What Role-Playing Has Taught Me About My Identity

You Are Who You Pretend To Be - Kurt Vonnegut
Image Source: Tom Banwell on Etsy

Have you ever watched a movie, and fell so in love with a character that you wished you could be them, even for a day? Have you ever been entranced by a comic book and imagined the life you’d lead if you took on the identity of one of its superheroes? Or maybe you know someone in your life who positively enchants you, with a super high Charisma score, and you just need to be around them.

I was cripplingly shy as a kid. I was terrified to approach other people for the simplest things, like asking for directions. I had mild low self esteem, and was intimidated by everyone. I mimicked any character I liked on TV, or in a movie, due to a lack of any sort of self identity. And iconic literary characters like Anastasia Krupnik and Harriet the Spy, who kept thorough identity journals, would help me to start my own, and write list after list of who I wanted to be, and who I ultimately became.

At the confusing age of 12, I ended up being thrown under the bus by my mother, who approached a girl and asked her where she bought her shirt. She then told the girl that I was actually the one who liked it, but that I was too shy to ask her where she bought it. The girl then walked up to me, very nonchalant, and said “I used to be shy, but then I decided to overcome it.” This opened a door in my mind that taught me that being shy was something I could not only overcome, but something I could control.

In high school, as many of us do, I struggled with my identity. I found myself, along with my friends, mimicking the trends of the day, wearing what our friends wore, and assembling entire outfits based off of mannequins at the mall. I was swimming in a pool of styles and identities that were a Frankenstein of things I’d seen my friends and role models do. We all struggled to find ourselves in high school, so I don’t imagine anyone has trouble relating to this idea. What I would soon learn would help me to build the character concept I’d always wanted to play.

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I began to LARP when I was 17 years old. For those of you who don’t know, LARPing stands for Live Action Role-Playing. It’s sort of like this, and this, but mostly like this. You create a persona, and become them, in an improvisational fashion, in an immersive fantasy world. It’s a real life role-playing and acting experience, mixing the mechanics of a tabletop dice game with the reality of an entire world full of costumed characters, all interacting with you in real time. It’s pretty dorky cool.

In addition to LARPing, I’ve played tabletop role-playing games and online games throughout my teenage and adult life. Classics like Dungeons & Dragons, Serenity, and Star Wars. All of these games require you to design and role-play a character, at a table with other people who are also role-playing, while you play the actual game.

In college, I heard a quote that solidified for me what would soon become me crafting my own identity “You are who you pretend to be,” a quote from author Kurt Vonnegut. This is what our identity is. We decide who we admire, who we strive to be like, who are favorite characters are, and we craft an identity that we role-play throughout our lives. I began developing a personal brand and identity that would give my life a sense of purpose and self validation.

When you role-play, you become absorbed in an idea that you create. I could craft the persona I wanted, devise a perfect character, and become that person. Role-playing is an experience of complete and total mental immersion. It’s a little bit like this.

And the end result is a character we play every day who becomes our own. The campaign setting is your life, and you get to control your stats. I myself knew my character would have a high Charisma score, higher than average Wisdom and Intelligence, a low Strength score, average Dexterity and average Constitution scores. So that’s me. How about you?

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