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Monday, 22 February 2016

Roleplays and Real Life

Ideas and Opinions | Milo

In this article Milo aims to give you food for thought about the daily roleplays we engage in, whether these roleplays are either healthy or unhealthy and whether you have mistaken them for representing a fixed reality when they perhaps do not. On the flipside if you think he has erred in any serious way, let us know and continue the conversation! 

I have an alter ego. His name is Soren, he wears black glasses, carries a pistol and a laser rifle at all times and is incredibly skilled at talking his way out of trouble, moreover he doesn't exist. He is a character I have created and am playing as on Fallout 4. A few months ago I had a conversation with a co-worker about Soren, and about the value of gaming as a hobby in general. However, I am not going to regurgitate what we discussed and neither am I going to re-state my defence of gaming, for it has already been argued on a variety of other websites both gaming and non-gaming related. No, what I am going to discuss with you today is the value of roleplaying and the benefit it has in "real life". 
Despite our societies' current fascination with fantasy and superhero fiction, it is still seen as a bit odd for a full grown adult to seriously debate the issues that arise in Lord of the Rings, Star Wars or The Walking Dead. 'Geek culture' whilst widely displayed is still subtly maligned and misunderstood. However if I was to seriously discuss the issues that arise from The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, I imagine less people would take an issue with my tone, and if I was to debate whether a football goal was on or offside, fuck, I'd be joining a national debate! What if I was to discuss an issue with a customer to my co-workers? Nothing could be seen as more normal...

Is this really more healthy and worthwhile...
However, I don't think it's fair to scoff at any of these situations on the basis of subject matter alone. If you like Star Wars but mock the "sheeple" who seriously engage with reality TV, you don't have much of a right to. Likewise, if you enjoy sitting with your Starbuck's Coffee whilst you, as a British citizen, discuss the circus act that is Donald Trump's presidential campaign, you are not necessarily having a more important discussion than the aforementioned duo.

This is due to the fact that all of the conversations and interactions listed above can broadly be classified as acts of role playing. By this I mean to say that in many of the conversations above, you are ignoring your awareness of your inability to influence the events discussed, despite your heated interest in the subject matter. You are playing a role as best befits the conversation, in order to engage with, and enjoy the company of, another human being. Therefore whether you discuss a play, film, game, politics or the daily minutiae of your job you are roleplaying. 

If it sounds weird to suggest that discussing Celebrity Big Brother is tantamount to discussing Donald Trump or an unruly customer, I'll try to clarify. When you are working you are not only paid to do a job, you are also paid to be a certain type of person. If you work with children you are paid to be a positive role model, if you fail to be this kind of person you will lose your job. If you work with the public you are paid to positively represent the company you work for, anything less and you will lose your job. Moreover, if you fail to fit in at your place of work, and be the kind of person other people want to work with you will, again, lose your job. As such between the beginning and end of your working day you are paid to be a certain kind of person. You are paid to roleplay. Therefore, whether it's discussing a celebrity or a nightmare customer, you are assuming a set of imaginary facts exist when they might not. In the instance of Donald Trump you are engaging with the image of a man you don't personally know, and probably never will know, based on what the media have reported, likewise in the instance of a customer you are squeezing that person into a box that says "customer" when they are so much more than that simple label.

This in itself isn't a problem, however, it becomes a problem when we: (1) refuse to acknowledge the role play (2) disrespect the value of other acts of roleplaying. Let's discuss the first problem, that of being in denial of your acts of roleplay. If I am a blind to the "lifestyle contract" I have signed upon taking a job, I can cause immeasurable damage to both my place of employment and my life outside of it. For instance, if I am a teacher, and I am not a positive role model, I am potentially damaging and ruining the lives of many young people. Moreover, if I work in marketing and/or sales and I begin to regard the public as little more than "customers", it will surely impact how I view my responsibility to my fellow man. You have to be aware of the kind of person you are being paid to be, you cannot allow the person you are paid to be to exist unchecked lest you find yourself becoming a self-centred, smallminded individual. With regards to the second problem, if you begin to view certain forms of roleplaying as either more valuable than others or, even worse, as real life then you stunt your growth as a human being. 

This second problem is what led me to writing this article and so I am going to spend a bit more time unpacking it by itself. Firstly, if you are still with me, you can see how paid employment is a form of roleplaying. Nevertheless, it's tempting to view the roleplaying involved when working as being more important than the roleplaying involved in enjoying novels, films and videogames. I believe that this is because paid roleplaying involves money and actual blood-and-flesh people whereas the latter forms do not, however, let's consider one of the many reasons why human beings roleplay at all. It's because roleplaying is instructional.

Than this?

All children play games involving make-believe and pretending, whether it's playing grownups, running a shop or making up their own rules to official games, they bend, break and mould. Children do this because it's fun on the one hand, but also because it's educational and it teaches them how to be people. They see an image of humanity from their families, friends, TV's and picture books and enact them in order to see if the picture fits. These games are fun until they are perfected and ultimately become real life. This is an important point: within certain acts of roleplaying is an emergent reality. No matter how abstract and fantastical or unavoidable and mundane the scenario, we have the capacity to shape our everyday realities from it. 
Is it not bizarre to praise Shakespeare for crafting pages and pages of fictional content on the one hand, and to criticise the very act of engaging with fictions on the other hand? An ignorance of roleplaying and a refusal to roleplay can only lead to emotional and psychological impotence. When you lose the ability to roleplay, or to see the mandatory roleplays of 21st Century life you engage in, you codify your daily experiences as being immutable and fixed. I've noticed that people who are financially secure, emotionally uncomplicated and/ or of sound mental health seem less inclined to indulge in roleplays beyond those enforced by the “paper chase”. I also find that these very same people tend to find nothing wrong with the world we live in. Roleplays are a way to reappraise your daily experiences, to learn how to be a better, emotionally richer person and how to better understand your fellow man. They help you to see secrets within yourself both of a beautiful and ugly variety, as they reveal both the skeletons in your closet and in turn cremate them. If you want to live in a better world and if you want to be a better you, roleplaying is one way of gaining a greater perspective on how you can achieve this. Importantly roleplaying is a very subtle activity, at times it is quite obvious when you are doing it and in others you are none the wiser.   

What I want to stress is that it's not that there's no value in the roleplay of employment, or the roleplay involved in certain family get-together’s and other social occasions. Instead I am suggesting that we need to engage in a plethora of roleplays in order to be well rounded people. Moreover sometimes we can only learn certain truths about both ourselves and the world we live in, by seeing matters from a completely fresh and independent perspective. Sometimes that requires a therapist, and at other times an orc or an ogre will suffice, nevertheless, come what may, roleplays are a major part of learning how to live life.   

Shortly after posting this article I think I will pick up and continue my journey with Soren through the pixel perfect wastelands of Fallout 4. On the one hand it will be a way of letting loose and having fun as I explore a mysterious and dangerous world, and on the other hand I might learn something about my relationship to violence, or what remains of my moral code when I am free to lie, cheat and steal without detection or reproach.  

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