Sunday, 30 May 2010

Everybody's wearing a disguise

One of the perennial topics of debate about role-playing games is the relationship between our character's behaviour and our own real-life personality. This is most commonly framed in terms of the bad acts our characters carry out, such as mass slaughter of enemies in battlegrounds. By any real world standards, these acts are evil, yet most roleplayers wouldn't decide that the player behind the character is also evil. We see it as acting, not a reflection of our true selves, so we can easily refrain from doing those things in real life.

Things get a little more tricky when you're dealing with our character's admirable traits, such as cleverness, courage or confidence. A skilled performer can feign these just as well as they can play the role of a villain, even though they don't possess these attributes in real life. In other words, Gabriel's theory could just as easily be seen as:

The interesting question then becomes: "if we can act out these positive roles in-game, why can't we do the same in our own lives?". Why can't I take on the role of my smooth-talking troll merchant outside the game and make some money?

It seems to me that, as with the question of acting out evil characters, the key difference is one of context. Many years ago, in a late-night whiskey-fueled discussion, a philosopher friend of mine challenged the whole notion of people having a personality. His argument (insofar as I can remember it, given the blurring effects of the booze), was that what people see as being characteristics of an individual are in fact the result of a complex interaction between that person and society. They do some things and get positive feedback, so do more of them. They do others and get negative responses and so do them less. If they had been in a different environment, their behaviour may have been completely different.

In other words, we act differently in-game because others around us are also acting differently. It's up to us whether we meet Mr Dickwad or Mr Darcy.

Thanks to Pilf of /moar alts for the inspiration for this post.


  1. I'm forgiving you for beating me to writing this post due to the Mr Darcy photo. That said I may yoink it and write something a little similar at some point!

  2. Go ahead - I'd be interested to see your take on it. I shall, of course, expect you to reciprocate with an equivalent female picture :)

  3. Oh that means I have to guess what sterotype best fits the male mind, which will also make me channel my inner emo... Oh noes!

  4. You definately have a point here... although I think I may need to expand on it a little :)

  5. Hmmm, I have no idea what price to exact from you, Gaz.

    I guess I'll just have to go with your judgement.

  6. I like to think it is ourselves that shine through, but only the extreme best and worst characteristics (Verbally abuse a tank? Check! Donate huge sums of money to newbies? Check!). The only sad part is that we seem to have no control over which sides come out when- possibly that's just me.

    And I'd be very frightened to see what Pilf comes up with (you know, she's a girl irl).

  7. *nods* This is completely true. Girl IRL here *points to self* ;)

  8. An intersting idea, but a *slight* flaw:

    If you interact with a person or group long enough, "faking" intelligence is pretty much impossible. In a short interaction? Certainly, but not when you have regulary daily questions and interaction to deal with.

    I would also think it would be impossible for certain types of sociopath to act "good".

    Why do I think this? a person can only perform acts & behaviors that are within their skillset. A normal person could never "act" like they can play basketball like Micahel Jordan, etc. If you don't have a certain skillset and/or innate ability, you can't fake it. (at least not once the actual skill/ability is shown in evidence)

    But a person can "act down" from their skills.

    In this way Stephen Hawking could probably act stupid, but Forrest Gump (if he existed) could not act like Einstein.

    Neat post though!

  9. @SlikRX

    I think you have a fair point when it comes to objectively measurable attributes, but it's a tougher issue when it comes to observer judgement. I work in a highly technical field and I've come across quite a few people making a living faking expertise in it.

    The real experts aren't fooled, but to a non-expert observer, who lacks the knowledge to distinguish between two conflicting views, it appears to be a disagreement between experts, which leaves them judging on issues they do understand, like apparent confidence.