Emotional Spillover – Handling Real Emotions in an Unreal Situation, Part 1

Celebrim

Legend
Everyone experiences emotions at the table. That’s why we play. But not all emotions are healthy or wanted. Most experienced Role Players can probably recall times when they experienced unwanted emotions, or when the emotions that they had experienced in play like frustration, disappointment, or jealousy influenced the way that the behaved both in the and out game, in the worse cases altering the way we treated real people based on emotions we had experienced but which resulted from events that hadn’t actually happened.

Method acting is a technique where an actor attempts to inhabit a character so that as completely as possible they emotional identify with the character and think like the character. Many role-players, especially experienced role-players, consciously or unconsciously adopt method acting techniques to inform their play of a character, allowing them to make choices for that character that they would never themselves approve of, and to say things in that character’s voice that they would never themselves say in the same situation. Game Masters often become quite skilled in these techniques, and are able to switch mental states rapidly to play a variety of different characters with different motives and beliefs, sometimes skillfully altering their mannerism and voices to match the character. But people who engage in method acting will affirm that if you inhabit a character for too long, it requires an equally conscious effort to drop that character and drop that character’s habits and return to the mental state you had before you tried so hard to be that character. There is a danger that needs to be acknowledged in overly identifying with a character to the extent that it could alter your behavior or personality, in either the short or the long term.

In this essay, I’m going to endeavor to discuss some of the different ways that emotions in the game can spill out of the game and alter the participant’s behavior, and equally that coming to the table with a particular emotional mindset can spill out into the game causing you to play in a way that is very different than how you’ve normally animated that character. And I want to pay particular attention to the fact that while all of these experiences have in common that they are emotional, they come from different sources, have different expressions, and cause different experiences in the player – something healthy and sometimes not healthy.

To begin with, emotional responses from game play can be divided into having one of two root causes. They are either a response to the fiction created in the game play, or they are a response to the process of the game play itself. Let’s consider one of the later cases first.

One of the strongest emotional responses that a player is ever likely to have is to the unwanted permanent death, dismemberment, or degradation of their character – particularly one that they have invested a lot of time with. The primary source of this emotion is not empathy with the character, so that they are grieving for the character in the sense of grieving for a love one or experiencing grief in response to a tragic loss. Nor is the emotion here usually the result of the person being unable to distinguish the character from themselves or otherwise being unable to distinguish between the fiction and the reality. The reason I suggest this is that the same sense of deep loss is felt by players that play isometric video games for characters that they have no self-identification with at all and for which they’ve taken no steps to personify the character as anything other than a game piece. One only needs to watch a player lose a character playing a video game in ‘hard core’ mode to see the same emotions familiar to a pen and paper role-playing game. And this sense of loss isn’t mitigated by playing the character in pawn stance or otherwise putting emotional distance between yourself and the character. The reason for all of this is I think the primary source of this emotion in the vast majority of cases is the same as a person experiences whenever they lose any valued possession. If person wrecks a car or loses a phone, or tragically loses a house, a good deal of the pain involved is in the loss of possessions that were cherished often quite validly by the person. And while it seems silly to equate the loss of a wholly non-tangible good like a RPing character with the loss of home, if we think about the character in terms of the time investment sunk in the creation of that character, which can amount to hundreds or even thousands of hours, the economic value alone – however unrealizable - of that character to the player easily can amount in the thousands of dollars. Add to this what we casually call ‘sentimental value’, and it’s easy to see how much pain losing a character as a possession can be. It hurts. If you’ve been there, you know how much it hurts. I’ve seen grown men shed tears over that sort of pain, and deeply sympathized with the hurt that they are going through.

As an aside, one thing I’ve noticed in recent table top role playing games is a trend toward sheltering the player fully from this sort of pain. Many games seem to promote table agreements or have actual rules where nothing can harm the character without the character’s consent, or to reduce the number of ways in which the character can be permanently harmed to the extent that permanent harm is unlikely if the game is played as the designers intended. I’m not really sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, I’ve felt the bitter sting of the loss of a character, or on setbacks to the character that erased hundreds of hours of progress. On the other hand, part of me thinks that efforts to reduce this sort of pain just encourage players to lower the bar on the sort of hardships that they are willing to endure, and encourage a lack of grit and fortitude with respect to play that ends up narrowing play to a just a few different aesthetics. These trends however are probably not permanent. In mainstream video games, similar trends to ensure low difficulty levels and a lack of permanent loss were seen, but there are also counter-trends toward more difficult “hardcore” – if you would “old school” - games that fulfill the aesthetics of play like “challenge” seen in older games were high difficulty curves were in part essential to stretch the limited content that could be stored in memory.

By way of contrast to the loss of a player character, the permanent death of an NPC in a game has a very different emotional source. And I’m speaking specifically here of NPC’s that aren’t primarily retainers or extensions of the character’s resources, whose death at least in part is like defacement of the character – although what I’m will discuss here can also apply to those characters, leading to a double emotional whammy. When an NPC dies, they aren’t a possession of the player. Most often NPCs that die in the game are simple ‘monsters’ to overcome over which there is no particular emotions triggered by the event beyond the feeling of self-validation that comes with overcoming a challenge. But some NPCs become enough a part of the game, that they begin to feel alive to the participants. We begin to think of the NPC as if it were real in some fashion, and we feel emotions toward that NPC which are quite independent from the emotions we feel for the character’s creator. This should be familiar to anyone that has read a book, or seen an emotionally powerful movie. We know it is not real, but the emotions that we experience are just as real as if the person we are experiencing them for was real. In the game, this means that an enemy we find particularly distasteful, or annoying, or clever, when that enemy is finally defeated, we feel a frisson of joy above and beyond what we would experience for overcoming a challenge alone. It’s not unusual for players to voice vindictives toward the departed through their character which are an echo of the feelings of the player. On the opposite extreme, a player can feel affection for an NPC, feel a crush on fictional character as potential romantic partner, and even experience feelings of love for a character. When NPCs that have been loved die, the feelings can vary from a vague feeling of loss and sadness to deeply traumatic grief. All these feelings arise out of the player's capacity for empathy, and I think to a certain extent do the player credit as I don’t feel the ability to employ the imagination to gain sympathy for a fictional character is that different from the ability to employ your imagination to feel compassion for a real person. But on the other hand, there is an element to this which involves a certain degree of confusion between real and unreal, and between the actual and the imaginary. And there are certainly some risks involved in transferring intense feelings to a character which is not only imagined, but often a figment of or fragment of some other person that has to animate that character.

