Thursday, July 26, 2007
The So-Called Evils Of Roleplaying Games: Courage, Opportunity, and Friendship
by: Claire Cruver
I was never a normal child. My parents split when I was eighteen months old, and, living with my mother, we always struggled with having "enough" - enough food, enough clothing, enough for bills. My stepfather had no desire to help raise us three children, and as my older brother hit the seventh grade, my stepfather uprooted our still very young family and moved across the city.
In the fourth grade, having just moved schools, I was friendless. Because of some oddly placed school district line, I would have to attend another school in another district after that year. With this knowledge, instead of trying to be social, I turned to the books. That year, I found out that I was able to do complex algebra. By sixth grade, I was into factoring multiple-page geometric formulas; I switched schools again from elementary to middle school to attend seventh grade. I was on the fast track there, taking every excelled course that the school would allow me to take.
By the time I reached 10th grade, I had a 4.0 GPA, a high IQ, and no social skills. I could count my friends on one hand. I was living in a family situation that was less than desirable; my mother was divorcing my stepfather and my brother was moving away. Again, I poured myself into studies, graduating two years early and going to college on a state grant. Though my history may sound like the typical, run of the mill social misfit's background, mine was given a light when I came across a multi-user dungeon called "World of Darkness".
Despite its cheesey title, I had hopped aboard because I was an angry teenager, and I just wanted to chop the heads off all the little, text-based fanged bunnies, but I found that the community provided by the game was something like a chatroom mixed with a video game. While I was gleefully lopping off limbs on dwarfs, I started speaking with my groupmates, and found that I was not precisely the odd one out when it came to problems. The online world effectively introduced me to the notion that other people had problems, too.
The older generations believe that chatting and being part of an online community exposes you to the evils of the internet world - the evils that are the people purposefully choosing to hurt others by misrepresenting themselves and their intentions. What is often overlooked is that, for people like me, it is much easier to speak freely with your peers if you do not have the physical awkwardnesses that accompany speaking to them in person.
In gaming, I also relearned how to interact with people. Gradually, I made friends, switched games, and fell upon a game called FiranMUX after a random search for something new and original, for something that required more brainpower than typing "Kill Bug" fourteen times in a row to level up. FiranMUX, written and run by the husband and wife team of Stephanie and Adam Dray, is an original-themed text-based roleplaying game with heavy leanings toward the Greek and Roman periods in our own history. The characters, storyline, and playerbase have been the spawn of this original story ever since. FiranMUX became my new escape from the ordinary and my vehicle to speak with people like me, who actually cared about me and my hopes and dreams and problems.
For once in my life, I felt truly accepted. Acceptance is one of those feelings every misfit strives for throughout their adolescence, and a feeling that few people actually find. At the risk of sounding egotistical, I was too advanced for my immediate, school-aged peers, but the people I spoke to online accepted me without seeing my face and judging me based on age or IQ. They accepted the important parts of me - my mind, my feelings, my personality.
With their ready acceptance of me, the struggles of my real life melted away. I had people with whom to speak. My parents' divorce, my lack of a normal college life, my frustration at the world holding me down because I had not reached that perfect age of 18 and therefore only semi-employable, my constant fights with my siblings -- everything melted away. Call it an addiction. Call it me deluding myself. Call it turning my back to the world.
I call it finding an audience. As my new home, I soon found that FiranMUX hosted an annual event called FiranCon, where all able players congregated in real time on a hotel in Maryland for one three-day weekend of laughter, stories, amazingly strong friendships, and three long evenings of insomnia. Although I had missed that year's Con, I did make the next one. Then nineteen, I found what would turn out to be my first love nearly a year later, a new home in the world, and more opportunities to better myself than I could ever hope to count in my little town across the country in Washington State.
Con was held in May; by September, I had packed up myself and my belongings into a car purchased from the estate of my dead grandmother, and moved across the country into a better job, a better city, and a chance to start again. Now, three years later, I am still very much a part of what the Firans term "Firan Culture" as well as an active member of the local social group. I have a job that pays me three times what I could ever hope to earn in Washington State, creating a comfortable living for myself. I have a home. I have friends who care about me, and whom I actually care about. I am gradually achieving the goals that I set out three years ago to achieve.
The old cliche is that hindsight is 20/20. If I had known that gutting elves back in my World of Darkness days would lead me through romance, heartache, friendship and tears, I am not sure I would ever have had the courage to ever meet the Firans in real life. Online roleplay communities are not the evil that they are made out to be, but windows to alternate futures and betterment of oneself.
In truth, FiranMUX changed my outlook on life by changing my outlook on people. The game helped build my social skills and gave me the self-esteem needed to shed the walls I had so firmly put up around myself. In improving myself, I improved my abilities to make my world better. I shed the once angry aura and gained enough belief in myself to leave everything I knew behind for a chance. In short, the online community presented to me the leverage needed to foist myself from the hole that my life began as.
Looking back at where I have come from and what I have built for myself, I can honestly say that without games like the World of Darkness and, very specifically, FiranMUX, I would probably be a depressed word-processor, stuck in a bad neighborhood with few, if any, friends. As a person, my personality has warped into that of an optimist, always looking at the bright side instead of allowing circumstance to drag down my attitude. Instead of hiding from troubles, I face them. I could not have done it without an audience to listen.
I was never a normal child. In all honesty, I may not yet be a normal adult, but I am definitely a better person than the abusive, introverted, angry child I was once. Blame this turnabout on the supposed evils of chatrooms and text-based games. Blame this turnabout on the ability of a seemingly harmless online game to create and promote such an outstanding sense of real-life community that FiranMUX has achieved. Regardless of the reason, the fact that online gaming can impact even a single life in such a way is an incredibly geeky notion, but perhaps not one so far-fetched in this new age.
By Claire D. Cruver, of FiranMUX (http://legendary.org/firan/)
About The Author
Claire Cruver is a young author/designer/roleplayer who currently resides in Maryland.