The Personal Health Benefits of Roleplaying
I never realized how mentally, emotionally, and physically beneficial roleplaying can be. I'd like to share my experience with you in order to share what I have learned from roleplaying.
Most people look at roleplaying as a game, a hobby, something to pass the time with friends. Few people understand or care about the therapeutic benefits of roleplaying. Gamers are, as a whole, less stressed out than their non roleplaying counterparts. Why? Because they can immerse themselves in a fantasy world every game night and solve problems by either slaughtering or outwitting their enemies. Their characters are heroes, better than the player physically, mentally, or in appearance. The character is everything that the player wishes to be.
I know that some of you will object to the above statement. Some players don't need the ego boost of playing a character that makes up for their own deficiencies. Some people will even object to use of the "fantasy world" that I stated all players go to because they play sci fi or horror. I use the word "fantasy" because you are playing in a make believe world, even if the game is set in your home town.
This past year has taught me an awful lot about the awesome power that roleplayers enjoy. The power of relieving stress and grief. Being able to work out whatever emotion that you are dealing with at any given time, with almost any character.
My childhood was so abusive that I don't remember more than flashbacks before the age of 12. I didn't start roleplaying until I was 15. At that time I had no friends at all. I was the quiet kid who sat in the back of the classroom and read or drew fantasy pictures.
It took a boy named Robert Strange several tries to even get me to attempt this new roleplaying thing that he had started experimenting with. Like most beginners, he was extremely enthusiastic about the game and felt that I'd be a natural with the amount of books that I read and my art work.
Eventually I tried it and was immediately hooked.
That first session was so retarded that I'm not even going to describe it here. But I could tell that the potential for storytelling was huge and I was hooked immediately.
Within a month I was running my own games.
Roleplaying through High School forced me to be social. It forced me to come out of my shell and to learn to deal with other people, who were usually annoying. I made friends then that I still have today. Roleplaying also taught me the art of storytelling and problem solving. I am a quick thinker and can immediately come up with two or three ways to solve most problems that aren't mathematical in nature.
I thought that I had learned everything that roleplaying had to teach. As I grew older, got married, and started having kids, roleplaying became a social gathering with friends that occurred once or twice a week. The roleplaying aspect lost it's importance and we just enjoyed having company over. After running games for 15 years straight, I decided to play for a while and found a friend named Eric to run Shadowrun for us. After a rather rough start, he has performed admirably and we've been playing for over a year now.
Our games consist of friends, either home cooked dinners or fast food, depending on who is supplying dinner that night, our children running around, rough housing with our dog, jokes, laughter, gas, and a little bit of actual roleplaying.
My daughter Kathryn loved roleplaying nights. She was the light of the party and played with everyone. She wanted a character, but she was only six years old and we said no. But she'd roll our dice, get us drinks from the fridge, and generally made herself as useful as possible. Once she even started washing dishes because we said that our house was too messy to have people over that night.
Talk about motivation! Our six year old daughter shamed us into cleaning the house in an hour and we got everyone over and played for hours.
Last September, Kathryn accidentally hung herself with her brother's teddy bear's scarf from the end of his bunkbed. It took her until the end of December to die. During that time my wife and I had to deal with well meaning but stupid family and friends. Some family members caused so many problems that we had to eject them from the hospital and our lives, permanently. Social services were involved due to the type and seriousness of the injury and that brought about it's own kind of stress.
Kathryn was in the hospital for almost two months before she came home. Once at home, I became her primary caretaker. I operated and maintained her feeding machine, gave her whatever medicine was needed at different times (she was on so many drugs that we had to keep a log book in order to remember everything), bathe her, and maintain the house.
I was also caring for our two boys, who witnessed the accident.
Kathryn's body eventually shut down and she died three months after the accident on the last day of 2007 while resting in the arms of my wife and I.
During those three months, the pressure and stress grew so great that OUR bodies started shutting down. My wife grew sick and never recovered until very recently. I became a cripple, with stress aggravating old injuries to my knee and back until I couldn't walk without a can and medication. After Kathryn died, the stress grew even more intense as we dealt with grief and our boy's grief and fear. Social services came at us with a vengeance and other problems started manifesting. I didn't have a job, financially we were screwed, and my wife had to drag herself to work every morning when all she wanted to do was curl up and cry.
How do you help a 4 and 2 year old deal with witnessing their older sister accidentally hanging herself and then dying after three months of seeing her all crippled up and wasting away?
How do you help your children while fighting through your own grief, rage, guilt, and depression?
Roleplaying has been our lifeline. We started playing again in February. Donning the personality and world view of another person, immersing myself in their world, killing bad guys and monsters (my older son sees bad guys and monsters everywhere now, his way of dealing with his sister's death. He sits with me watching us play and rolling our dice while we kill bad guys. Those nights he has very few nightmares), being young and fierce and able to move and fight in ways that I will never be able to do.
Suicide has lurked in the back of my mind since the accident. But I had my wife and children to think of. Social services decided to remove me from my home last month as a precaution until the police investigation concludes. Suicide became a very real option at that point. I was gripped in a depression so deep that I couldn't see a way out and didn't care if I made it or not.
After missing the first week of gaming my friends decided that intervention was in order and dragged me to the next game. I immediately improved. My depression lifted a bit, my health improved to the point where I can walk without a cane, and I was able to find a job.
Every time that I play, I feel better, my mind clears up a bit, and I am healthier both mentally and physically than I was before the game. The power of gaming has eased my depression to manageable levels, something that I didn't think possible.
I've know dozens of people who had to fight depression. I've known hundreds more who have a hard time dealing with stress, grief, or heartache. I just want you to know how much of a benefit roleplaying can be. That way, you can be the intervening force that helps someone recover from their inner demons.
Thank you Eric, for running an engaging game. Thank you Brian, Cole, and Freddy, for helping me roleplay.