The reality that there is or can be confusion at the emotional level between what is real and what is imagined, even in situations where the person rationally understands that none of it is real, is something that role players have to be prepared to deal with in order to keep their hobby healthy. In the case of the loss of a character, most of the loss experienced is the loss of something real – however intangible. Those feelings are real and understandable. In some cases the feelings are appropriate, and just like the feelings that you may experience when choosing to read a sad book or watch a scary movie, they can be entirely desirable. But they aren’t always appropriate and in some cases they can be very unwelcome, coming over the person entirely outside their rational control.

Phobias triggered in response to imagined stimuli are an extreme example of very unwelcome and unhealthy emotion over which a person may only a small amount of control. Regardless of the rational distance that the person may wish to keep between themselves and the fiction, scenes in the fiction can prompt the recovery of memories or the invention of stimuli in the mind’s eye sufficient to trigger a phobic response equivalent to having directly experienced the stimuli. A person experiencing real uncontrollable terror is not experiencing the small thrills experienced by someone that watches a scary movie or rides a roller coaster at an amusement park, but very real and unpleasant distress in response to imagined danger. Fortunately, phobias that intense are rare, but they are a concern to keep an eye out for. In less extreme cases, imagining interacting with the source of the phobia can help some people desensitize themselves to their fear, but for a variety of reasons it is not recommended to treat casual role playing a source of therapy, and even less recommended to try to force that sort of confrontation on a person which is not only a cruel thing to do, but may well do more harm than good. Most people with phobias have an understandable reluctance to confide their phobia in others. GM masters are advised to as discretely as possible find out if any of their players have a phobia, and then keep that information confidential unless the player wants to disclose it. Beyond that, accommodating people with special emotional needs is beyond the scope of this document, but phobias are an important reminder that the emotional line between what is real and what isn’t can be very blurry.

While everyone may not experience a phobia, and even people who have phobias may not experience them in play, every serious role player will eventually experience some sort of emotional spillover from gameplay that is in part a failure to separate fiction from reality and to appropriately return from that imagined space. But again, it is always important to distinguish between feelings that arise out of the fiction, and feelings that arise out of the process of the game play. Consider a situation where the evening’s entertainment is from the perspective of one player not going particularly well for whatever reason. Perhaps the GM is poorly prepared. Perhaps the other players aren’t focused on the game and the player would like to engage with it more strongly. Perhaps the player has had a lengthy streak of bad luck with the dice. Perhaps the player’s character has few skills to contribute to overcoming the problems presented to the party, or perhaps another player is being obnoxious in some fashion. All these experiences are real events that can contribute to real feelings of annoyance and frustration. They do not represent examples of failure to separate fiction from reality, though they still result in unhealthy coping strategies or anti-social behavior. It’s not unusual for example for a frustrated player to vent his frustration by trying consciously or unconsciously to wreck the game, either for himself by making self-destructive choices for his character – choices that can later feel devastating once the frustration has been put aside – or for the game as a whole. In essence, the player is engaged in acting out within the game using his character to express his frustration, instead of acting out or otherwise giving voice to their real feelings.

But the reverse can happen as well. If a player deliberately inhabits a character that is morose or angry as a result of in game events and is acting out of those feelings in game, this can actually lead to the player feeling ennui, anger, and acting out those feelings out of game, even as at some level he experiences himself enjoying playing the game simply because the player begins to act in the way that would be appropriate for the character. I have personally experienced this playing a character who was a self-medicating bipolar medical student, that after playing that character intensely, I started thinking like the character and feeling emotional distance and emotional fatigue even when I was no longer being that character. Simply inhabiting a character in despair and failing to cope with it made it more difficult for me to cope with my reality. And the situation just gets worse if you’re experiencing emotional struggles in the real world, and can become a vicious feedback cycle were your allowing your play to impact your emotions and your emotions to impact your play until you kind of get lost on who you are and what you should be emotionally focused on. These sort of symptoms are well known to method actors, but role-players who experience them after arriving at method acting techniques independently may be even more ill-prepared than normal to deal with the fact that conditioning your psyche to think and feel in a particular way can result in short and long term changes to your identity.

One of the greatest emotional dangers of role playing that has been recognized in the community for a long time is inhabiting a single character so intensely and with such self-identification that the character basically becomes the person’s identity. In my experience, the majority – maybe even the overwhelming majority – of players are either incapable of playing anyone but themselves, or completely unwilling to play anyone but themselves. It is probably worthwhile to honestly ask yourself if you fall in that category. Regardless of what is on their character sheet or what system is being played, the character always has the same characteristics arising from the player’s real characteristics. This is particularly common in experience in the LARPing community or in equivalent online roleplaying communities, where a player may effectively inhabit an avatar that is some sort of idealized self or some sort of romanticized alternative self continuously for years and be primarily known in those communities by their assumed identity. While we can hardly blame people for acts of escapism like that especially when it leads to fellowship and affirmation, I think people ought to be on the lookout for that sort of behavior where the lines between who you are get blurred to the point that it’s really hard to know where you stop and your character begins. When your friends refer to you by your alternate identity, and you tend to identify yourself with your alternative identity, and almost your human interaction and your most fulfilling human interaction is filtered through a fictional lens, I think it’s good to be aware of that in yourself and take breaks from it, and I think it’s good to take rather long out of character breaks as a group to just get to know each other as people. I’m not one that thinks RPing is unhealthy, and on the contrary I think it can be really healthy. But I’ve also seen a lot of cases that could have been healthier. One of the biggest problems with over attachment to a character is that there is basically no separation between in character and out of character concerns. The player’s voice is always the characters voice and vice a versa. Fiction and reality are completely blurred.

There has lately been some warranted concern over the sort of emotional damage that one player can do to another either carelessly or through malice. But in my experience we don’t pay nearly enough attention to the fact that we are usually our own worst enemy, and usually the one doing the most experimenting on ourselves when we roleplay. And I think we would do good to discover healthy habits for role-playing and instruct ourselves in them and passed them on to others who were interested before we too much worried about the damage others could do. It is comparatively easy to put up emotional armor against actions by other people, but we are often careless of the fact we are doing un-licensed psychotherapy on ourselves and that we might need to step back from some of the emotional highs that can result from that and gets some perspective on things.

