Reinventing “Us”

I’ve staked out some pretty lofty territory for the role of creating stories together in real time—”roleplaying,” in a word—that territory being no less than the reclamation our shared humanity through mythmaking.

But what good does that actually do for us, really?

Well, the short answer is that through mythmaking we tell ourselves who we are. We burn patterns into ourselves that make it easier to enact specific values. Just because the Labors of Hercules and the Death of Cuchulainn have been replaced by the Tale of the Spider-Man and the Goblin of Green, and the Death of Gwendolyn the Fair doesn’t mean we’ve escaped from that patterning at the soul level. Oral-tradition cultures believe that without stories, you can’t know who you are. And indeed we’re shaped by the stories we’ve received, whether it’s Sam and Frodo, Elizabeth and Darcy, Han and Luke, Scarlett and Snake-eyes, or Jack and Sawyer. Our experiences our contextualized by reflexive associations like “oh, like on Simpsons,” whether we like it or not.

Of course, we like to think that in the brave, bold 21st Century, we’re freed from the bonds of tradition and able to reinvent ourselves as we each see fit. After all, we’re all individuals. But really, isn’t that all the more reason to consciously work to define healthy patterns for ourselves? We’re blessed now with more ability than at any time in history to consciously redefine who we are, so why not take advantage of that?

There are several means available for rewriting our internal pathways. Religion is one; therapy is another. But roleplaying—the act of telling stories to and with each other—is an immensely powerful tool. It works on us in much subtler ways than an explicitly educational activity, because it tells a story rather than preaching a message, and yet acts much more dynamically and relevantly than passively receiving a story. And storytelling helps us swallow the pill of self-revelation and transformation smoother than a purely therapeutic process. Stories are perfect vehicles for receiving messages and processing our existence, as they allow us to live and breathe a thing, to take it into ourselves instead of merely talking about it. And this is no mere dodge from living an experience “for real,” but rather works hand in hand with our actual life experience to help us process and contextualize it.

How this works in passive media is, you receive the story, and it stirs something inside you. You identify with it, or you’re challenged by it; either way you contextualize your own experiences by the story’s metric. When you encounter an experience that evokes that story for you, you’re likely to act in resonance with or defiance of that story’s pattern. That’s powerful enough in itself.

How it works in roleplaying is even more potent. We choose. We choose. Together. That’s so dead simple and obvious, yet mind-blowingly revolutionary.

Playing out an experience at the roleplaying table is a unique activity—not amateur therapy and not wannabe novelization–that has its own peculiar quality. As I said, we make the choices in the story, and if we choose with integrity to our own hearts and to the vision we see, then we will make something TRUE. Something authentic, not “factual”, not “what it would be like if…” but something valid about us within a shared fiction that reveals our souls and bolsters our hearts.

This is who we are, as humans. This is the birthright we cast aside when we commodify entertainment. This is the mythic force we can reclaim.



6 Responses to “Reinventing “Us””

  1. 1 Skull
    October 28, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    I think this cannot be said about all rp gamers. I have, and i will say it, meet many D&Der’s who seem to never to evolve as people from their time spent dungeon crawling and telling tales. Its not only just D&Ders who are the emotional and personality limited when it comes to game, it is just easier to point at them as a reference. I agree that I do get where you are coming from and that I as well feel this pull before, during, and after the game has begun. That my personal life, social skills, and personality have improved over the years with the help of RPing. But I like to think that some of that has to do with the fact that I started gaming with non-traditional gamers (Skaters, Punks, traditional goths, etc.).

  2. 2 storybythethroat
    October 29, 2009 at 9:08 am

    I know what’cha mean, Skull. Really I’m talking about what roleplaying games are capable of accomplishing, not necessarily what all people do use them for. And it’s worth noting that a roleplaying experience, just like religion, therapy or passive story, can certainly reinforce a negative or harmful pattern. It’s important to carefully evaluate our myths.

  3. 3 Zac in VA
    November 8, 2009 at 11:55 pm

    I agree with you pretty whole-heartedly about the power of stories.
    The upshot of this insight is that you (well, I) learn that certain stories can make us into people we don’t want to be.
    Music can do this too, as it also tells stories (people used to know this; have they forgotten? I had). Have you ever listened to a song because it’s one of your favorites, only to realize how awful it makes you feel? I’ve had scores of those ^_^ The trick is to see what a story does to you, your mood, your attitudes, whatever, and learn that you can turn it off, put it away, whatever the appropriately-verbed phrase might be. Like you said, it’s important to carefully examine the myths we put into ourselves, just like food or drugs.
    It’s tricky for me to tell how RP stories have affected my outlook, but it could well be that each story is only another page on a heap of paper: just like intuition, your story-derived outlook on life is very much a composite sketch.
    Another upshot is that we can stop being someone we *don’t* want to be when we stop listening to those old stories, and trade them off for new ones.
    Getting new friends does that – you hear their “stories”. Same for styles of music, kinds of movies, any narrative at all that we cling to out of sentiment, and so on.
    Very cool.
    I would sum up this idea by saying that it seems everybody is trying to find out the rules of Life: how does it all work? Every story we hear adds rules, because it shows a particular perspective. This is how propaganda works: by driving home a certain voice, perspective, fact, or falsehood, the propagandist drives out or ruins all others.

  4. 4 storybythethroat
    November 9, 2009 at 10:23 am

    Spot on, Zac. Everything feeds your heart and your head–EVERYTHING. Which is both wonderful and enriching–we’re nourished from so many sources, and we’re not alone in the world–and sobering and daunting, if you’re willing to take up the responsibility of evaluating your soul’s food sources! I think its worth it, obviously, but it’s tricky. What do you accept? Cut out? Eat regularly? Only have occasionally as an indulgent snack? Myself, I find there are so many rich sources that I can’t ever just sit down for a good “meal”–I’m always roving from banquet to banquet, picking at morsels.

  5. November 10, 2009 at 9:33 pm

    Nicely said. I am posting this to the Literary Role Playing Game Society of Westchester Yahoo Group because I find it very relevant to our core endevour – studying and discovering ways to make our RPG Words and experiences more literary quality events – with the ultimate goal of achieving just what you are alluding to – a deeper more fulfilling life through the actualization of our inner myths throug role playing. Thanks.

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