Friday, October 14, 2011

[RPG] Breaking Past Yourself

There's a guy I know at my local store who's pretty quiet. In fact, a much better way to describe him is "mousy"- he's very introverted, super passive and generally unlikely to stand up for himself in any way.

The character he plays is a whole lot like that, too. For the most part, this does't effect the game he's in, but now and then this isn't so great for him or the people he plays with. Recently, something pretty unpleasant happened to his character, and his response was - mild.  He just couldn't bring himself to do something "different" from his normal self, something crazy, foolish or even outraged.

It was very rough for me to witness as a bystander. I was furious and wanted him to "do something". However, that really isn't in his personal character, and he couldn't reach enough past his own makeup to act in line with another personna. 

At first I was very critical of this, and then realized that I am guilty of it too. I was specifically challenged to run a particular type of character recently, and I balked- HARD. I just wasn't comfortable with the things I would need to do in that kind of role, and felt it wasn't a good fit for me. I did move away from the kind of character I traditionally run, but I certainly did not do any real "break away" stuff in designing my new dude. 

If roleplaying is all about being someone else and exploring parts of yourself, these boundaries make it difficult to achieve something greater- and it's doubly hard when you don't know you're limited. I sure didn't- at least not until I looked closely at the situation. 

How do you break out of your own self and into someone else; move beyond your own personal tendencies and into new territory?


  1. Hmm, it's a difficult one. I've only briefly flirted with RPGs and I found it very 'easy' to be someone other than myself. My difficult was then feeling 'attached' to that 'persona' I'd created. Mainly because I didn't really have any real connect to that character. But on the flip side is roleplaying yourself really 'roleplaying'?

    I think in the end that's kinda what put me off of RPGs, that and I started eating way too many Cheetos!!! Very unhealthy. I think I found the experience really interesting as someone with psychology training. Often psychotherapists will use roleplaying as a method of breaking people out of destructive or otherwise harmful behaviour, it is however harder to get people to break down their own systemic behaviour than you might think.

    I just realised I've not answered any of your questions and probably clouded things even more. But I've got to go now because I have a nurse glaring at me for using a phone in a hospital :( oops!

  2. Hmm, that is hard to answer. I've found myself playing...myself several times in the past, in a variety of games. I think it's hard not to slip back into your own persona unless you really work at it.

    One game I am currently in I started out playing someone that was definetly not me. A really sneaky person who was doing bad stuff, but now that has changed and I think I have drifted back into being myself.

    The other game I am in I am playing a female, who is a showboat. Definetly not me.


  3. Often it takes someone else pointing out your need to break the mold.

    One of our players in the day had this problem.

    She made these super involved backgrounds for her characters and the moment something "went wrong" in game, she'd walk away from the character (blaming others) and make a new character with just as much effort and involved detailed background... but every one of her characters were exactly the same. (quiet / mousy / annoying kid sister type characters) She just didn't realize it.

    This went on for MANY years, and nobody wanted to say anything because they knew how much effort she put into her characters and didn't want to hurt her feelings.

    Since a few people talked to her about it, she was offended at first.. but after a while, she realized it. Now she does play a little more diverse type of character.. (but often still falls back on the old style even when she tries to make something different)

  4. Not everyone plays for the reasons you cite. Breaking the mold is not desirable for all players. It bugs me a bit when people think they know how others should play, what would be better for them, etc. It's especially bad when game designers (real or armchair ones) think it's good GM advice to force these shy players into uncomfortable "spotlight time" or hard wire such things into a set of rules.some people play to unwind or relax, and to be comfortable, not be forced into awkward moments at the whim of other players who think gaming is always about acting or exploring new parts of yourself though a character. Breaking the comfort zone usually has nothing to do with actual gameplay or rules and is not universally desirable.

  5. @Anonymous 8:58- Thanks for your comment. It brings up some good points.

    The spotlight time is a tough balance for a GM. Most GMs I know ultimately want everyone involved in the game, and shifting the focus around helps with that. But a good GM will also be aware of his or her player's preferences and limitations. Finding a happy medium is crucial.

    Do you discuss with your GMs what it is you want out of a game?

  6. Hmmm, I'm just now (as a GM) going through a process with my players that i do every so often. I send out a short questionnaire asking them what they think of the game and of me (the GM), and what they want out of the game, etc.

    I wish a couple of my players would approach me when things are not how they want them.

    Me, i usually play a game to get away from the real world.

  7. I recognise the problem but depending on the game, I don't think you should necessarily play too 'out of (your own) character' - simply because you probably can't.

    My experience comes more from live action roleplaying than tabletop roleplaying, and I just can't play a butch thug because I'm pretty much the opposite. That said, there is still a lot of opportunity for doing things differently.

    One thing I've found very helpful is to play a short-term character, or NPC. I found myself 'free' from the worry of whether my character was going in the direction I wanted, and in a funny way, more free to concentrate on the story. I was able to 'damn the consequences' and act in character and take risks that I wouldn't necessarily take with 'my' character.

    Playing an NPC also gives you more support to play something different. You can play a weak but provocative character without worrying about weather you'll be killed and have to start again because you know that a) that's what is supposed to happen in this 'episode' of the story anyway, or because b) you know you have NPC friends who will back you up and/or you have the stats or equipment to back up your lip.

    Mainly though, your goal changes from a conservative 'preserve my character's life/reputation/etc at all costs and play it safe' to 'make this a fun night of roleplaying not just for myself but for everyone else in the game'.

    And the more you do this, the more you expand your repertoire, and find that you can play more challenging PCs too.

  8. It's not necessarily a "problem". They're probably having a great time... I think GMs just want to help them try something new... but you're right that it can make a player uncomfortable.

    It's not always "shy" players.. sometimes you guy cookie cutter combat characters too.

    The problem that can arise, is I've seen these shy character players complain after the fact that game was boring for them.

  9. @Angelic Despot - I've started prepping for running Mouse Guard with my players and the (stripped down) Burning Wheel system it uses really allows you to "damn the consequences" and just go for it as it basically rewards failure (by advancing the story).

    While a GM might do this on his/her own initiative in any game, actually having it hard-coded into the system I think might give the players an incentive to really play out their characters' personalities and quirks to a larger degree.

    FATE also has a similar mechanic that I feel is very liberating! :)

  10. It is hard, sometimes, to wrap your brain around what other people get out of a game. I'll also say that I agree with Robin Laws about directly asking players about how a game went/what they want. It's not that it isn't useful, but sometimes people have a hard time really putting it into words or expressing their desires.

    I think some people actually "play in their heads." They do things in the game, never really speak about why out loud, but they have a concept in their head and an internal logic that may never get expressed to anyone else.

    For myself, I've noticed that I tend to like to do something "big" to define what my key concepts are, and then ratchet back from there. Of course, there is a danger there, because if you go really big on part of your personality that isn't meant to be a defining factor, no one else will every see you quite the way you intend the character to be seen.

    (Pretty much what scuttled my one and only attempt at playing a female character, when I overemphasized some personality concepts that kind of took on a life of their own and a different connotation than I intended)