Daily Archives: 12 October 2009

Dancing with the Dark

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Morality. A big topic, with even bigger answers. What is good? What is evil? Are evil actions ever justified? Can we ever truely overcome evil? If we can, should we? Do moral issues have a place in RPGs?

rpg blog carnival logoUndoubtedly, yes. One of the wonderful things about our hobby is that it allows us to explore the question of evil safely. It provides us a sandbox to try out actions, attitudes, and desires that are unacceptable in the real world.

What do I mean by “safely”? I mean that we can act out these “dark desires” in a pretend world on pretend people. No one really gets hurt; no one real dies. But the concept of “safely” goes even beyond that — it helps protect us from our own darker natures. By channeling those shadow feelings into a fictional character, we can separate ourselves from our own dark impulses. We don’t need to carry the burden of guilt those feelings often bring. They become “not us”, to a certain extent.

Wouldn’t it be better to eliminate those dark desires? To purge ourselves of them? Unfortunately both psychology and history tell us that’s really not possible. The best we can do is to repress them and try our best to forget they even exist. But what we hide still remains and colors our actions in ways we don’t anticipate … or even, often, see. But those impulses and desires — our shadow — need a safe outlet. And RPGs, as purely mental exercises, can give us that outlet. We can safely project our shadow onto our fictional characters, giving us an alternative to projecting it onto the people around us.

This has an added benefit: the more we explore the dark part of our souls, the better we can relate to other people. Through roleplaying, we learn that we, ourselves can be greedy. We can be lustful, gluttonous, murderous. When we recognize these things in ourselves, I believe we become more tolerant of them in other people. Which is not to say we condone those actions, or think they’re appropriate. But what we can do is recongize someone else’s struggle with their shadow side. We may even find it easier to treat them with compassion.

Through roleplaying, we can gain a better understanding of the full range of human emotions and desires. By becoming some one else for a time, we find we’re not as different from others as we may have imagined.

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