Death and Mourning.
This post has been sitting in my pending file for some time, and Chris over at Deep in the Game reminded me that I never finished or posted it.
I remember a time when ending a game was a thing I never looked forward to. I remember, in fact, dysfunctionally digging my heels in hard and resisting it to the bitter, dissatisfied end. Characters are my emotional sockets to the games I play. They are the conduits that funnel my energy into and out of play, and the catalysts which allows me to play hard, right up to the edge, and not get burned. I didn't much trust my GM's to do my characters (or the story) justice in an ending, and that lack of trust was earned in many (but not all) of the games I played.
With the advent of Nar play, where I can push or pull endings of my own instigating, I find myself far more interested in participating in them. I've had a number of big ones over the last couple of years, one of which I talked about over on Fair Game in "The End of the Game", the other was Kika's end that I rambled about in my my push/pull actual play post.
In reflecting on them in recent weeks, I've been musings about character deaths and the preferences of players around them.
I have a friend (who played Dae, the barbarian warrior woman from the that Exalted game) who is adamant when negotiating her social contracts that the possibility of character death is NIL unless the player declares an authorial intention to die. This doesn't stop other players from choosing to receive the grim stabbies, but it means that regardless of her actions in game, her character will not die by any means but by her own out of game declaration.
Now before anybody asserts that this is a dysfunctional, dickweedy, or assy attempt to play without responsibility or consequence I'll pre-empt with this info: I've been playing with this player for about 12 years, and in that time, I don't ever remember a single situation where she spit in the face of death and then refused to die. Despite the fact that I introduced you to her as the player of a warrior, she usually plays social, non-combative characters.
Why the !death rule? Well now, that's a complicated question. I'm not sure I have the answer. I'm not sure she could even tell you herself. I have some theories, though. I may be talking out my ass, here, these are just based on observation and speculation and are not actually from the player herself. She does read this blog though and she's welcome to clarify or expand on anything I put down.
The concept of possibility is very central to her personality. In life, she's not someone who's comfortable with a lot of restrictions. She likes her options open, and she rarely closes doors behind her. She's so taken with possibility that she often finds herself having trouble finishing things. So on one hand, we could make a fair assumption that she doesn't like her characters to die simply because it means the end of the possibility of the character and shutting the door to possibility is fundamentally (as opposed to tangentally) antithetical to who she is.
RPGs are the playground of wish-fulfillment, and this player likes the heck out of that jungle gym. Every character that I remember her playing in has at least some element that the player would aspire to be or have something that the player would like to have (freedom to be uncensored or unfettered, considerable social power), and I suspect that she engages in immersion because (at least in part) it allows her the ability to feel like either she owns the quality (when she would actually aspire to have it) or the freedom to play in the quality tangibly.
There are definately times I do the same thing with my characters. mostly my big spots are confidence and power. I often borrow from my characters the ability to be hotheaded, spontaneous, thrillseeking. I borrow their bravery and courage, their right to live in the world without being morbidly introspective about it.
Is this the manifestation of our imago? Is there a creation and experimentation of the ideal us in the characters we make - even in those that aren't us, or that we don't like? Do we establish our own potential by being in the playground of someone who can, and is this why giving up characters is so difficult for some of us? Do we feel like what we have proven that we can do becomes unowned when a character dies? Do we mourn the loss of that potential when our characters die?
Now for myself, I've discovered that when it come to the end of a character, I actually prefer death as an ending to a living ending, and I had to look at why...
I think that its because unfulfilled possibility is a tragic thing to me, because knowing that there was a character that I'd invested in, that was the locus for such fun is still alive and still out there means that there is still room for exploration, still more to be played. A death means that everything was played out, it means tangible closure. Resolution and reflection are really important to me. I think that when the character dies, I can strike the set like I used to do in theatre and pack the bits and pieces back into me.
Note: I didn't post this so that somebody could start a debate about what's better or worse, or what's functional or not, so don't bother with those. I'm interested in our psychological and emotional attachment to character and to RPG's in general.