Sorting out what is real for us and reasonable for us to experience in the context of an intense role-playing game where we are inhabiting a fictional personality, which we may or may not be self-identifying with, and while we are interacting with other people who likewise are inhabiting fictional personalities who may or may not be the self-avatars of that person is a challenge even for a fully healthy and emotionally mature person. We have to pay careful attention to what we are feeling and why, and whether the source of what we are feeling is external to the fiction or internal to the fiction. A ruling made in a way that we feel is unfair can result in feelings of anger toward a referee. Another player’s spotlight can result in feelings of jealousy toward that player. Someone can be a complete jerk and say crazy stupid hurtful things. These are feelings that are resulting from the process of play, which is a real human social interaction. We shouldn’t try to deal with those feelings the way we would deal with feelings arising from any real social interaction. It’s not a license to be dysfunctional back, and our feelings however real may not do us credit and may not be healthy, but we should never let anyone including ourselves talk us into believing those feelings arise out of the fiction. We shouldn’t for example pretend, that when we are jealous over the division of treasure and don’t think we got our fair share, that we are just acting out the feelings of jealousy that the character would have in that situation. It well be true that the character would also be jealous in this situation, but don’t blame the character for your headspace. On the opposite side, if a player has

On the other hand, feelings that arise out of the fiction should be labeled as such and responded to as such, so that we can let go of them when the game stops. If our character argues in character with another PC over some sort of critical in world point, because that is what the characters would do, we should take care to make sure we aren’t arguing with the player and that we are arguing in character and not transferring to closely our own beliefs into the argument. Likewise, the other player should afford us the same curtesy. If the characters involved are just self-avatars, then it’s really hard to create any distance between two characters having an argument and two players having an argument. If you have overly identified with the character, then if someone is arguing with the character, they are arguing with you and it’s easy to lose perspective. If you know that a player is playing a deliberately flawed character, and the player plays that flaw the proper thing is to cue on that flaw in character. That may be entirely appropriate drama. But that annoyance should not transfer over to the player, unless you really think the chosen flaw is too distasteful or annoying to tolerate – and if you do, getting in an argument in character to express those feelings is inappropriate.

This gets us to the tricky bit. Because even though it is true that there is and ought to be a separation between the player and the character, that separation is never complete. There is always some of ourselves in any character, and we are the ones animating that character. Even a GM needs to put some boundaries around what NPCs – even the villainous sort – might do or how they might behave, and in particular how he might communicate that, in order to keep play within the bounds of good taste and to ensure the primary goal of everyone enjoying the game is kept in sight. But this standard applies even more to the PC’s, who are inhabiting characters in a much more intimate way and for much longer periods, and in a way where it is very difficult to separate player goals like the preservation of the character from character goals, like staying alive. Players should always be mindful that the primary goal is for everyone to have fun. The primary goal is not to be true to a fictional character. True skill in roleplaying a character is often shown when there are several choices the fictional character might take, and the player invents a plausible cover for why the player has chosen one that leads to the greatest enjoyment for the group. This isn’t to say that the player should eschew intraparty conflict or being difficult, as intraparty dynamics like that can be fun. What it is saying that all such acts should be part of a game, and that no is trying to ‘win’ in the game except that such win is fun for everyone. It is never a valid excuse for being a jerk to say, “Well, I was just playing my character.” For one thing, in my experience this is almost always at minimum self-deception. Almost always, when hear this excuse, the real truth is the player was letting his own emotions spill out and control both himself and the character. The core of all functional intraparty conflict is that it is consensual and enjoyed by everyone involved, with all the participants knowing that it is just a sort of play and eventually the story will be moved forward and not stopped when the fun is wrung out of the moment.

So even more so, “I am just playing my character” is not a valid excuse for acting out romantic or sexual impulses that are originating from you the person. Nor, having been caught in the act of doing so by a partner, is it a valid excuse to say “I was just playing my character”, and accuse the person who has caught us of being the one who is failing to distinguish fantasy from reality. There is at some level of involvement no difference between a pretend romantic relationship or a pretend erotic relationship and a romantic or erotic relationship. If you are in an in character a romantic or erotic relationship with a player, you are almost certainly in a romantic or erotic relationship with that person to some degree. The other person isn't having trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality, you have already blurred that line. Do not pretend that there is some sort of separation from the real world if both players are receiving some sort of sexual feelings or gratification from erotic word play or in character flirtation. It is generally a good idea to avoid any sort of romantic play with anyone who isn’t your partner if you are in a committed relationship, and to the extent it is allowed it should be done very publicly and with strict boundaries on how it plays out. Romantic play should probably not be initiated with another player without prior agreed consent and some discussion of boundaries. Humans are just terrible at drawing sharp lines with respect to romantic or erotic feelings, and you should probably just assume you will not be able to do so.

This is probably the reason why prohibitions against romantic or sexual content being brought up games or played out in games are one of the more common social contracts. (On the other hand, LARPS and online text based games such as those in the family of MU*’s often seem to be run primarily to generate such play.)

Another of the most difficult things to create separation on are things which involve real world injuries and injustices we have faced. This is a topic that has gotten a lot of discussion lately, and I mostly think it comes down to an issue of trust.

Just speaking for myself, I run a homebrew consensus fantasy world loosely inspired by the cultures of real world history, thrown together in an anachronistic hodge podge drawing from the whole kitchen sink of human culture. So along with all that is beautiful in the world’s cultures, I’m also looking to engage with all that is ugly in them, and all the common cruelty that is part of everyone’s shared inheritance of human history. That means that the world contains slavery, sexism, racism, and a lot of other horrible ills. By including them in the world, I’m not trying to endorse those things at all. By all means be offended by them. I want to some extent to have characters step on up to those evils as a challenge. I enjoy heroic play by players, and every triumph when they succeed in making the fictional world a better place is one I inwardly rejoice in. I don’t intend to either white wash real world problems or to trivialize them, but I also don’t intend to turn them into paper problems that can be resolved by simply sticking to what is right like in a 30 minute after school TV episode, or to have the cardboard villains of something like ‘The Authority’. So I would be offended and not particularly well disposed to be sympathetic if your response to that was to assume that the fictional world with its brokenness represented the world as I wanted it to be. The world I would want to be would no longer need heroes. Nonetheless, despite the fact I would be offended by your assumption that I was endorsing those evils, I probably would be sympathetic to the fact that you had trouble containing your emotions in the fiction if you yourself had been a victim of specific injustices, if you’d just talk about it.

But whether you experience this sort of content as an attack or as healthy exploration I think to a large degree comes down to whether you trust the content creator. If you think about movies dealing with difficult themes, like say the movie ‘Selma’, or ‘12 Years a Slave’, how you respond depends I think less on the particular things that are in the story than it does on whether you trust the content creator. If I told you that there was a movie where Africans were repeatedly depicted as animals and acting like animals, your first instinct might be to be offended. But if I told you that movie was ‘Black Panther’, you’d probably realize that the depiction was intended to be positive, and respectful of very real cultural beliefs translated into an unreal and fantastic setting. Now I’m not saying that there is no difference between a negative depiction and a respectful and positive depiction – because clearly there is - but I am saying that our emotional response to even a positive or well-intentioned depiction often depends on whether we first realize that the depiction is positive and that depends on trust. If we don’t’ feel that trust, then we are going to assume the worst and we will easily be able to find the worst. This is what I call the ‘Jeff Foxworthy Principle’. Content and criticism that might be exceedingly offensive if it was originating from an outgroup, becomes only a gentle and hilarious ribbing if coming from a figure that clearly has affection for the group and in particular is identifying as a member of the group.

