Roleplaying As Catharsis?

Samloyal23

Explorer
There is something to be said for imagining the orc you just beheaded looks like that schmuck at work who consistently pisses you off or pretending you are actually smooth when you play a bard. Embracing your shadow during play can help you let go of issues bringing you down.
 

steenan

Adventurer
I mean, we can, sure. It’s just that many of us just don’t enjoy putting ourselves in the mindset of evil characters, or the power fantasy of getting away with stuff we would to do IRL even if we could get away with it.
I think there is a big difference between playing an explicitly evil character (where "being evil" is a central part of the concept) and exploring the limits of how far one is willing to go in various situations.

My characters are, in most cases, idealists of some kind, but they are also sometimes driven by strong emotions, sometimes too curious for their own (and others') good, sometimes they just make mistakes. This means that, quite often, they do things I definitely wouldn't do myself because they are either too risky or immoral.

I had a character who murdered an NPC he earlier cooperated with after he found out that she was responsible for assassinating his fiancee. The same character gave BBEG a solution to an important secret because he was too engaged in scientific research to think about the consequences. I had a character who tricked the party into retrieving dangerous information he needed for his guild (while otherwise honestly cooperating with them). I had a character who went berserk and killed a group of bandits even after they tried to surrender, because they endangered his loved one.

None of them was "evil", but they definitely did some evil things. Each of them I could identify with; each of them shared some of my beliefs and values. But they did not have inhibitions I have (and I believe it's good that I have them), because I prefer to play dramatically than to play safe.
 

MGibster

Adventurer
I mean, we can, sure. It’s just that many of us just don’t enjoy putting ourselves in the mindset of evil characters, or the power fantasy of getting away with stuff we would t do IRL even if we could get away with it.
Have you ever played a game of Vampire? I'm running a game now and every single one of my player characters truly are monsters and it's kind of fun seeing how each one of them justifies their actions. I find it interesting because people do the same thing in real life. Er, not all the blood drinking, but, you know, justifying their bad actions.

Or hell, even stuff we want to do but won’t because it’s wrong. Like...I can kinda see why that’s fun for some folks, but having tried it a few times both in TTRPGs and CRPGS, it’s just not fun at all for me. At best I find the Dark Side or other “evil” path in BioWare or similar video games...boring and hollow?
The Bioware "evil" is often just being an asshole for no reason. Even in a classic game like KOTOR the evil choices often times didn't make any sense. I'd often think "Why would my character go out of his way to be a dick in this situation where he really has nothing to gain?" Darth Vader could be an asshole sometimes but he always had something to gain by being one.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Didn’t say anything about therapy, actually. 😊

But yeah that sounds like exactly what I’m on about.
I think there's a bit of a difference between "knowingly including some of your own traits" and "prodding at oneself".

I do the former, but I don't do the latter - my characters are often about exploring a bit of the human (or maybe sentient) condition, but not so much about exploring my own psychology. I don't feel the gaming table is really the right place for me to do that sort of thing.

So, for example, the first time I played in a campaign larp, I didn't really know what to expect, so I chose a character that was going to be easy for me to get into and out of, but that everyone would know the difference between "me in-character" and "me-out-of-character". So, I chose "mostly me, but with reduced filters on what he chooses to express". This wasn't to explore me with reduced filters, or to encourage myself to use fewer filters in my real-world life, or anything like that. There was no intent to change real-world-me with this character.

It was, however, a darned fine way to get a character whose voice I could drop into and out of quickly and easily.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I mean, we can, sure. It’s just that many of us just don’t enjoy putting ourselves in the mindset of evil characters, or the power fantasy of getting away with stuff we would t do IRL even if we could get away with it.
There is one time when I enjoy portraying such characters - when I am in an NPC role. When I am behind the screen, or playing an NPC in a live-action game, I am playing the role for the purpose of giving the PCs and interesting antagonist.

I play NPCs in a future dystopia game, one of which I enjoy that is a form of classic evil. The world is falling apart due to environmental collapse, and he's in charge of a corporation that has the option to do something - his people could probably down behind their previously garnered wealth and survive, allowing billions to die in the resulting wastelands, or he has the power to essentially remove a chunk of the free will of about 2/3rds of humanity, and thereby get them to act in the collective good and fix what's wrong.

