Narrative Gamer- Who are we playing?
So who is this character that we play?
There are different approaches to this topic. Some can only play themselves, in different settings, with different powers, while others go the distance and create real characters that are effectively other than themselves, and with depthness like a book or movie character. Depthness is an important point here, because it is a measurement of how complex and real the character is, and it could become very deep. Somehow rpg characters have the deepest potential, even though they are usually very shallow.
A character is just as profound as his personality can sustain complexity. If you always say and decide the same thing, then you can be easily defined and understood. Therefore, depthness is dependant on choice, and in choosing differently. Narrators, from screen and page, understand that a character will show his personality, his specific ways to deal with reality, when pushed to her limit. In order to choose differently you would have to be driven against diverse obstacles, which would have to be always hard but also distinct from one another. When we consume stories we usually encounter characters that are in a bad place, have lost a lot, and now face great pressure to end that situation. This is not incidental. If we still have patience and resources, we usually take the easy way out. It is only when we are faced with the worst times that we show the true nature of ourselves, choosing specific paths.
But written characters, these ones that have their story already told before they are played, are already aware of their paths. The actor, equivalent of the player in the rpg, already knows what will happen, and how he should react. His choices were already made, and then his understanding of his true nature is already colored by a path that he will take when a situation arises.
On the other hand, the rpg player has the potential to go deeper because all the adversities are yet unknown to him and he can surprise himself with his choices along the way. In comprehending this, the player tends to focus on getting inside the mindset of his character, just like method actors do, but the roleplayers have to improvise all their lines, and in this way their potential for depthness is greater.
Unfortunately that is rarely the case. Players tend to play their characters within a small area inside their mind, usually with little modifications to their natural inclinations, that will ultimately see the world in the same color palette as they do. And these modifications also tend to go in the same direction: an efficient, lean, free, dangerous and more beautiful version of themselves (with an occasional splash of perverse attitudes and evil behavior).
This is also understandable. Many players delve into the freedom to be someone they can’t be or feel they can’t be. And this usually means to be an idealized version of themselves with the freedom to do what they want without any regrets and reprehensions. So they are efficient and capable, and mean with the ones that try to forbid them to do so. To put it in a blunt way, they usually play spoiled children with delusions of righteousness, that could only be applied to a world with inherently evil people that could be hunted down without guilt or consequences. It is also a shared experience, because every other player is in synchrony with this objective and the Game Master is often shackled to the role of epicness provider, hero recognizer and glory enabler.
That doesn’t need to be a bad thing in itself. We have these tendencies inside ourselves, and to have an arena where we can put them to face the virtual adversities and exit on the other side, victorious, is a very cathartic experience which can be rewarding and fulfilling. Still, rpg can be much more.
When we break the shackles of our childish necessities, in resonance with the group’s interests to do the same, while the Game Master understands that he be creative instead of an enabler, we can create a beautiful story. In essence, these characters can’t be anything other than ourselves. But we can be more than we are accustomed to, and I recommend that we should strive in this direction.