I think that this is a big thing that content creators need to keep in mind when considering the emotional impact of controversial or sensitive topics. If you are gaming with friends and you have or have won their trust, it’s much easier to introduce sensitive topics and get positive responses, even if the details are gritty and difficult. But you are gaming for strangers who have no reason to trust you, you need to back off and avoid sensitive topics to a large extent or all together, because not handling those topics in the most sensitive of ways in that situation, regardless of how good your ultimate intent might be, probably won’t go that well. People will respond to you emotionally, and many cases you’ll just not be in a position to defend your actions. They may or may not have been right to react in that way, but it’s not going to really matter at that point.

And for people on the receiving end of controversial or sensitive topics or content, my advice would be to try to extend that trust as much as possible, possibly further than they deserve, out of charity. You would for your friend. Let it be undeserved rather than risk being uncharitable. The reality is that if you aren’t alone and if there are no physical threats to your being, you can probably armor yourself sufficiently against people disrespecting you or your person enough to risk human interaction. You don’t have to sit there and take abuse, and if you are in any danger you should just leave, but you should be mindful as to whether your reaction is appropriate or whether you are making unwarranted assumptions. Communication and clarification should be your first recourse.

The situation with emotional spillover and the complicated task of disentangling real emotions with real and unreal sources, only gets worse if there is another player with an unhealthy mindset, unhealthy coping strategies, unhealthy emotions, or worse a player that is deliberately manipulating other players emotions for in game or out of game benefit. I’ve tried to direct most of my advice in this document at how one should endeavor to behave oneself, and not towards how we need to react toward breaches of trust and how to guard against potential abusive behavior. That is an important topic in its own right, and there are several others I’ve obviously overlooked, but since this essay is already rambling and overlong, I’ll stop for now, and open up the floor to discussion.

Have you ever experienced emotional spillover in your own gaming? If that spillover was unwelcome, however severe was it? How did you recover? Have you seen people in your gaming group have undesired or unhealthy emotional spillover? Have you gamed with any emotional spillover addicts for whom having large emotional experiences was their primary aesthetic of play?
 
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Celebrim

Legend
People should probably win some sort of (booby?) prize if they successfully read all of that, but it's an important topic and I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about it, and didn't get nearly the outlet to talk about it that I wanted.
 

evileeyore

Mrrrph
Good write up. I have a few (maybe even only one*) quibbles here and there, but overall the topic and it's presentation are one I agree with.

However I suspect that this thread will lay largely unanswered as we are "too toxic" to be seen being politely discussed with, let alone having the "moral betters" be seen agreeing in any way.


* And I'll try to remember to come back to it later and have a discussion when I've got time. OT has been real this week.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Good write up. I have a few (maybe even only one*) quibbles here and there, but overall the topic and it's presentation are one I agree with.
Feel free to quibble.

As for the rest, I legitimately want to talk and have always wanted to talk about these issues. But I really don't want to bring any grievances from other threads or other topics into this.

And I'll try to remember to come back to it later and have a discussion when I've got time.
Looking forward to it.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
However I suspect that this thread will lay largely unanswered as we are "too toxic" to be seen being politely discussed with, let alone having the "moral betters" be seen agreeing in any way.
Dude, being snide sends the signal that you are already carrying a grudge, cheesed off, not interested in being respectful. So, you just lost the right to complain, and are doing Celebrim exactly zero favors.

For folks looking past your outburst... the problem will be that, having just butted heads with others in the last thread... what's the point in talking now? Nothing has fundamentally changed.
 

Celebrim

Legend
what's the point in talking now? Nothing has fundamentally changed.
I opened this thread in hopes that there might be someone who might want to talk about the topics that were raised but never actually discussed in the other thread, because we got derailed by tangential issues.

So far I have two posters that don't, and would still rather butt heads with others.

As I said, really don't want to bring any grievances from other threads or other topics into this. How is it that I can not escalate by quoting what he said that was wrong, but you had to? I was trying to give him an opportunity to edit his post and back down. Are you only here to fight?
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Are you only here to fight?
I am not here to fight at all. I have a bit of an obligation to address things that will create arguments - like sniping commentary. I was doing so relatively gently, and giving reasons.

Do remember - you are being given some leeway here. Normally, having been removed from one thread on a subject, you'd get slapped down for starting a new one so soon. We're willing to give you some space, but only some.
 

Phion

Explorer
Read it all.
I actually had one character named Lukas Greenwood, a half elf monster hunter (fighter with the unearthed arcana pdf). I typically play a goofball but wanted to try something more serious. Lukas had always wanted to be a paladin but was never chosen or oath never accepted so he settled as a Blood hunter ( a line of hunters. Think Zorro). He always resented paladins because he thought he was not good enough for the role. To be honest he is a complete edgelord but a lot of people like his gruff no nonsense approach and I think its fair to say I can play that well without being too cringey.

Now here was the problem. He was hypercritical, intense, pragmatic, cold, efficient and sometimes cruel. I think somewhere in the back of my mind I made him basically batman as I would investigate a lot as well. On a certain level all those traits can be described about me when I am at my worst and playing a character like that brought it out of me. I found myself resenting the other players because they were just slowing me down, how could they not see how to complete that puzzle, why did they not kill that person before they became a problem, why have they made their character so poorly, why do they forget all their spells+ features? Thats not how I typically think but with that critical lens I was causing tension at the table with just my aura. The solution was simple. I stopped using him as a PC and now use him as a NPC. I stopped before it went to far when I made the connection and told people why I needed to get away from that character, they understood and I played a old dwarf cleric with memory issues who yells at people to get off his lawn and we all lived happily ever after.
 

Celebrim

Legend
@Phion : Good story.

Yeah, I think there is some danger in basing a character out of your worst traits and baser instincts. If there are thing you know you are prone to anyway, if you make a character that acts out those things, it probably would be harder to put down the habit of the character, just because of what you are giving free reign to. I found I had that problem really in my fiction, where I needed to avoid first person characters that were ugly versions of myself.
 

Phion

Explorer
@Celebrim

Yup you are correct, it was quite unintentional on my part but I think there are only so many characters in you and they all have a bit of yourself in. I understood he was the part of me that had big aspirations but was trying to become something he was not destined/ designed for. He wanted to be that protector like a paladin but he could get the same outcome but he had to do it a different way. Basically he had a poor connection to the weave so he could never of been a paladin anyway but he only found this later on.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
Everyone experiences emotions at the table. That’s why we play. But not all emotions are healthy or wanted. Most experienced Role Players can probably recall times when they experienced unwanted emotions, or when the emotions that they had experienced in play like frustration, disappointment, or jealousy influenced the way that the behaved both in the and out game, in the worse cases altering the way we treated real people based on emotions we had experienced but which resulted from events that hadn’t actually happened.

