Guest Post by Catherine Caine.
Hello, my name is Catherine and I am a geek. A super-geek, in fact. I read comics, I play World of Warcraft and Rock Band, I read XKCD and understand all the jokes. I talk about websites all day. And I play role-playing games. You know, like Dungeons and Dragons… the kind where you sit around a table with a sheet of paper and some weirdly-shaped dice, trying to slay a dragon with your Wand of Frost.
When I started role-playing, more than a decade ago (holy crap how the years do fly by), I was a broke university student playing games with my equally broke unemployed boyfriend and his friends. It was a free source of entertainment: cheaper than the movies, more fun than daytime TV, more social than computer games. We played constantly, 18 hours a day sometimes, switching characters when we got sick of them: one week we were acting the roles of amoral criminals in a dystopian cyber-punk future, the next week we were glory-seeking warriors on a holy quest, before abandoning that play in favour of the damned nocturnal politics of vampires.
I was a saint and a serial killer. The strongest woman in the world and a weakling. Hunted and feted. Crazy and compassionate. Deadly and witty and grim and high-spirited and arch and greedy and frightening. I was responsible for the lives of thousands. I was rich, beautiful, unstoppable in a fight. Spat upon, furious, flawed and bitter.
Did you know that one of the best ways to learn who you really are is to pretend to be someone else for eighteen hours a day? I noticed after a few years of regular role-playing that my characters had a number of attributes in common, and those commonalities showed me patterns about myself.
What I learned about myself (by pretending to be someone else):
I am not evil.
In role-playing games (and especially in the computer games that use the same imaginary worlds and systems) you often encounter situations where you can choose your actions in line with your ethics:
- The Hero (“No, no, madam! The sense of justice done is enough for me! I won’t take your gold!”)
- The Pragmatist (“Ten pieces of gold? Thanks! Glad I saved you and everything.”)
- The Villian (“I’ll take all your gold from your screaming corpse! Ha ha! I betrayed you to the foes you hired me to fight!”)
I bounce between options 1 and 2. I can never do 3.
I shudder away from torture, cruelty and the deliberate infliction of pain (on non-consenting adults, that is). This doesn’t mean I’m necessarily a good person! I’m still selfish, needy and intemperate a lot of the time. But I know that if I hurt someone it will be an accident or a miscommunication, and I will be contrite and apologise.
I need to be appreciated.
Some people can do a good deed and be satisfied; others need to point and shout, “Hey! Look at the good deed I did there!”.
Guess which category I’m in?
Before my pretend-selves highlighted this pattern, I was frankly insufferable at times. Now that I know this fact about myself, I manage it better. I can tell my managers that I work best when my work is noticed and appreciated. I can encourage comments on my posts to feel appreciated for my articles. And if the outside world fails, I can turn to The Dude and he will tell me I did a good job and pat me on the head and I will feel satisfied.
I want to know how attractive I am.
In role-playing games, everything about your character is measured and quantifiable… including your looks. When I was 20, I found that to be an incredibly comforting idea. If you were beautiful, you’d know. Plain? You’d know. It wouldn’t be a subjective assessment, where your looks are judged by every passerby and judged differently each time. You wouldn’t get one opinion from the mirror in the hall and another from the one in the bathroom… you could just know, and stop worrying about it.
This has become less important as I age, but I still like the idea.
I’m bored when it’s too easy.
Ho hum, off to save the world. Again.
The number one reason for me to abandon a character and start a new one was that my character had become too powerful. When you have all the skills and the equipment there are no real challenges, and you win almost every conflict. As soon as that happens, the game gets boring to me. I don’t want to just Win. I want to struggle for the victory!
I hate to feel powerless.
He’s invulnerable to all our weapons!
Under the acting and drama, role-playing games are finely calculated mathematical systems where you can face a foe and realise that you cannot possibly win. I haaaaaaate that. Even when it’s good drama. Even when we find a way to win anyway. Even when the storyteller gets desperate and drops a deus ex machina in to save the day. The feeling that nothing I can do will affect the outcome, that I am powerless, will leave a bad taste in my mouth for a really long time.
I enjoy the awesomeness of others.
There are some people who feel that the glory of others diminishes their own glory. They respond to any accomplishment (“Dude, I knocked out a T. Rex with one punch!”) with automatic one-upmanship that seeks to make themselves bigger and make the other person smaller. (“That’s nothing. One time I…”)
That’s not me. I cheer other people’s victories like they were my own. I think they are my own.
I can do almost anything with words.
I can make a stirring speech over the bodies of the slain. Banter with a dragon. Throw bad puns. Tell an anecdote as I invent it. Manage a discussion. Seduce my enemy. Frighten my friends. Speak poetry. Cuss like a sailor. Command. Talk with a half-dozen accents. Provoke laughter. Bully. Plead. Sing. Make people laugh. Make people cry.
The first time I did a lot of those things they were intimidating, even in a room with a half-dozen friends: 19-year-old Catherine lacked the ability to Declaim A Speech, and was clumsy at Intimidating A Rival. (I don’t think I’ll ever be good at Stylin’ Verbal Smackdown. Pity.) But those skills grow with practice, and now I can write and speak more bravely for the experience.
If you enjoy it, it’s not embarrassing.
I used to worry about the disapproval of Them, and then I realised that the Them I was worried about? They watched TV six hours a day. They spent Saturday mornings hosing down the driveway because there were leaves on it. I was having a lot more fun than They were, and exercising my brain more, too. Screw Them.
What have you learnt from your hobbies? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
About Catherine Caine: When she’s not swinging a magical sword, Catherine divides her time between helping people to Be Awesome Online and Twitter. One day, she will find a way to combine all three activities.