Sunday, August 3, 2008

RPG as Educational Tool on Social Issues

Well as I've mentioned before I'm running a roleplaying game, Conspiracy-X.

Roleplaying games back in my teens were considered by many as the ultimate evil, the very work of Satan. People were worried about the game leading vulnerable kids to become thieves murderers and occultists. Let me tell you a little about my experiences with it's actual effects on people.

Oh sure some people have done things in the imaginary world of roleplaying games thst are downright evil.. but of course it's storytelling, these people were playing characters unlike themselves. For many it has been quite therapeutic with good and decent people playing rather violent characters as a way to release anger and tension and frustration from their daily lives.

So I've tried an experiment.

Most of the people I'm gaming with at present are guys, and all in this game are. Gender in roleplaying is an interesting thing. Almost every male gamer I've ever met has played at least one female chartacter at some time but mostly play males. Also most female players start with making a male character for their first game and only build up to playing a female character after a few games. At least one guy who until recently (due to a move) played a female charcater in another game with the same people. In this game though all the characters correspond to the gender (though not in every case race) of the players.

So, noticing a bit of transphobia amongst most of this group of guys on discussions of Anime characters (apparently I seem to be fine though, goth gets you away with a lot of things including my long red nails) I decided to add a transgender NPC. It's been an interesting journey over several weeks. Discomfort was imediatly evident from a couple of characters (and their players) as they discovered the character was Trans despite , others managed to handle it fairly well. Since then some have warmed to the character, some have become curious about learning about her history, some have remained uncomfortable but are mellowing slowly. All are realising she's not a two-dimensional negative stereotype but a comple person. One of those with an initially transphobic comment about effeminate male anime characters has had hsi character become closer to the transgender woman npc than the cis-woman npc they also are often interacting with!

It's not an easy fix mind you. But with every game, with every gunfight, with every lifesaving first-aid diceroll, with every paranormal threat or cryptozoological mystery, with every alien abduction psychic spy and covert operation (remember this particular game is called Conspiracy X) they share or face together these guys are seeing a transgender person as a human being.

It's an interesting platform for exploring social issues. The line between good guy and bad guy can quickly be blurred as they discover the terrorist had loved ones who miss them or a legitimate grievance but an unjust response to it. The gunman on the other side of the firefight in the carpark might be just as much a patriot.

Having to make moral choices in games while being in the safe space of a fictional environment gives people breathing room to think about things. The 'quest' or 'mission' means they can't so easily run away from uncomfortable ideas but must deal with them, yet in a hypothetical and less confronting way.

The experiment is not over by far. Still as one character is deciding whether to fight against or embrace becoming a werewolf and the U.S. Secret Service agent is discovered to be a sadistic maniac once he enters combat and a possible romance is blossoming between a violent criminal with honour and a conscience and a DEA agent who'se struggling to remain hopeful and human in dark world of grey moral choices and grusome pragmatism there is a kind-hearted fictional transwoman who, because of some minor new-age powers and a history of abduction by aliens has been taken from the streets and is slowly educating, slowly forging friendship.

How much effect is this having on the players outside of the game? At least a little so far.

Which could be a good thing with two in the group being school teachers!

The trick with empathy is first seeing the other as human, then finding ways to relate to them. This roleplaying game is giving these people an opportunity that I dare say would not have happened if I came out to them, at least a couple for sure. And maybe this will lead me to that opportunity or maybe it won't. They already know I have a transexual friend at least. So hopefully one way or another I'm educating a little while I'm entertaining.

Let's see where it goes from here....

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