Tuesday, 24 January 2012

RPG’s: Living The Game

It’s not difficult to get lost in the altiverse of gaming. 

Almost all games have some form of role play in it. Whether it’s a war game (First- or Third-Person shooter), a platformer, a strategy game or even a puzzle game, we are always playing some kind of role, pretending to be something or some one else in a place realistic or fantasy.

Critical Distance, a pristine website about video game blogging has re-launched The Blogs of the Round Table (BoRT) and posed a subject very close to my heart this month.

The subject is the following:

“Games, like most media, have the ability to let us explore what it’s like to be someone other than ourselves. While this experience may only encompass a character’s external circumstances–exploring alien worlds, serving with a military elite, casting spells and swinging broadswords–it’s most powerful when it allow us to identify with a character who is fundamentally different than ourselves–a different gender, sexuality, race, class, or religion. This official re-launch of the Blogs of the Round Table asks you to talk about a game experience that allowed you to experience being other than you are and how that impacted you–for better or for worse. Conversely, discuss why games haven’t provided this experience for you and why.”

I’ve been playing Role-Playing-Games (RPG’s) more than any other type of games for quite some time as it’s my absolute favourite. In many ways I agree and understand the statement presented by Critical Distance and in many ways I completely disagree. I’ll attempt to explain both points of view.

Identifying with a character, that is fundamentally different than me.

To an extent I can identify with this statement. When playing an FPS (first-person-shooter) or game where murder is prominent, this is true for me as I wouldn’t murder something or some one IRL (in real life). So the soldier or character doing the murdering differs to me at my core. I can identify with this character being bold, confident, fierce, fear striking and super human. I can identify with the difference in race, sexuality, gender, religion etc but that’s about as far as it goes.

This identifying with something which I am not aspect really isn’t that important to me or even present when playing video games. I experience role play in games very differently and believe that many others do as well.

We are everything we pretend to be in-game and none of it at the same time.

We fundamentally are and have potential to be the sniper, the mage, the warrior, the rogue, the hunter, the super soldier, the genetically altered super human. Every character we choose to play the role of displays some of what we are at our core or wish to be. All the “abilities” they have, are just the external dressings. The roles we play are rarely in contrast to our true selves, whether we like to admit it or not. Some parts of us are inclined to explore darker characters and others to explore the good aspects. We are inclined to become either the villain or the savior.

Some will create a character to be statistically optimal to achieve its goal, for example choosing the race with the most optimal racial advantage for the spec that they will be playing, no matter what they look like. Because who they are is a goal orientated person who get’s their kicks from perfection in strategy. These are usually the more experienced gamers who like to take their characters to the max.

Others will create a character to look like what they are inside, for example a muscular warrior, a sneaky assassin or a super sexy vixen. I must admit that I do this all the time. Almost every character I create is female, and “badassely” good looking. I don’t often create a male, because I don’t necessarily have the desire to pretend to be a dude and if I don’t have a choice, said dude will be ridiculously handsome.

Then there are people like me. When I create my character, it’s a really important phase of the game for me, albeit the most basic. When creating my character I dream up a persona in my head, a past, present and future. An attitude, a personality and legacy. My goal when playing that character, is to live up to that reputation that I have created. From the birth of the character, right through its progression, to its becoming and “living” the life of the ultimate legend.

I create a better me, a fantasy me. A me that exudes confidence, that’s kickass and lethal. I literally live my game. This is probably why I don’t ever create a stealth based rogue, because, well, I suck at it. Even in real life I don’t exactly blend into my environments. 

Role playing in games accentuates personality traits that we have IRL, for instance natural leaders and protectors (tanks), care givers (healers) and fighters (dps).

I guess what I’m trying to say is that role playing in games don’t allow me to explore a character that’s fundamentally different than I am, but rather a different version of myself. Whether it’s a sci-fi game, a fantasy game, or a war game. I always feel that this character has the personality I would have had, makes the decisions I would have made. I don’t necessarily make my character choose a path that I think is the best path in the game.  For example, in Mass Effect 2 I chose to do all the missions I could in order to make the Normandy as strong as I could and get all the upgrades to pass through the Mass Relay, now if I were a kind off “don’t care” type of person in real life, I probably wouldn’t have done that and went through the relay prematurely and killed every one on board the ship. Lucky for me, I like to do things properly in life and in games.

Role playing in games reflects things we are proud of and things we keep hidden about ourselves. Maybe even sometimes things we would be ashamed of in front of our friends and family. Either way, you can’t deny that little bits of yourself are embedded everywhere in the character you are playing.

To get to the part where what we pretend to be in-game is none of who we are. That’s the more surfaced aspect, we aren’t magicians or warriors or soldiers that commit mass murder and assassinations and fight wars; we just like to pretend that we are. Just because you’ve played the role of a soldier, doesn’t mean that you will ever have the ability or desire to fight a war in reality or even approve of war in our world. Just because you’ve chosen to play the villain in a game, doesn’t mean you are a villain in your everyday life.

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