He's choosing the latter. He really believes that this is the best that can be done for humanity. He thoroughly understands the arguments against his position, but every other plan to deal with the situation stacks up several billion corpses, and when he does the moral calculus, the loss of free will is worth those lives.

This makes him an awesome villain, because he can perfectly kind and reasonable to the PCs. He can and will act to reduce the amount of harm to them, just so long as they don't get in his way. He is psychologically complex, and it is hard to fault his general motivations. Which means dealing with him is always a difficult ethical choice for the PCs. Since the players want their chains yanked in these ways, I get a lot of satisfaction out of giving them what they desire.
 

ART!

Explorer
It's funny I should come across this thread now, because recently I've become aware that I am doing this. I don't know if I'm doing it more than I used to or I'm just more aware of it now.

My department at work is me and another person, and the last two days before they were asked to leave I was working on a character for a new campaign. My coworker is interesting to talk to about music and art and raising kids, but also talks about people behind their backs in unkind ways. They were increasingly agitated by work and home-life problems, and they were taking it out on people at work. I was making a character with a very "surfer dude" vibe: laid back, no affectations, no problems, takes things as they come, doesn't take things personally, etc. My coworker was let go - temporarily, I assume, but it's been 3.5 weeks now. During that time I've been doing the work of 2 people, so it's been pretty hard - but having my dude to role-play every week has definitely been therapeutic.

Before that, I ran a cleric with a soldier background who had seen war, didn't like to talk about it, had committed himself to peace and healing and helping those in need, but every time he was confronted with injustice he got very hostile and violent very fast. I realized pretty quickly I was inappropriately directing some of this hostility at our DM, letting my character's anger directed at the DM's NPC bleed into our real-life interaction at the table. I put the kibosh on that and luckily we've moved on to the new campaign with new PCs, but I'm still looking at what was bubbling up in me there. The dude character is also probably a reaction to the hostile cleric character.
 
Last edited:

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
It's funny I should come across this thread now, because recently I've become aware that I am doing this. I don't know if I'm doing it more than I used to or I'm just more aware of it now.

My department at work is me and another person, and the last two days before they were asked to leave I was working on a character for a new campaign. My coworker is interesting to talk to about music and art and raising kids, but also talks about people behind their backs in unkind ways. They were increasingly agitated by work and home-life problems, and they were taking it out on people. I was making a character with a very "surfer dude" vibe: laid back, no affectations, no problems, takes things as they come, doesn't take things personally, etc. My coworker was let go - temporarily, I assume, but it's been 3.5 weeks now. During that time I've been doing the work of 2 people, so it's been pretty hard - but having my dude to role-play every week has definitely been therapeutic.

Before that, I ran a cleric with a soldier background who had seen war, didn't like to talk about it, had committed himself to peace and healing and helping those in need, but every time he was confronted with injustice he got very hostile and violent very fast. I realized pretty quickly I was inappropriately directing some of this hostility at our DM, letting my character's anger directed at the DM's NPC bleed into our real-life interaction at the table. I put the kibosh on that and luckily we've moved on to the new campaign with new PCs, but I'm still looking at what was bubbling up in me there. The dude character is also probably a reaction to the hostile cleric character.
See that is really interesting. None of my characters were like “oh I’m gonna make a character that is an expression of my fears of losing control over my own consciousness” I just made characters and have found that they interact with aspects of my self that are hard to directly deal with IRL. 🤷‍♂️

And yeah it’s just really nice to sometimes play someone who isn’t being second-guesses and micromanaged by other people all the time. 😂
 

MGibster

Adventurer
And yeah it’s just really nice to sometimes play someone who isn’t being second-guesses and micromanaged by other people all the time. 😂
I think this is the underlying reason so many players get more upset with losing control over their character, even temporarily, than they do with a character's death. Many players really enjoy the feeling of having control over their actions in a game that they don't really have in real life.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I think this is the underlying reason so many players get more upset with losing control over their character, even temporarily, than they do with a character's death. Many players really enjoy the feeling of having control over their actions in a game that they don't really have in real life.
Yep.

