By Maria Vrachneli,
Take a moment to visualize a world where the only limit is your limitless imagination. A world where you can choose to be anyone– anything!; from your appearance and capabilities to the expression and communication of your deepest beliefs and desires. Would this imaginary character make up a mirror of yourself in real life or a complete contrast to its figure? Well, what if I told you that through role-playing games, you could discover parts of yourself that find their way even to the most opposite to yourself fictional characters?
In role-playing games (tabletop and live-action role-playing games, role-playing video games, and online text-based role-playing games), by assuming and acting out roles of characters in a fictional setting, we can explore ideas and identities without commitment, and experience how we could react and feel in different scenarios…Even if that scenario is fighting a ghost dragon before the doors of an underground city that has never seen the light of day with a gargantuan Dragonborn that is hiding a murderous purple Tiefling in its closed palm, ready to jump on the opponent yet failing the acrobatics roll, just to be saved by a forest gnome with magic and grabbed by the Dragonborn in the brick of death!
But how could a game like that, so alternate to the reality we know and live in, give us insight about aspects of ourselves? Psychologist Dr. Megan A. Conell who uses role-playing in her practice admits; “It was through role-playing games that I started realizing some really important things about myself […], I recognized that I had them behind so many layers of defences, but it was through this disarming engagement with a character that allowed me to see into myself.”. When you think and act out in the name of someone else, that is to say, your chosen fictional character, you allow yourself to feel and express things like parts of your identity hidden from the judging eye of society or your most beloved or hated attributes.
Regardless, it is in our hands to understand and decode what is revealed through role-playing. Jay Martin, a veteran tabletop role-player and knowledgeable YouTuber, argues that it is important to ask; “What aspect of ourselves we’ve chosen to put in our character.”. To give you an example, my first-ever character in a two-year Dungeons & Dragons campaign is a female forest gnome witch in the unpredictable gap between teenage-hood and adulthood, with no tragic backstory (everyone was very surprised), always in uplifted spirits, facing all trouble with a bright smile. She represented the part of me that others see and the one I would like to be. But we, as humans, are more than that. I am more than that, so, she too became more than that. Raquel Skellington, a professional LARPer (live-action role-player), states; “Your characters reflect a specific period of your life in different ways.”. And, indeed, throughout this campaign, my character explored her sexual identity, let herself feel all the feels, made visibly hurtful and risky decisions, and changed in ways that I did, as well, in this challenging, never-ending journey of self-discovery.
“Good role-playing games”, as Jay Martin says, “are about exploring who you are, seeing who you could be, and determining who you want to be.”. So, leave your defences at the door, and get ready to go on an adventure as unique as you will discover to be.
“Psychologist Says Role Playing Games Like D&D Can Be a Powerful Tool in Therapy.” CBC LISTEN, 31 Mar. 2023. Available here
I spent a day with LARPERS. 2022, December 20. (Video). Youtube. Available here
What Dungeons and Dragons Teaches Us About Ourselves. 2021, July 18. (Video). Youtube. Available here