I wouldn’t really call myself a “gamer.” Sure, I play games, although rarely and barely anymore. I grew up playing Kings Quest and Monkey Island, but games like that are long gone, and so my love for gaming has changed.
In 1995, I was introduced to Online Roleplaying, and I'm still in it, 21 years later. Through MUSHing, MMOs, in-character blogging, and even writing for the fan site SWTOR-RP, I've lived several extra lives on the other side of the screen: living and undead, beautiful and hideous. I've played in the future and in the past, on this world and in places far far away. I've played heroic characters and even some civilians, but my favorite to play were the villains.
There was a certain joy I got in playing the bad guy on the MUSH or MMO Server. It started with a Slytherin Prefect on a Harry Potter MUSH and went on through several villains of different flavors in World of Warcraft and SWTOR: cruel and conniving; Wile E Coyote; kindly but untrustworthy. You get the picture. The thing about playing the villain or antagonist in peoples’ plots or casual RP was how my characters were the foil, the boss fight, what must be consistently surpassed.
It was fun. There was a demand for the nastygram, the evil guy, some conflict to show up somewhere, anywhere, and I was happy to provide, while still making sure the players hanging around had a good time.
There was some distance between what the evil, terrible, no good character was doing and what me, the actual person was doing; I would never make a decision my villain character would make, I would never do a thing my villain character would do. That happened in actual gameplay. There were a few instances when it was me playing the game without the roleplaying filter where I became so disgusted with the actions that I took I found it hard to move on.
SWTOR’s light side and dark side decisions sometimes left difficult choices. I leaned toward the light side decisions in almost all things, and even though I RP’d all my characters in the game, I tended to make the conversation wheel decisions I was most comfortable with as a person. This was all because of an interaction I’d had with Fable 2 a number of years previous, where a simple quest to get into the Assassin’s guild left a particularly bad taste in my mouth.
Kill this guy in broad daylight, was all they asked. Easy enough, I thought, except my character wasn’t really the type to kill people. I’d always been more the sort to show mercy and let people think about the bad stuff they’d done. But assassin guilds aren’t really known for their leniency, they just wanted the guy dead.
Well, turned out this guy had the hots for me. Alright, I thought, I'll lure him away and kill him in a quiet corner. But he wouldn’t come away with me unless we were married. Well, uh, okay, I'll just marry him. Small complication then, he wanted to consummate the marriage. So we did. Then he woke up. Daylight! Bingo!
So I killed him. Didn’t feel so good after that.
I put the controller down on the table, and walked outside for a cigarette and had a long think about what I’d done. I was probably out there for 20 minutes before I came inside, turned the game off, and never turned it back on again. The Xbox turned on its red light (yes, like Roxanne) about a month ago, and I never saw how much money I’d accumulated from all those carts I’d picked up along my adventures.
When playing a villain during roleplay, there’s a certain distance - an understanding that this is the character doing these things, and I am still me. When making those decisions in Fable 2, I was making the decision, I was driving the bus. I didn’t have that separation fully in place that I had when RPing.
If I’m writing, it’s the same thing, where I can distance myself from the horrible things the villain in the book or story is doing because it isn’t me that is doing or saying or deciding these things - it’s the character, although there’s still some lines I won’t cross, and perhaps never will. Once a social worker, always a social worker.
But in that instance of Fable 2, or those gut wrenching situations where the dark side choice just made more sense on all sides in SWTOR, I had a hard time saying, “This isn’t me. This is a character in a video game. This is like roleplaying, or writing.”
I don’t want something like this blog post to be used to say video games cause people do to things they don’t want to do, because I don’t think my situation can be bridged to anyone else’s unless they, too, cried for hours at the end of Gone Home. Unless they recoiled at the same kinds of awful decisions I made in some games. Unless they find online AND tabletop roleplay as enjoyable as I do.
Maybe the reason I had such a hard time bridging the character gap between Fable 2 and World of Warcraft is because of the single-player, immersive nature of it? But writing is a single-player game, so that can’t be it either. Perhaps I’ll never know, and I’ll just be happy the Xbox is gone, and my terrible deeds with it. Good riddance, Roxanne, I hardly knew you.
Although bummer how Jade Empire went with her.