Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Characters We Play

A few weeks ago we finished up a Vampire: The Masquerade forum game. The game ran from the beginning of February to the end of October. Two weeks later we had a wrap party and for the first time I got to meet the players behind the characters.

I know it's been officially one month since the actual end of game and two weeks (feels so much longer!) since the party. This is something I had wanted to talk about during the game, but one thing led to another and I never got around to it. Now that the emotions left over from the game have settled and I am looking back over the last nine months I thought it would be a good time.

This was the first forum game I've ever played in and it ended up being my BEST rp ever. It was also extremely emotionally intense. Even though I was able to keep the characters and actions in the game separate from reality, I still became exceedingly attached not only to my character, but also to some of the other characters in the game. So attached that I can say with absolute honesty that I truly love them. There were other characters I couldn't stand in the same way.

While I do feel these strong emotions for the characters the feelings are not translated to their players. The I don't love them or hate them the way I do the figments of their imagination. I know they are not their characters, even if I do still occasionally refer to them as their characters. (That's an old habit born from continuously referring to people by their handle or username or character name when you meet them online.)

When the game started I didn't know what to expect. I had a vague idea of the character I was playing and where I wanted her to go. Her backstory evolved organically during the first month or so of the game as I began to find reasons for why she was the way she was. I hadn't intended her to be that way, but she took on a life of her own. The path she followed through the game was almost entirely developmental. She did not contribute to very much major plot, but she wasn't in a position to do anything. Her story was one of self exploration and, ultimately, tragedy.

As the last two weeks of the game came to a close people were rushing to complete their stories and scenes. Knowing that I would be away the last few days of the game I rushed to complete the last few scenes I was in.

Her story hit a climax as the two characters she and I loved so very deeply killed each other. I tried frantically to see if there was anything I could do to save them, but there was nothing. I spent days sobbing hysterically, curled up in my bed unable to move. It was an effort to force the last few posts out for the scene. At one point I thought "if I don't post, they can't continue, and they won't die." Of course, this didn't work. When I didn't immediately respond they continued on with out me.

The death of the characters felt as though I had lost two people I loved, because in a way I did. Did I over react? Possibly. A lot of people would say I had, but I don't think it's a bad thing. Whenever I read a book or write a story or play a character, especially if it's well done, I become invested in those characters. They become real to me. I live and breathe with them, I often dream extensively about them, and they become alive. Their world becomes mine for the brief period I spend with them. I know they are not real, and I don't pretend that they are, but they feel real. The love, fear, sorrow, and anger I feel for them is real.

I love the people I got to play with. They were fun and gave me one of the best role playing experiences of my life. They are also excellent players and they are the ones that made their characters come alive for me. To them I salute. They gave me such a wonderful thing, as tragic as it was. I still miss the characters. I still love them, and I still think about them quite a bit.

Occasionally I go back and read the scenes we were in, to see if it still resonates with me the way it did the first time. Yes, I still get misty eyed. I still feel the same frustration and anger and love. Are there things I would have changed? Some. Going back I now have a different perspective and I wonder how things might have turned out if I had done certain things differently, or didn't do others at all. Perhaps it may have had a happier ending. Perhaps it would have been the same. Perhaps some day we'll go back and retell the story differently. Maybe the characters will be given a new life in a different game or story.

Whatever the case, the characters we play and interact with often change us, leaving something of themselves behind even when they or the game are long dead and gone. Whether we become as emotionally attached as I do, or not it doesn't matter. A good character and a good game will leave it's mark. They touch us in ways we'd never expect, and I think for that moment. For that feeling. For the joy of telling a story with others. For the chance that we will somehow connect with these characters and players in a deep and meaningful way is what brings us together.

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