Method acting is a technique where an actor attempts to inhabit a character so that as completely as possible they emotional identify with the character and think like the character. Many role-players, especially experienced role-players, consciously or unconsciously adopt method acting techniques to inform their play of a character, allowing them to make choices for that character that they would never themselves approve of, and to say things in that character’s voice that they would never themselves say in the same situation. Game Masters often become quite skilled in these techniques, and are able to switch mental states rapidly to play a variety of different characters with different motives and beliefs, sometimes skillfully altering their mannerism and voices to match the character. But people who engage in method acting will affirm that if you inhabit a character for too long, it requires an equally conscious effort to drop that character and drop that character’s habits and return to the mental state you had before you tried so hard to be that character. There is a danger that needs to be acknowledged in overly identifying with a character to the extent that it could alter your behavior or personality, in either the short or the long term.

In this essay, I’m going to endeavor to discuss some of the different ways that emotions in the game can spill out of the game and alter the participant’s behavior, and equally that coming to the table with a particular emotional mindset can spill out into the game causing you to play in a way that is very different than how you’ve normally animated that character. And I want to pay particular attention to the fact that while all of these experiences have in common that they are emotional, they come from different sources, have different expressions, and cause different experiences in the player – something healthy and sometimes not healthy.

To begin with, emotional responses from game play can be divided into having one of two root causes. They are either a response to the fiction created in the game play, or they are a response to the process of the game play itself. Let’s consider one of the later cases first.

One of the strongest emotional responses that a player is ever likely to have is to the unwanted permanent death, dismemberment, or degradation of their character – particularly one that they have invested a lot of time with. The primary source of this emotion is not empathy with the character, so that they are grieving for the character in the sense of grieving for a love one or experiencing grief in response to a tragic loss. Nor is the emotion here usually the result of the person being unable to distinguish the character from themselves or otherwise being unable to distinguish between the fiction and the reality. The reason I suggest this is that the same sense of deep loss is felt by players that play isometric video games for characters that they have no self-identification with at all and for which they’ve taken no steps to personify the character as anything other than a game piece. One only needs to watch a player lose a character playing a video game in ‘hard core’ mode to see the same emotions familiar to a pen and paper role-playing game. And this sense of loss isn’t mitigated by playing the character in pawn stance or otherwise putting emotional distance between yourself and the character. The reason for all of this is I think the primary source of this emotion in the vast majority of cases is the same as a person experiences whenever they lose any valued possession. If person wrecks a car or loses a phone, or tragically loses a house, a good deal of the pain involved is in the loss of possessions that were cherished often quite validly by the person. And while it seems silly to equate the loss of a wholly non-tangible good like a RPing character with the loss of home, if we think about the character in terms of the time investment sunk in the creation of that character, which can amount to hundreds or even thousands of hours, the economic value alone – however unrealizable - of that character to the player easily can amount in the thousands of dollars. Add to this what we casually call ‘sentimental value’, and it’s easy to see how much pain losing a character as a possession can be. It hurts. If you’ve been there, you know how much it hurts. I’ve seen grown men shed tears over that sort of pain, and deeply sympathized with the hurt that they are going through.

As an aside, one thing I’ve noticed in recent table top role playing games is a trend toward sheltering the player fully from this sort of pain. Many games seem to promote table agreements or have actual rules where nothing can harm the character without the character’s consent, or to reduce the number of ways in which the character can be permanently harmed to the extent that permanent harm is unlikely if the game is played as the designers intended. I’m not really sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, I’ve felt the bitter sting of the loss of a character, or on setbacks to the character that erased hundreds of hours of progress. On the other hand, part of me thinks that efforts to reduce this sort of pain just encourage players to lower the bar on the sort of hardships that they are willing to endure, and encourage a lack of grit and fortitude with respect to play that ends up narrowing play to a just a few different aesthetics. These trends however are probably not permanent. In mainstream video games, similar trends to ensure low difficulty levels and a lack of permanent loss were seen, but there are also counter-trends toward more difficult “hardcore” – if you would “old school” - games that fulfill the aesthetics of play like “challenge” seen in older games were high difficulty curves were in part essential to stretch the limited content that could be stored in memory.

By way of contrast to the loss of a player character, the permanent death of an NPC in a game has a very different emotional source. And I’m speaking specifically here of NPC’s that aren’t primarily retainers or extensions of the character’s resources, whose death at least in part is like defacement of the character – although what I’m will discuss here can also apply to those characters, leading to a double emotional whammy. When an NPC dies, they aren’t a possession of the player. Most often NPCs that die in the game are simple ‘monsters’ to overcome over which there is no particular emotions triggered by the event beyond the feeling of self-validation that comes with overcoming a challenge. But some NPCs become enough a part of the game, that they begin to feel alive to the participants. We begin to think of the NPC as if it were real in some fashion, and we feel emotions toward that NPC which are quite independent from the emotions we feel for the character’s creator. This should be familiar to anyone that has read a book, or seen an emotionally powerful movie. We know it is not real, but the emotions that we experience are just as real as if the person we are experiencing them for was real. In the game, this means that an enemy we find particularly distasteful, or annoying, or clever, when that enemy is finally defeated, we feel a frisson of joy above and beyond what we would experience for overcoming a challenge alone. It’s not unusual for players to voice vindictives toward the departed through their character which are an echo of the feelings of the player. On the opposite extreme, a player can feel affection for an NPC, feel a crush on fictional character as potential romantic partner, and even experience feelings of love for a character. When NPCs that have been loved die, the feelings can vary from a vague feeling of loss and sadness to deeply traumatic grief. All these feelings arise out of the player's capacity for empathy, and I think to a certain extent do the player credit as I don’t feel the ability to employ the imagination to gain sympathy for a fictional character is that different from the ability to employ your imagination to feel compassion for a real person. But on the other hand, there is an element to this which involves a certain degree of confusion between real and unreal, and between the actual and the imaginary. And there are certainly some risks involved in transferring intense feelings to a character which is not only imagined, but often a figment of or fragment of some other person that has to animate that character.

The reality that there is or can be confusion at the emotional level between what is real and what is imagined, even in situations where the person rationally understands that none of it is real, is something that role players have to be prepared to deal with in order to keep their hobby healthy. In the case of the loss of a character, most of the loss experienced is the loss of something real – however intangible. Those feelings are real and understandable. In some cases the feelings are appropriate, and just like the feelings that you may experience when choosing to read a sad book or watch a scary movie, they can be entirely desirable. But they aren’t always appropriate and in some cases they can be very unwelcome, coming over the person entirely outside their rational control.

