Gaming Group Growth: Character Interactions
While your character may be an extremely useful tool for self reflection and growth, the real beauty of the game as a tool for growth is neither we nor our characters are isolated. Our characters interact with other PCs and NPCs and we interact with the GM and other players. Like all groups, there are certain dynamics that take place in the gaming group.
While your character may be an extremely useful tool for self reflection and growth, the real beauty of the game as a tool for growth is neither we nor our characters are isolated. Our characters interact with other PCs and NPCs and we interact with the GM and other players. Like all groups, there are certain dynamics that take place in the gaming group. There are emotional leaders, task leaders, and scape goats. There are people who participate actively and those who sit on the side lines. Among any group we project onto one another and we have conflicts.
There is one very important concept to keep in mind when attempting to use a gaming group as a personal growth opportunity: you can only change yourself. If there is one adage extremely important to keep in mind, it is this. You cannot make anyone else change and you can't make anyone else try to make things better. If you can accept this, your gaming group can become a great experimental ground for a lot of growth.
Everyone's character is a reflection of themselves.
I already mentioned in my article on character the way your character acts is a reflection of you. In this article we are going to take that a couple of steps further. First, everyone else's character is a reflection of them. This seems like a no brainer if you have already accepted the premise put forward in my first article. Observing the interpersonal dynamics among the players, you will find their characters are reflections of them too, even if the characters seem very different. A few examples might help illustrate this point: the member of my gaming group with the highest attendance rate, the one who does the most work outside of the playing (like painting our leads), writes up notes from the missions, and transports a reference library for the rest of us, is also the one who plays the paladin. So far, this seems pretty consistent. But he also listens to punk music and considers himself fringe. Still, the paladin is a part of him.
Accepting this premise will help me talk about how inter-player dynamics take place in the game. For example, one of our other players and I don't get along very well. His character: a dual-class Fighter/Priest of Athena. His character was for a long time the leader of our party and had gained nobility in the course of being an adventurer. The character is slightly pompus, and neither player nor character seem to me to accept responsibility for their actions. Now what is fascinating is that my personal interactions with the player and my character's interactions with his character are oddly parallel. When I joined the gaming group I was initially very hopeful I would be able to befriend this member just like the others. Unfortunately, I felt put off by some of the player's constant arguing of rules and past events and found he had a very rigid demeanor. In character, my sniveling rogue looked up to this fighter / priest / leader and thought he might be a moral guide for him. Shortly after joining the party, the leader seemed willing to take a large sum of money that wasn't his. My character who has disavowed stealing immediately had his expectations violated and has not trusted this fighter / priest since. What is interesting here is that I feel I can gain insight into both interactions by viewing them as a whole, rather than as two distinct events. I can see my character's interactions and my interactions have the same dynamics and processes.
So how do I use this information to advance my personal growth? First, I identify the patterns. Some already mentioned are siding with the people in authority, looking down on people seen as immoral, and holding a grudge when other people violate my expectations. There are more, but I think these will serve to illustrate my point. As mentioned in my previous article, my character initially sided with authority (the paladin) and over time has undergone a transformation which has brought him a greater sense of authority and stature. He is now in a position where he has told a high standing member of the party (our bard) that he did something wrong. While I haven't had a chance to explore this much yet, this new character shift is being reflected in my new ability in real life to set challenge authority and make requests from a sense of confidence rather than obsequiousness.
The Gaming Group: Conflict
Conflict is often very fertile ground for growth opportunities, and the case of the player and character I find difficult to deal with is no exception. First of all, while I have often labeled the player "complaining" and become frustrated with him for not "accepting responsibility" I have to admit I did not see the circumstances in question. I joined this group in the process of a multi-year campaign and in the process of a year-plus long mission. My frustration with the player about not accepting responsibility is probably a reflection of my own reluctance to challenge the authority (in this case, the GM) to whom he makes his appeals. I don't like admitting weakness and so I am probably uncomfortable that it seems he is admitting his weakness in pleading with the GM. In interacting with his character there are even more growth opportunities. I can see I need to not expect moral action from everyone (especially since my perception of morality is different from that of other people). Instead I see I need to be more compassionate. In this case, his character had a very good reason for wanting to take the money as it was likely to be used to finance a war that would hurt his homeland. I need to learn to suspend judgment; just because he took it didn't mean he would keep it. And I need to accept not everyone has my priorities; my character valued "not stealing" as a good thing, his character valued "not stealing" too, but not as much as saving lives.
