Do or Do Not.

Out Of My Head

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I’ve never been good at role-playing games. Scratch that — I’ve never had much interest in role-playing games. Wait, scratch that, too — I’ve had interest in role-playing games, but not so much with the role playing itself.

Sure, like many introverted, awkward, socially inept teenagers in the 1980s, I used to play Dungeons and Dragons. I know lots of people of that sort who played RPGs as a method of getting some healthy and fun social interaction with people who didn’t want to torture and ridicule them for being introverted, awkward and socially inept, but for me… well, it wasn’t all that “social” since it was just me and my friend Mitch. We’d take turns being the Dungeon Master. Neither one of us played D&D for the game’s role-playing aspects; for us, it was just the combat and advancing our characters so they could kick more ass in combat.

(Mitch decided he’d had it with playing D&D with me when, at the very outset of an adventure, I ambushed his character he’d been playing for a few weeks and killed him…with a band of pixies. (No, not “the band The Pixies” — that would actually have been less embarrassing, I think. Getting whacked by a murderous Black Francis would have a certain angsty poetry to it.))

Anyway, my point was that even when I played role-playing games, I didn’t really role play. I was always too self-conscious to really get into that part of the game — even when it’s the friggin’ point of said game. Even the last time I tried, just a few years ago, in a game populated completely by people I trusted (including my wife), I still couldn’t let myself go enough to pretend to be someone else.

Every time I play a computer RPG where I get to design my character’s appearance, I always end up just making myself, trying to come as close as I can to putting myself into the game. Even in these games where The Real Me is completely hidden to the other players online, I still stick with being a pixelated version of me.

When I first started playing The Sims 2, I enthusiastially constructed my entire family, including the kids…and then horrified Terry when Sims Social Services came to take the girls away because I wasn’t feeding them. (The baby seat was sitting right in between the kitchen table and the refrigerator, situated just so my Sims couldn’t pull the baby chair out far enough to put the kids in. For all their bitching about hungry kids, “Allen” and “Terry” couldn’t tell me why they wouldn’t/couldn’t feed them. I’d have hoped that these simluated versions of me and my wife would be smart enough to move the friggin’ chair, but no. Of course, I wasn’t smart enough to figure it out until after my children had been placed in foster care, so maybe the game’s more realistic than I might think…?)

I usually tell myself that the reason I couldn’t get into role-playing was because I was just too happy being myself to want to be someone else. And while it’s true that I am damn glad to be me, it’s obvious that excuse is pure horse manure. What it is exactly, I’m not sure. I don’t think it’s quite fear in this case; I have a feeling, though, that it’s connected at some fundamental level to my traditional lack of Deep Thoughts about the world around me. The term Terry likes to use for me is “solipsistic,” or self-referential — I get so wrapped up in my own head that I Am All There Is.

The funny thing, though, is that I feel like I can get into other people’s heads pretty well, both when trying to suss out people’s motivations for what they’re doing — or when writing fiction. So I know my solipsism isn’t for a lack of ability to understand or inhabit other roles or personas, but rather from a lack of desire or need to do so. And I think that’s something else that needs to change in my head. I think know that I need to expand my metaphorical wardrobe, to try some different outfits on, because I think know that doing so will help make me a better writer…and a better person.

I know that some many of you reading this post are veteran RPGers or otherwise into Being Someone Else, so clue me in: what do you get out of it? What do you put into it? Does Being Someone Else for awhile have any effect on Being Yourself?

Written by Allen

May 20th, 2006 at 10:26 am

Posted in Personal

3 Responses to 'Out Of My Head'

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  1. Wow. RPGs. I’ve not played AD&D in years. That’s “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” for you neophytes.

    I played a lot during my sophomore and freshman years in college, and I played during my high school days. My experience was probably a bit different from yours: I had a big gaming group, probably six or seven of us who played on a regular basis.

    To be clear: we played AD&D in the same way that we played Axis & Allies, Risk, or any chess, for that matter–all of which we did, unashamedly. I can’t tell you the number of nights we sat up, listening to Master of Puppets drinking Southern Comfort and Coca-Cola or Natural Light, smoking Marlboro Lights, and gleefully pretending that we were all someone else, sometimes Tojo (Axis and Allies) and sometimes Medvere, the Red Wizard (you get the picture).

    What did I get out of it is a hard queston to answer. We were all a rather strange group, wounded, outcasts, odd, quirky. Most of us had a dead parent; most of us had considered or tried suicide; most of us had either a moon-tan, the body of The Blob, or both. Believe it or not, some of us even had girlfriends. Not for long and not very often. But–we were familiar with the female sex, if only obliquely.

    I got out of my RPG experience a love of writing. I loved to make things up and to tell lies–to put it bluntly. I was a horribly liar as a child, and since I make some of my money writing poems and stories these days, I guess you could say that I’m still a horrible liar. I liked (in playing RPGs) to step out of the box I found myself in. I didn’t have to be a poor fat kid from North Florida. I could be a brilliant wizard or a fast-talking elf rogue. I could be an assassin (but I wasn’t very often. I liked to be good. I suppose I still do).

    Wow. That’s long-winded. Hope that it makes sense.

    –J

    Jeff Newberry

    21 May 06 at 2:13 pm

  2. Used to do tabletop, now I do MMO (too old and lazy to try LARPing at this late date,) and I like to play More Me when I play. The Insane Me, the Fighter Pilot Me- it’s all me, just bigger and better and with a hand-cannon. When I make characters, they’re Ultimate Me- what I’d look like if I had control; what I’d wear if I were a night elf, etc.. I get to exercise all three levels of my ego when I RP. it’s all me- just More.

    Saundra

    21 May 06 at 3:48 pm

  3. Jeff: Funny that you mention that you got a love for writing from your RPG days. I don’t think you’re alone there. Even though I’ve never really been a GM (certainly not for a large group of players), I can definitely see how running a game and writing a novel or short story or comic book or what-have-you are fundamentally the same process, though with differing levels of audience participation in mind. In fact, I think this would be a good point for my good buddy Brian pipe in…

    Saundra: See, I think your approach is just fine — even if it’s based on you, it’s still not you. I tend to try to replicate Real Me as closely as I can, which seems to totally defeat the point of RPGs. If I ever get a chance to play another MMO (you’d think it’d be likely, since I work for a company what makes ‘em), I might have to really try to branch out and come up with someone who is at the very least Ultimate Me if not Not At All Me.

    Allen

    21 May 06 at 4:22 pm

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