How TTRPGs let me explore who I am, and who I'm not

DISCLAIMER: I know I’m but a single person -- My mind has not yet been lost ... I mean, I guess?

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But, like many gamers, I feel like I get to live many identities. I get to wear masks (not to be on trend here) not in my everyday life, but when I’m evading it through video games, tabletop games, books, or any other means. Not that my life’s bad or anything, mind you, but y’know, sometimes a change of scenery can’t hurt!

I just want to chat about how I use tabletop RPGs to explore identities. I really enjoy feeling both totally disconnected from my character, because we live in different realities; and deeply connected, because they’re a part of me. Am I weird for that? I don’t know, maybe! 

I don’t know anyone who claims they’re an elf, or a druid, or a troll decker, or whatever the Hell strikes their gaming fancy. I mean sure you CAN play a pretty straightforward human fighter of your own gender who has a personality very akin to yours, but the tapestry around you will still be completely different.

There’s a form of escapism there, after all.

Not saying there's anything wrong with tapping into stereotypes, btw!

But even so, I know many-a-players who don’t get “involved” with their characters: a character is a blank stat block that may or may not have some form of vague personality or background quirks that they secretly hope don’t come up too often.

But me? Me, I’m not that player. And if I become that player, it means that I’m disengaged in your game and it might be time for a character change but huuuuh … let’s not go over this right now!

As years go by, my characters have more and more depth (and no I don’t mean just edgy characters with tragic backstories!) I get involved with my characters. I become them. I don’t mean this in a creepy way, it is what ROLE playing is about for me.

When I was in high school, I didn’t “get into” my characters as much as I do now: the opportunities were quite different. Then I got to play this amazing game, with an amazing GM, who made me discover that there was so much more to TTRPGs. Nephilim changed how I view roleplaying games, my characters and what they meant to me. It was a complete shift.

I was no longer playing a single character, I was playing 3: Rafaëlle Du Lac, Knight of the Templar Order; Amon Ra the Selenim who had been corrupted through years of exposition to Orichalcum; and Amon Ra, the Fire Nephilim who saw his world fall apart. Three characters all rolled into a single experience of awesome.

Amon Ra and Rafaëlle

Of course, while some games provide opportunities like that, it’s not an experience I could easily transpose some games like, let’s say Dungeons & Dragons. Still, I took all I could from my Nephilim days and started crafting more complex characters that would let me explore various aspects of the human (or otherwise) mind, heart, and society.

Not all GMs were onboard with this project, either: I have seen GMs scoff at the very thought of a woman playing male characters, or at the thought of having characters that felt uncomfortable around death, or who were simply thrusted into an unknown country … Those are all things I’ll never get to experience in real life, but these surrogate experiences can all exist in the playground that are tabletop games.

I’m well aware that the line between respectfully exploring a topic and making a mockery out of it can be a pretty dangerous one to walk. There are also topics that are better left alone, but I’m really not here to debate those. All I know is that when I take on a role, when I start working the kinks of a character, I research the topics when necessary, for realism yes, but also for personal growth. This exploration made through characters is, like many things in my life, an opportunity to learn.

I’ve been so many things over time: For me, a character is more than just a mask, more than just stats, they’re all another part of me. And I know there’s this host of people who see characters as simple disposables: Don’t get attached, they might die at any time; don’t create a background, make it as you go. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that way of seeing characters, but it’s not mine.

My advice for GMs? Don’t scoff at players wanting to try something new, something outside of their comfort zones. Lean into it. Compromise if you need to. But don’t just go “Well, that’s a stupid idea.” Mostly if your reason is that the character doesn’t match what you envision this player playing. Even if it’s way out there.

My advice for players? Look for opportunities to try something new, maybe even outside of your comfort zone. See your characters as a full, complex person and use them as an opportunity to explore other facets of yourself or humanity.


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