RPGs Are Good Therapy!
Today I want to get on my little soap box and tell you how I got into role playing games (RPGs) and all the awesome things I learned from playing them. These games were something that I discovered quite a while before the noticeable beginnings of my current journey but have had lasting impact on every aspect of my adult life. I had no idea that a game could help me so much with my mental health.
Honestly when I started I had no idea which way was up. It was originally my husband's idea, he had been introduced to a Star Wars RPG, aD20 based system, in college and has been jonesing ever since. As we moved into real adult life (meaning out of college) he kept trying to find a group to play with but we generally lived in small coastal towns in Oregon, not really the best places for finding such groups. Then, lo and behold, we moved to a larger town and found our way into a table top game store. A whole new world was before us and the opportunity, after getting to know the locals, to play our first RPG together.
We had known a bit about the table top gaming sphere, but only through Settlers of Catan, a game that we, now, like to call a "gateway game". We branched out into more games and quickly developed a decent collection of our own games...we had a problem, but it was a great problem to have.
The next logical step, it seemed, was to look into playing an RPG, but you need at least 3-5 people to do it justice. It was just us at the time and we are not extroverted people, so the thought of meeting more people to do a new thing was daunting. Fortunately for us, we, almost accidentally, happened upon an opportunity. There are two bigger RPGs that people seem to gravitate towards: Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder. I was first officially introduced to the Pathfinder system that was created by Paizo.
Once I got a feel for the idea, I was on board, but the only problem was all of the rules and stats. I couldn't keep them straight, it legitimately made me angry at times. I rage-quit more times than I could count making my first official character. Once I got through all the trials of making the character, though, the magic began to take hold. She was perfect. A Gnome Druid called Fijit Glynfang she had an owl companion called Whisper who was almost the same size as her.
She was the character I played in our first group playing through an adventure module called Giantslayer. I absolutely loved the story and often the combat because Fijit and Whisper kicked butt. My biggest problem came with the game master's (GM) style. Every time there was a question on rules, out came the rule book and everything came to what felt like a screeching, grinding halt. I was sad. This new idea of playing a character and telling a story cooperatively with others was exciting but I couldn't keep my interest engaged when there seemed to be such rigid constraints. I took on further responsibilities at work, deciding that I wouldn't spend what little time I did have free on something that wasn't truly fulfilling.
We had also recently made the acquaintance of group of wonderfully nerdy people with which we set out to start another game. This one also set in the world of Pathfinder but with the fantasy races and elements foisted upon the real world circa Boston around the time of the American Revolutionary War. Thankfully by this point we had found a program called Hero Lab (Lone Wolf Development) that took all the stress and rage out of character building. I was able to dream up whatever I wanted without worry so I chose to be a purple skinned Aasimar Cleric named Zrina (left). She was over 6ft tall and a little bit crazy, I loved playing as her. My experience in this game was night to day different and I absolutely loved it! The first few session were a beautiful train wreck of (in game) shocked parents, autodefenestration and an unexpected girl-friend, Twig Nimble, among other less important details...
Following the start of that campaign my husband was really into the idea of becoming a GM. And, so, my next foray into the Pathfinder system was begun, my dear, introverted husband at the helm. Turns out he is a fantastic GM and it was in this installment of my RPG history that my mental health was truly shaped by playing an angry, scrappy Eldritch Scrapper (Sorcerer Brawler) named Allie (Edith Joan Meckallister).
Things I Learned From My Most Loved Character
It is funny that as adults we feel like we don't have time to play (in the general sense) even when our time is our own outside of work. But things creep in, responsibilities, chores, work, etc. The most important thing I learned from RPGs is that we need to play. Not everyone needs to play RPGs but we all need to find our outlet otherwise we risk burning out and putting off the smaller things that still need doing. Allowing for leisure and balancing it with your responsibilities is the best way to take care of yourself. For me, this has often been making time for RPGs with friends but it can take many other forms.
The other, more nuanced things that I learned from Allie are not as clear, but I wanted to try to explain the magic. She and I were so different on the surface but as with every RPG character I've created there was a healthy portion of myself deep within. I believe that when you play as a character you've made, you are playing sides of yourself, you are learning new things about yourself and how to relate to them. Those, I think, are my best articulations of what Allie taught me. These ideas and growth have remained consistent with every new character I've created and played.
Allie was angry, sad, and misunderstood. She didn't want to make friends for fear that she'd end up the reason they died. In her past she had been the cause of her best friend's death and she vowed it would never happen again. In playing though this it took me a long time to realize that Allie embodied my anger, the anger that I didn't know I was living with. Honestly, Allie is the reason I even decided to go to therapy and work through a lot of stuff that I had unconsciously ignored. She showed me that side of myself and gave me some tools to learn and relate to myself in new ways. This was such a turning point in my life that I actually decided to get my first tattoo to commemorate the beginning of my own, real life adventure. It's wholly inspired by Allie. I wrote this regarding everything she's been for me:
She’s been through hell, is really angry but still wants to save the world. She’s my favorite RPG character and the reason I have gotten myself together these last few years. 2019 started right with a reminder: even amidst the anger/sadness/frustration you still should try to save the world. Thanks Allie 💜
More RPG Adventures
I have many more stories to tell about many more characters and systems I've played/am playing. But for now I leave you with this. Life is an adventure and it's best that we learn the most we can about ourselves along the way. I wholeheartedly feel that RPGs can help fill that need in a unique way. But I am also not saying that RPGs are the only thing needed. Please rely on your friends, family, and, if needed (though I highly recommend), a mental health professional. The key is that we are not alone and there are many ways to get where you want to go...even if you're not sure where that is yet!