Phobias triggered in response to imagined stimuli are an extreme example of very unwelcome and unhealthy emotion over which a person may only a small amount of control. Regardless of the rational distance that the person may wish to keep between themselves and the fiction, scenes in the fiction can prompt the recovery of memories or the invention of stimuli in the mind’s eye sufficient to trigger a phobic response equivalent to having directly experienced the stimuli. A person experiencing real uncontrollable terror is not experiencing the small thrills experienced by someone that watches a scary movie or rides a roller coaster at an amusement park, but very real and unpleasant distress in response to imagined danger. Fortunately, phobias that intense are rare, but they are a concern to keep an eye out for. In less extreme cases, imagining interacting with the source of the phobia can help some people desensitize themselves to their fear, but for a variety of reasons it is not recommended to treat casual role playing a source of therapy, and even less recommended to try to force that sort of confrontation on a person which is not only a cruel thing to do, but may well do more harm than good. Most people with phobias have an understandable reluctance to confide their phobia in others. GM masters are advised to as discretely as possible find out if any of their players have a phobia, and then keep that information confidential unless the player wants to disclose it. Beyond that, accommodating people with special emotional needs is beyond the scope of this document, but phobias are an important reminder that the emotional line between what is real and what isn’t can be very blurry.

While everyone may not experience a phobia, and even people who have phobias may not experience them in play, every serious role player will eventually experience some sort of emotional spillover from gameplay that is in part a failure to separate fiction from reality and to appropriately return from that imagined space. But again, it is always important to distinguish between feelings that arise out of the fiction, and feelings that arise out of the process of the game play. Consider a situation where the evening’s entertainment is from the perspective of one player not going particularly well for whatever reason. Perhaps the GM is poorly prepared. Perhaps the other players aren’t focused on the game and the player would like to engage with it more strongly. Perhaps the player has had a lengthy streak of bad luck with the dice. Perhaps the player’s character has few skills to contribute to overcoming the problems presented to the party, or perhaps another player is being obnoxious in some fashion. All these experiences are real events that can contribute to real feelings of annoyance and frustration. They do not represent examples of failure to separate fiction from reality, though they still result in unhealthy coping strategies or anti-social behavior. It’s not unusual for example for a frustrated player to vent his frustration by trying consciously or unconsciously to wreck the game, either for himself by making self-destructive choices for his character – choices that can later feel devastating once the frustration has been put aside – or for the game as a whole. In essence, the player is engaged in acting out within the game using his character to express his frustration, instead of acting out or otherwise giving voice to their real feelings.

But the reverse can happen as well. If a player deliberately inhabits a character that is morose or angry as a result of in game events and is acting out of those feelings in game, this can actually lead to the player feeling ennui, anger, and acting out those feelings out of game, even as at some level he experiences himself enjoying playing the game simply because the player begins to act in the way that would be appropriate for the character. I have personally experienced this playing a character who was a self-medicating bipolar medical student, that after playing that character intensely, I started thinking like the character and feeling emotional distance and emotional fatigue even when I was no longer being that character. Simply inhabiting a character in despair and failing to cope with it made it more difficult for me to cope with my reality. And the situation just gets worse if you’re experiencing emotional struggles in the real world, and can become a vicious feedback cycle were your allowing your play to impact your emotions and your emotions to impact your play until you kind of get lost on who you are and what you should be emotionally focused on. These sort of symptoms are well known to method actors, but role-players who experience them after arriving at method acting techniques independently may be even more ill-prepared than normal to deal with the fact that conditioning your psyche to think and feel in a particular way can result in short and long term changes to your identity.

One of the greatest emotional dangers of role playing that has been recognized in the community for a long time is inhabiting a single character so intensely and with such self-identification that the character basically becomes the person’s identity. In my experience, the majority – maybe even the overwhelming majority – of players are either incapable of playing anyone but themselves, or completely unwilling to play anyone but themselves. It is probably worthwhile to honestly ask yourself if you fall in that category. Regardless of what is on their character sheet or what system is being played, the character always has the same characteristics arising from the player’s real characteristics. This is particularly common in experience in the LARPing community or in equivalent online roleplaying communities, where a player may effectively inhabit an avatar that is some sort of idealized self or some sort of romanticized alternative self continuously for years and be primarily known in those communities by their assumed identity. While we can hardly blame people for acts of escapism like that especially when it leads to fellowship and affirmation, I think people ought to be on the lookout for that sort of behavior where the lines between who you are get blurred to the point that it’s really hard to know where you stop and your character begins. When your friends refer to you by your alternate identity, and you tend to identify yourself with your alternative identity, and almost your human interaction and your most fulfilling human interaction is filtered through a fictional lens, I think it’s good to be aware of that in yourself and take breaks from it, and I think it’s good to take rather long out of character breaks as a group to just get to know each other as people. I’m not one that thinks RPing is unhealthy, and on the contrary I think it can be really healthy. But I’ve also seen a lot of cases that could have been healthier. One of the biggest problems with over attachment to a character is that there is basically no separation between in character and out of character concerns. The player’s voice is always the characters voice and vice a versa. Fiction and reality are completely blurred.

There has lately been some warranted concern over the sort of emotional damage that one player can do to another either carelessly or through malice. But in my experience we don’t pay nearly enough attention to the fact that we are usually our own worst enemy, and usually the one doing the most experimenting on ourselves when we roleplay. And I think we would do good to discover healthy habits for role-playing and instruct ourselves in them and passed them on to others who were interested before we too much worried about the damage others could do. It is comparatively easy to put up emotional armor against actions by other people, but we are often careless of the fact we are doing un-licensed psychotherapy on ourselves and that we might need to step back from some of the emotional highs that can result from that and gets some perspective on things.