For me it’s also that I get really deep inside the emotional state of my character sometimes, and the thought of mind control is just...as close to real genuine gut wrenching fear as a hypothetical can get me.
 

hawkeyefan

Explorer
I think this is one of the strengths of roleplaying, and I imagine everyone’s doing it to one extent or another. It may be as simple as someone playing a character that really only serves to fill a role in a team with little more to it, or it may be as complex as a character designed to examine a personal trait or flaw.

These are the same thing, just to different degrees.

I find that how I play my characters...where they fall on that simple to complex spectrum...varies by game and campaign. I’ve played characters that have pretty much amounted to “The Cleric”, and I’ve played characters that go well beyond that. It depends on the specific game in question and the group’s expectations for play.

Most of the time, I’d say I lean more toward the complex. Even if some of the ideas never make it into actual play, I usually try to develop my character as much as possible.

I probably don’t always include some personal aspect of myself that I examine with the character, but it certainly happens from time to time. I usually do want to explore some idea about people overall, though. So I may make a character that’s a bully, even though I don’t consider myself one.

I think that RPGs tend to really help people have empathy for others. It’s kind of baked in.
 

uzirath

Adventurer
I think this is the underlying reason so many players get more upset with losing control over their character, even temporarily, than they do with a character's death. Many players really enjoy the feeling of having control over their actions in a game that they don't really have in real life.
I agree that a feeling of meaningful control is one of the central appeals of roleplaying. Losing control of a character, however, can mean different things. It's probably safe to say that nobody likes it if their character is taken over by the GM so that they have to sit and watch the game for the next few hours. But at most tables I've played at, it's not uncommon for a character to be temporarily possessed or mind-controlled or cursed so that their personality and goals change. Some players dislike this just as much. Others dive in with gusto: a berserk barbarian savagely attacking the party wizard, a possessed knight suddenly acting in a decidedly unchivalrous fashion, etc.

My own character was once possessed by some sort of malevolent being. I found it surprisingly freeing as a player. I didn't have to think about the consequences of my choices for the party, or for the character that I'd invested so much love into. I was just a devious evil scoundrel until the party eventually figured it out a few sessions later and managed an exorcism. It was gloriously fun.
 

ART!

Explorer
I think this is the underlying reason so many players get more upset with losing control over their character, even temporarily, than they do with a character's death. Many players really enjoy the feeling of having control over their actions in a game that they don't really have in real life.
I experienced this recently, but this is a bit of a side-story:

I missed a game session, and at the beginning of the next session was told my character had been ambushed in his sleep and captured. I was semi-okay with this (I would rather have had the chance to play that encounter out), choosing to play along and assuming the DM had something worthwhile in mind. I know the DM and trust him - he's never jerked me around, in or out of game. The problem came up when the other PCs came to rescue me from the orcs and goblins, I rolled crappy 3 times in a row to escape my bonds (my character was VERY strong), and couldn't get free until one of the PCs helped me. During those three rounds my PC was getting attacked by orcs et al who didn't want me to escape. My PC hit 0HP, I did well on Death Saves, then got knocked down to 0HP again, and died. Only 1 PC survived this encounter, in fact. We were told the dead PCs would be eaten by the baddies, so no chance to bring us back in the time it would take the surviving PC to find help.

On the one hand, them's the breaks. On the other hand, it could all have been avoided (theoretically) by giving my character some agency.

So, that's a note to myself for the next time I DM.
 

Salthorae

Imperial Mountain Dew Taster
And so I have a wonder.

Do any of you do this? Do you explore, confront, encourage, or otherwise poke and prod at yourselves via your characters?

If you do, does it make it harder to play evil characters or those who simply have no moral similarity to yourself? I find it does.
I often find that every character I play is some aspect of myself focused in on and exaggerated to a degree (or a lot).

Or with the abilities to do things I can only dream of (fly, intimidate small towns with a fireball spell, etc :p)

That I have no problems playing evil characters and doing really horrible things (within the bounds of the game I'm in and the social contract of the table), does make me nervous some times though.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I often find that every character I play is some aspect of myself focused in on and exaggerated to a degree (or a lot).