Finally, and probably most poignantly for my current growth, I have really worried about the fact that neither this player and I, nor our characters, get along. It is very difficult for me to accept people might not like me, and even more difficult to accept I might not like someone else. Making the simple admission that maybe this person and I just don't get along is very difficult for me, and something I am continuing to work on. Which of course all goes back to one of my primary lessons of the last two years: I don't have to be perfect or liked by everyone.
Everyone else's character is also a reflection of yourself.
This reflection leads me into the next leap, which may be more difficult to swallow. Everyone else's character is also a reflection of yourself. In the examples given above, while it might be clear the characters are a reflection of their players, I interact with them as though they were parts of myself. So, if I have a hard time challenging authority, I am not likely to enjoy the company of a character who does. If you have experience interpreting dreams, you may have heard one lens for viewing a dream is that all aspects of the dream are parts of yourself. This is no less true for the collective fantasy/dream of the roleplaying game than it is for our personal sleep dreams.
So, how do I use this for personal growth, other than the analogous observations and changes already mentioned? If everyone's character is a reflection of themselves, and if in the game my experience of everyone's is a reflection of myself, then it follows (using fuzzy logic) that my experience of everyone in the gaming group (and of everyone else in my life) is also a reflection of myself. Let me make this clear, I'm not saying waking life is a dream, but that people, like dreams, are over determined. There is more information in a person walking across a room than could even be fully interpreted. In order to make sense out of what we see we have to project our inner worlds onto other people. So, empirically, I can identify a person's weight, speed, direction, location, color, thermal variants, and on and on and on... but not one single bit of that data will give me an understanding of the other person's subjective experience. Even analyzing hormonal data might help me determine relative state of excitement, happiness, depression, but that still doesn't tell me why someone else is feeling a certain way. So we project, and we do, reality testing. I see Jane walk across the room quickly and pick up some food on the other side. I might project she is hungry.
Me: Jane, are you hungry?
Jane: No, this is for my friend at the other table.
Me: Why were you walking so fast?
Jane: I didn't think I was.
By progressively becoming more and more aware of the fact that my experience of others largely consists of projection, and is largely influenced by what is going on inside of me, I can realize the importance of maintaining my interior health. By maintaining that health and by emphasizing the reality of testing or communication with others I can also find out what is my projection, and what is true. Keep in mind not all we project is false, some people really are annoying, and some people really aren't nice. But, if we accept out own failings and are compassionate with ourselves, it doesn't have to bother us. In other words, just because some one else isn't friendly, it doesnt mean I have to be in a bad mood.
This is as true in the game as it is in real life. My character can become a tool by which I begin to suspend judgment. The other characters can become testing grounds for new behaviors and responses. This is especially true with NPCs. Over time we often find a state of equilibrium with other characters in a party. That "trauma binds" is true in the fantasy world too, and our characters usually try to not piss off the cleric with healing powers or the fighter who has and will save our butts. Our GMs often throw NPCs our way to generate conflict. In many games this leads to fights, but some of these techniques might help our characters get into the subjective world of the NPCs and make them (and therefore us) better negotiators. If you can learn as a character to suspend judgment, those skills will become available to you as a person too, and possibly improve your interpersonal relationships.
A good gaming group can help this too. If you can, spend some time after each session online with the other players and the GM to try seeing what worked and what didn't. If you establish clear goals for your character's development and for your own, other players will be able to give you feedback and hopefully speed up the learning process.
The gaming group is a huge resource for personal growth because our characters are reflections of ourselves and our fellow players. By exploring those gaming interactions and trying to change the patterns we find unproductive or unhealthy, we can gain new productive and healthy patterns in real life.