is bleak, humanity will surely destroy itself, wars will go on, we shall consume, and so on and so on. But... that is not necessarily so! I have seen so many voices, so many people, trying to make a change, and in innumerable small ways, medium ways, and even big ways- making it so! And these are normal people with no special talents, super powers or so. The only thing that differs is... they make a choice to make a difference. That is... really all it takes. To make a choice, and then follow it through. They need not be "world saving" changes, glorious, or any such trope. Every small change, every small kindness matters. DESPITE a lot of negative influences in the world. "Good-bad" is not a sum zero game.
I think that Glory from Shadowrun returns sums it up nicely:
"That's what they want. That's what they need.
The corps. The dragons. The politicians.
They want us to think we can't make a difference.
They put effort- a lot of effort- into making us feel small. insignificant.
We had the power in our hands, and we made a choice.
And for that the world is different.
For good, or for ill.
(I don't fully go to her bleak assumptions. I think a lot of forces in the modern world do try to empower individuals, but her words are true to a degree...)
What it comes down to
Am I exceptional? Probably not. Am I good? Perhaps not yet, but I am striving to be. And I think... I think that may be enough... As a deva once told Roy I will try, I will fail. I will try again, I will fail. But I will learn, I will get better, I will be stronger. I will work as myself, not as a damned "story hero", but real life doesn't require that really- We live in an age where you have more power to spread your ideas, to influence the world, to congregate into organizations, to help people on the other side of the globe, to influence governments and more like never before!
We just need to make that choice.
But what is the role of roleplay now in my life? Well, it has changed. I realize now that I have tried to find a place to do good in the safety of roleplay and it's adventures. I don't need it any more. My adventure is right here, in the real world. How many times have I heard on these forums about player's agency/ wanting to make a difference/ leave an impact on the world? Whenever this was achieved in roleplay, games, books or such, I always felt sorry- because now that the game/ story ended, on the whole- it didn't really matter... But what if it could matter? If what you did have an effect? Really helped people? Changed their lives? Changed the world, in whatever small matter?
So I quite the MW games. I got involved in a few matters, my own little "adventures". in the real world. As to the Shadowrun game- we had one meeting, in which I just couldn't go along with the course of action no more. It is too close to the monster I've been, and I have decided not to go there again. Once a monster, doesn't always have to remain a monster. And as to my long running game? Well, they are my friends, and I highly enjoy GMing for them. I think that will remain an outlet of creativity, exploration, and just socializing.
Who knows, maybe in the future the focus and role of the game will change elsewhere?
Roleplay games and stories should entertain, inspire, and give place for exploration.
But the real world's story, the real world protagonists should not be overlooked.
So end my musings. Thank you for reading, I hope you found something in it for you, Whatever that may be.
Last edited by Kol Korran; 2015-03-12 at 03:52 PM.Check my extended signature
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