Or with the abilities to do things I can only dream of (fly, intimidate small towns with a fireball spell, etc :p)

That I have no problems playing evil characters and doing really horrible things (within the bounds of the game I'm in and the social contract of the table), does make me nervous some times though.
I have that same...anxiety, sometimes, playing evil NPCs.
 

Shiroiken

Adventurer
I seldom create a character that is similar to me in any way, except perhaps focusing on a single trait and idealizing it. I think more like a writer, creating my characters, and sometimes (as Stephen King has said) they take on a life of their own, even against my own wishes. I usually have to retire characters that get to that point, because they all too often become disruptive to the game.
 

ART!

Explorer
I have that same...anxiety, sometimes, playing evil NPCs.
Yeah, I literally can't play evil characters. I just...yugh. No thanks.

The two times I've been in games where one is expected to play vampires, I played basically Joe Flaherty's Count Floyd from SCTV in one, and refused to have thralls in the other (thereby being much less powerful than the other PCs). I can't play someone who actively, consciously lives off the lifeforce, blood, or lives of others.
 
Last edited:

aramis erak

Adventurer
So, I have been thinking about what makes roleplaying games different from other games.

For me, at least, it seems to be the ability to create a character that allows me to explore my “inner selves”, confront my limitations and inner fears, enjoy and lean into perfectly normal aspects of myself that I was taught to be ashamed of (being sensitive and nurturing as a man, for instance), and like...play a character who has experienced the bad in life that I have, but who gets to do something more substantial, tangible, and satisfying, about it than I ever got to do.

I’ve got characters who let me enjoy my impulsiveness, or explore more fully my brief flashes of easy-going confidence in myself, or express and deal with a shared difficulty trusting that people will stick around, and that their affection and admiration is genuine, or through whom I can express and practice being okay with my need to sometimes shut out all stimulus and find peace in total quiet darkness and the panicked mania that can come when I’m unable to do so.

Or just like, the fun of being able to move like I’ve always wished I could move.

And so I have a wonder.

Do any of you do this? Do you explore, confront, encourage, or otherwise poke and prod at yourselves via your characters?

If you do, does it make it harder to play evil characters or those who simply have no moral similarity to yourself? I find it does.
Generally, I don't. SOme of my players have, especially those with gender identity and/or sexual preference issues. (One player, when they decided to come out as bisexual, got a general response from the rest of the very heterosexual group of, "About time you admitted it." A few months later, "All coming out has done is double the number of people I can be rejected by.")

The value of Catharsis was, last I checked, not well supported in studies. A recent-ish paper (Thomas J Schaff, 2007 — https://psycnet.apa.org/fulltext/2010-01928-003.html ) notes the multiple conflicting results from few methodologically sound studies.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Generally, I don't. SOme of my players have, especially those with gender identity and/or sexual preference issues. (One player, when they decided to come out as bisexual, got a general response from the rest of the very heterosexual group of, "About time you admitted it." A few months later, "All coming out has done is double the number of people I can be rejected by.")

The value of Catharsis was, last I checked, not well supported in studies. A recent-ish paper (Thomas J Schaff, 2007 — https://psycnet.apa.org/fulltext/2010-01928-003.html ) notes the multiple conflicting results from few methodologically sound studies.
Um....okay?

I don’t understand what coming out and the therapeutic value of catharsis have to do with the topic, but sure.
 

uzirath

Adventurer
The value of Catharsis was, last I checked, not well supported in studies. A recent-ish paper (Thomas J Schaff, 2007 — https://psycnet.apa.org/fulltext/2010-01928-003.html ) notes the multiple conflicting results from few methodologically sound studies.
I don't know that anybody has been making any therapeutic claims here. Outside of clinical use, catharsis typically just means "feels good" or "lets me get my anger out" or whatever. I imagine that lots of people play games and sports for the catharsis, even if it won't really cure their Big Problems.
 

MGibster

Adventurer
Yeah. I have no training in human psychology and I am not licensed by any city, state, or nation located on the prime material plane to be a therapist. I am licensed in the demiplane known as Ravenloft but that's more of a curse than anything else.
 

Advertisement

Top