Facing one’s limited Faces

Becoming someone else is hard.

I don’t mean changing who you actually are, but rather, the process of putting on a role, such as what an actor or a gamer does.

I’m not really an actor — I’ve done some audio drama and one stage play in high school — but I am a gamer. I love to game, but have a very hard time truly inhabiting a character. To do that requires, I think, a certain sense of empathy and imagination, which I have when I’m writing, but when it comes to gaming I’m often just a bit too tired to focus and summon that skill.

I should clarify for the newbs: when I say “gaming”, I’m not referring to video games, I’m referring to old-school, table-top, pen-and-paper, dice-and-character-sheets, game-master-and-players kind of gaming. I’ve been doing that since about 1991, playing in dozens of games — perhaps hundreds by now? I’ve probably run a dozen or two games, with varying success, and I’ve written game skeletons, fictions and even a few very bad game systems.

When I say “gaming”, I mean gaming.

And it’s hard to do.

At least for me..It’s interesting to reflect for a moment on the kinds of characters that I tend to create. Generally, I have three modes: the anarchist, the hero and the old soldier.

The anarchist is generally a younger character with little respect for anything, including authority. These tend to be my most random characters, usually with a selfish or mean streak and usually being rather morally ambiguous, if not totally reprehensible.

The hero is stalwart and pure, an upstanding citizen who stands bold in the face of danger and evil, and is always about thwarting the bad guys. He (and it is overwhelmingly male characters) is strong and tough, and is always trying to do the right thing.

The old soldier is a cross between these to: someone who’s been the hero but ground down from years of dark experience, to the point where they just grit their teeth and march in on the orders, but they find it hard to stifle the grim and bitter comments, and tend to question superiors.

It disappoints me somewhat to note how limited my personal archetypes are, but I find it difficult to think of any characters which fall outside those. There have been significant differences between characters, so they aren’t all carbon-copies of each other, but I haven’t been able to stretch too much.

It’s not that I don’t want to stretch, it’s that I have no idea how. Like many things of my life, I need models in order to progress. I think of myself as reasonably imaginative, but find it frustrating to imagine people and the differences between them. I understand that I’m not exactly a social guy, never been a social mover-and-shaker, and haven’t really hung out with people as much as most. I was the shy, quiet teen, the smart kid who spent most of his school time actually doing schoolwork. I never went to parties because I didn’t understand them, and still find it hard today to understand them.

I grew, when I was younger, by reading books. My favourites were those with interesting ideas, and the characters didn’t matter as much. One of the lamentations of earlier science fiction was the cardboard nature of the characters, but I never noticed. They weren’t cardboard to me, they were just unimportant, there to observe the phenomena and comment on it, rather than be the phenomena.

Once and a while, I try to break out of the stable patterns of characters that I play. Most of the time, it’s when I’m running a game that I find the most freedom to experiment. That’s the hardest role of all, in many ways, because it isn’t just a single role, but a whole bunch, and the non-player characters (NPCs) have to be there to fill in the players about the world. Their role isn’t to be the story, so much as to fulfill a story being directed by the players (in balance with the meta-plot, if there is one).

I think another problem I’ve had recently is a lack of grounding for my characters. I don’t really know the setting as well as I should, and I haven’t had time to absorb it. In many cases, this missing context makes me more conservative, particularly when playing with people for whom the setting is second nature.

(Interesting how the missing knowledge is thought of be me not in terms of people, but more abstractly in terms of things, places, offices, politics.. Well, interesting to me..)

I’m hoping that it’s just a matter of time before I get a chance to really dig into the backgrounds, to let my imagination roam over them and be able to easily imagine them when I close my eyes.

But first, I think I need to sleep more… 🙂

And to be done with at least one of my busy activities..

Leave a Reply