Sorting out what is real for us and reasonable for us to experience in the context of an intense role-playing game where we are inhabiting a fictional personality, which we may or may not be self-identifying with, and while we are interacting with other people who likewise are inhabiting fictional personalities who may or may not be the self-avatars of that person is a challenge even for a fully healthy and emotionally mature person. We have to pay careful attention to what we are feeling and why, and whether the source of what we are feeling is external to the fiction or internal to the fiction. A ruling made in a way that we feel is unfair can result in feelings of anger toward a referee. Another player’s spotlight can result in feelings of jealousy toward that player. Someone can be a complete jerk and say crazy stupid hurtful things. These are feelings that are resulting from the process of play, which is a real human social interaction. We shouldn’t try to deal with those feelings the way we would deal with feelings arising from any real social interaction. It’s not a license to be dysfunctional back, and our feelings however real may not do us credit and may not be healthy, but we should never let anyone including ourselves talk us into believing those feelings arise out of the fiction. We shouldn’t for example pretend, that when we are jealous over the division of treasure and don’t think we got our fair share, that we are just acting out the feelings of jealousy that the character would have in that situation. It well be true that the character would also be jealous in this situation, but don’t blame the character for your headspace. On the opposite side, if a player has

On the other hand, feelings that arise out of the fiction should be labeled as such and responded to as such, so that we can let go of them when the game stops. If our character argues in character with another PC over some sort of critical in world point, because that is what the characters would do, we should take care to make sure we aren’t arguing with the player and that we are arguing in character and not transferring to closely our own beliefs into the argument. Likewise, the other player should afford us the same curtesy. If the characters involved are just self-avatars, then it’s really hard to create any distance between two characters having an argument and two players having an argument. If you have overly identified with the character, then if someone is arguing with the character, they are arguing with you and it’s easy to lose perspective. If you know that a player is playing a deliberately flawed character, and the player plays that flaw the proper thing is to cue on that flaw in character. That may be entirely appropriate drama. But that annoyance should not transfer over to the player, unless you really think the chosen flaw is too distasteful or annoying to tolerate – and if you do, getting in an argument in character to express those feelings is inappropriate.

This gets us to the tricky bit. Because even though it is true that there is and ought to be a separation between the player and the character, that separation is never complete. There is always some of ourselves in any character, and we are the ones animating that character. Even a GM needs to put some boundaries around what NPCs – even the villainous sort – might do or how they might behave, and in particular how he might communicate that, in order to keep play within the bounds of good taste and to ensure the primary goal of everyone enjoying the game is kept in sight. But this standard applies even more to the PC’s, who are inhabiting characters in a much more intimate way and for much longer periods, and in a way where it is very difficult to separate player goals like the preservation of the character from character goals, like staying alive. Players should always be mindful that the primary goal is for everyone to have fun. The primary goal is not to be true to a fictional character. True skill in roleplaying a character is often shown when there are several choices the fictional character might take, and the player invents a plausible cover for why the player has chosen one that leads to the greatest enjoyment for the group. This isn’t to say that the player should eschew intraparty conflict or being difficult, as intraparty dynamics like that can be fun. What it is saying that all such acts should be part of a game, and that no is trying to ‘win’ in the game except that such win is fun for everyone. It is never a valid excuse for being a jerk to say, “Well, I was just playing my character.” For one thing, in my experience this is almost always at minimum self-deception. Almost always, when hear this excuse, the real truth is the player was letting his own emotions spill out and control both himself and the character. The core of all functional intraparty conflict is that it is consensual and enjoyed by everyone involved, with all the participants knowing that it is just a sort of play and eventually the story will be moved forward and not stopped when the fun is wrung out of the moment.

So even more so, “I am just playing my character” is not a valid excuse for acting out romantic or sexual impulses that are originating from you the person. Nor, having been caught in the act of doing so by a partner, is it a valid excuse to say “I was just playing my character”, and accuse the person who has caught us of being the one who is failing to distinguish fantasy from reality. There is at some level of involvement no difference between a pretend romantic relationship or a pretend erotic relationship and a romantic or erotic relationship. If you are in an in character a romantic or erotic relationship with a player, you are almost certainly in a romantic or erotic relationship with that person to some degree. The other person isn't having trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality, you have already blurred that line. Do not pretend that there is some sort of separation from the real world if both players are receiving some sort of sexual feelings or gratification from erotic word play or in character flirtation. It is generally a good idea to avoid any sort of romantic play with anyone who isn’t your partner if you are in a committed relationship, and to the extent it is allowed it should be done very publicly and with strict boundaries on how it plays out. Romantic play should probably not be initiated with another player without prior agreed consent and some discussion of boundaries. Humans are just terrible at drawing sharp lines with respect to romantic or erotic feelings, and you should probably just assume you will not be able to do so.

This is probably the reason why prohibitions against romantic or sexual content being brought up games or played out in games are one of the more common social contracts. (On the other hand, LARPS and online text based games such as those in the family of MU*’s often seem to be run primarily to generate such play.)

Another of the most difficult things to create separation on are things which involve real world injuries and injustices we have faced. This is a topic that has gotten a lot of discussion lately, and I mostly think it comes down to an issue of trust.

Just speaking for myself, I run a homebrew consensus fantasy world loosely inspired by the cultures of real world history, thrown together in an anachronistic hodge podge drawing from the whole kitchen sink of human culture. So along with all that is beautiful in the world’s cultures, I’m also looking to engage with all that is ugly in them, and all the common cruelty that is part of everyone’s shared inheritance of human history. That means that the world contains slavery, sexism, racism, and a lot of other horrible ills. By including them in the world, I’m not trying to endorse those things at all. By all means be offended by them. I want to some extent to have characters step on up to those evils as a challenge. I enjoy heroic play by players, and every triumph when they succeed in making the fictional world a better place is one I inwardly rejoice in. I don’t intend to either white wash real world problems or to trivialize them, but I also don’t intend to turn them into paper problems that can be resolved by simply sticking to what is right like in a 30 minute after school TV episode, or to have the cardboard villains of something like ‘The Authority’. So I would be offended and not particularly well disposed to be sympathetic if your response to that was to assume that the fictional world with its brokenness represented the world as I wanted it to be. The world I would want to be would no longer need heroes. Nonetheless, despite the fact I would be offended by your assumption that I was endorsing those evils, I probably would be sympathetic to the fact that you had trouble containing your emotions in the fiction if you yourself had been a victim of specific injustices, if you’d just talk about it.

But whether you experience this sort of content as an attack or as healthy exploration I think to a large degree comes down to whether you trust the content creator. If you think about movies dealing with difficult themes, like say the movie ‘Selma’, or ‘12 Years a Slave’, how you respond depends I think less on the particular things that are in the story than it does on whether you trust the content creator. If I told you that there was a movie where Africans were repeatedly depicted as animals and acting like animals, your first instinct might be to be offended. But if I told you that movie was ‘Black Panther’, you’d probably realize that the depiction was intended to be positive, and respectful of very real cultural beliefs translated into an unreal and fantastic setting. Now I’m not saying that there is no difference between a negative depiction and a respectful and positive depiction – because clearly there is - but I am saying that our emotional response to even a positive or well-intentioned depiction often depends on whether we first realize that the depiction is positive and that depends on trust. If we don’t’ feel that trust, then we are going to assume the worst and we will easily be able to find the worst. This is what I call the ‘Jeff Foxworthy Principle’. Content and criticism that might be exceedingly offensive if it was originating from an outgroup, becomes only a gentle and hilarious ribbing if coming from a figure that clearly has affection for the group and in particular is identifying as a member of the group.

