In roleplay, I have rarely gone for the prettiest of the pretty characters. At least in MMOs. In Pathfinder right now, I have a 75 year old woman I am playing, and I have been known to play women with a 7 Charisma who carry a burn scar on half their bodies and speak with a gruff voice.
I have my theories for why this is, but in fantastical worlds, I have never had to play up a fantasy of being beautiful. I have never had to throw myself into a pretend world of someone so pretty and gorgeous to enhance my experience, or for any sort of reason.
Those who know me from SWTOR may call foul, knowing my reporter/spy character as someone who flaunted her fame and looks for attention; however, she never used her beauty and famous face to take anyone home from the cantina. She used that fame and name recognition only to gain access to places she really wasn’t supposed to be going. Her looks were only secondary to the entire package.
My characters in other online games have been plain Janes or plain old hideous. From World of Warcraft with my character select screen full of decaying Forsaken, to my Harry Potter MUSH with my waifish Slytherin Prefect whose clothes never fit her, and finally on to The Secret World with my plain girl from Ohio who prefers her camouflage jacket to hide her thick middle, and wears the same jeans every day.
In the stories and novels I am working on, I rarely concentrate my narrative on a character’s appearance, choosing instead to choose one or two things to describe, and allowing the reader’s imagination to fill in the rest. In short, I don’t live vicariously through any character I create. And it’s a good thing, too. Most of these characters have terrible things happen to them, are terrible people, or just live in terrible situations or environments.
Stories aren’t good without conflict, and I don’t wish to throw any fantastical version of myself into any sort of turmoil when life has its own share of terrible stressors and drama that it throws at me daily. My husband, home and dog are my refuge, but the rest of the world throws curve balls at me daily. Just crossing the street sometimes is an adventure, but no one wants to read a vignette about a girl crossing the street, unless it ends in death, and I don’t want to write about a fantastical me getting hit by a speeding bus, thanks.
I suppose what I mean to say is: I don’t live vicariously through my characters in any way. I completely separate my characters from myself, allowing myself to write my role-played characters as if they are characters in an interactive story that I get to tell with other people.
Perhaps it’s because I have been doing this for nineteen years. I was 18 when I started roleplaying, and have been roleplaying ever since in one form or another. I didn’t start off this way, with this healthy separation of character and self, I used to put too much emotion and too much me into my characters, I used to live out these fantastical versions of my life both online and in LARPs. But as I grew up, I sensed the benefit of distancing myself from the characters beyond the keyboard and on the table. I stopped attending Vampire LARPs.
This, I think, allows me to tell a better story with my characters. Allows them to change. So that now, in my mid-to-late 30’s, I have finished off an arc with a character who went through the greatest amount of change in any online game I have played thus far. My characters go through huge arcs of change in tabletop all the time, but in an online realm, it’s harder for characters to change (for me, at least).
My reporter/spy character’s story is at a book ending right now. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll open up a new book on her. But with the huge change she went through, I completed her arc, with minimal personal drama for me. I thoroughly enjoyed all of her interactions which brought her to the “book’s” end.
Without that healthy separation of self vs character, I don’t think I could have written the things for her that I did. Written the change, made the decisions to have her change. Take her away from the RP hotspots, make her into something different and something new, not the same old same old. Not fallen into a comfort zone.
Characters should be written and not lived.
I couldn’t agree more.