I think that this is a big thing that content creators need to keep in mind when considering the emotional impact of controversial or sensitive topics. If you are gaming with friends and you have or have won their trust, it’s much easier to introduce sensitive topics and get positive responses, even if the details are gritty and difficult. But you are gaming for strangers who have no reason to trust you, you need to back off and avoid sensitive topics to a large extent or all together, because not handling those topics in the most sensitive of ways in that situation, regardless of how good your ultimate intent might be, probably won’t go that well. People will respond to you emotionally, and many cases you’ll just not be in a position to defend your actions. They may or may not have been right to react in that way, but it’s not going to really matter at that point.

And for people on the receiving end of controversial or sensitive topics or content, my advice would be to try to extend that trust as much as possible, possibly further than they deserve, out of charity. You would for your friend. Let it be undeserved rather than risk being uncharitable. The reality is that if you aren’t alone and if there are no physical threats to your being, you can probably armor yourself sufficiently against people disrespecting you or your person enough to risk human interaction. You don’t have to sit there and take abuse, and if you are in any danger you should just leave, but you should be mindful as to whether your reaction is appropriate or whether you are making unwarranted assumptions. Communication and clarification should be your first recourse.

The situation with emotional spillover and the complicated task of disentangling real emotions with real and unreal sources, only gets worse if there is another player with an unhealthy mindset, unhealthy coping strategies, unhealthy emotions, or worse a player that is deliberately manipulating other players emotions for in game or out of game benefit. I’ve tried to direct most of my advice in this document at how one should endeavor to behave oneself, and not towards how we need to react toward breaches of trust and how to guard against potential abusive behavior. That is an important topic in its own right, and there are several others I’ve obviously overlooked, but since this essay is already rambling and overlong, I’ll stop for now, and open up the floor to discussion.

Have you ever experienced emotional spillover in your own gaming? If that spillover was unwelcome, however severe was it? How did you recover? Have you seen people in your gaming group have undesired or unhealthy emotional spillover? Have you gamed with any emotional spillover addicts for whom having large emotional experiences was their primary aesthetic of play?
So is where you get into the heavy BSDM stuff you were talking about? You must be a wild and crazy guy.
 

Voadam

Adventurer
So even more so, “I am just playing my character” is not a valid excuse for acting out romantic or sexual impulses that are originating from you the person. Nor, having been caught in the act of doing so by a partner, is it a valid excuse to say “I was just playing my character”, and accuse the person who has caught us of being the one who is failing to distinguish fantasy from reality. There is at some level of involvement no difference between a pretend romantic relationship or a pretend erotic relationship and a romantic or erotic relationship. If you are in an in character a romantic or erotic relationship with a player, you are almost certainly in a romantic or erotic relationship with that person to some degree. The other person isn't having trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality, you have already blurred that line. Do not pretend that there is some sort of separation from the real world if both players are receiving some sort of sexual feelings or gratification from erotic word play or in character flirtation. It is generally a good idea to avoid any sort of romantic play with anyone who isn’t your partner if you are in a committed relationship, and to the extent it is allowed it should be done very publicly and with strict boundaries on how it plays out. Romantic play should probably not be initiated with another player without prior agreed consent and some discussion of boundaries. Humans are just terrible at drawing sharp lines with respect to romantic or erotic feelings, and you should probably just assume you will not be able to do so.
I think you are conflating separate things here.

Initiating romantic roleplay to act "out romantic or sexual impulses that are originating from you the person." is not the only reason to have romantic roleplay in an RPG.

It can be for a neat story development and not to act out romantic impulses towards another player. Playing a classic knight you might want a lady to champion. I had a backstory in a vampire game that my character was blood bound to his ex-wife, a campaign villain, and they had an on-again off-again relationship.

I have considered in character marrying another PC to cement a political alliance in a D&D not-Roman empire. I had no romantic or sexual interest in the player but I was not averse to the PCs being involved.

There are issues of emotional spillover that can occur and there are people who will use it as an excuse to act out there own romantic desires for another player, but romantic roleplay is a broad topic that can vary a lot by specifics and intentions.
 

Celebrim

Legend
I think you are conflating separate things here.

Initiating romantic roleplay to act "out romantic or sexual impulses that are originating from you the person." is not the only reason to have romantic roleplay in an RPG.

It can be for a neat story development and not to act out romantic impulses towards another player. Playing a classic knight you might want a lady to champion. I had a backstory in a vampire game that my character was blood bound to his ex-wife, a campaign villain, and they had an on-again off-again relationship.

I have considered in character marrying another PC to cement a political alliance in a D&D not-Roman empire. I had no romantic or sexual interest in the player but I was not averse to the PCs being involved.

There are issues of emotional spillover that can occur and there are people who will use it as an excuse to act out there own romantic desires for another player, but romantic roleplay is a broad topic that can vary a lot by specifics and intentions.
I don't really disagree with your points, but I do think that it is an area where there is a lot of spillover. While there PC on PC romantic relationships that are totally platonic between the players (and I was in one), they are in my experience vastly outnumbered by the ones that either result in players experiencing romantic feelings for each other or originated out of romantic feelings. Next thing you know, players are married IRL and have three kids sort of thing.

So mostly I would say this is an area that requires a lot of maturity, a lot of respect for boundaries, and a lot of conscious imposition on yourself. You have to I think create a deliberate boundary on the involvement of the PC's, because at some point the line between acting and real gets blurry. The key to what I'm saying is "at some level of involvement". We may quibble as to what that level of involvement is, but I bet we can find some point were there is general agreement a boundary has been crossed.

And in particular what I wanted to emphasize compared to some other things I've read, if you had a situation where two PC's were romantically involved but the players were ostensibly not, but the partner of one of the PC's in that relationship was growing uncomfortable with it, I don't think it is necessarily an error by that partner to say, "You know, this is starting to feel a little too real." Because I've read some things out there where the partner who was feeling uncomfortable was treated like they where behaving badly, and that it was all inappropriate jealousy, and they should just get out of the way, and so forth. And I really don't agree with that.
 

steenan

Adventurer
While I agree that roleplaying romance requires some maturity from everybody involved and needs to be done responsibly, I have also seen a lot o examples of this being done successfully. This covers both PC-PC and PC-NPC pairings. I've been the GM of some such games, a player in others. Most of the players involved are married, but the in-game relations had nothing to do with the real life ones. Neither players nor the spouses had any problems with this.

In general, in our games various romances are a common occurrence. For example, in a recently finished campaign, ran by my wife, my character romanced and later married another PC. We all had fun with this.
 

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