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.

My god, man - I'm so very sorry for your loss. At the moment I don't know what else to say.

I also have no idea what to say. Your story is such a gripping one. At times like this, you really need to hold your friends close to you. Keep on rolling your dice.

Cal, I am so sorry to hear this. I noticed your absence from the forum for a while. All becomes clear now.

I can only begin to imagine the pain you have endured and are enduring. Last year I had to deal with my mother's death from motor neurone disease at age 59. We moved in with her to care for her (my stepdad died the year before from heart failure). It was agony watching her slowly wasting away. If I had to watch that happening to my daughter it would unhinge my mind. But you've stayed strong, which is what Kathyrn would have wanted.

I think you are right about the therapeutic aspects of roleplay. It has definitely helped me through what has been a very difficult couple of years. Also the social aspects of the game are a great healer - it's an excuse for friends to get together and have a good time without the need for alcoholic excess which is what so many people turn to to deal with depression.

I know this is a games forum, but anytime you feel the need to talk about this here, I'm sure no-one will raise any objections. You have my deepest sympathies and my thoughts will be with you.

Thanks for the article, and thanks for sharing.

Our condolences and sympathies go out to you, Calamar.

I remember several months back receiving an email announcement about Kathryn's viewing, probably sent to me accidentally. I briefly entertained the idea of creating a forum here on Gamegrene where we could all show our support for you, and I even considered driving up for the viewing.

But then I realized that it wasn't my place to do such things, and that the last thing you needed was to have some moron that you barely know from the Internet trying to push himself into your personal life.

And, as hollow and ridiculous as this may sound, Calamar, you have the support of of all of us on Gamegrene, all of us whom you only know because of some bizarre common interest. You'll be in my prayers.

Yes, Calamar, you have all our support. Though we've never seen each other before (almost all of us) we are in some ways a very tight group, certianly the most close-knit forum group I've found on the net. Though I don't know if it means anything, we are all behind you.

Though I'm still young and haven't gone through any major trauma in my life, I can say that I at least have some understanding of what you're saying. Roleplaying for me has been an excellent way to exorcise many of my problems. As those who know me on this site know, I have a horrible temper. In some strange ways, it helps me to deal with that when I get to play angry characters - I get to push my anger into them and then let it out in a healthy way that I could never do with movies or video games. The only other alternative would be writing. Roleplaying also helps me deal with personal problems from an almost scientific perspective. For instance, and this is very personal to me, I am currently dealing with something of a crisis of faith, where my faith has always been a very important and powerful part of my life. I find myself at a crossroads in my life, and I know that I must make a decision now that will change everything, depending on the decision. I am exhausted always because my mind will not stop working, trying desperately to find a solution to this problem and to put my life back in order. I barely pulled myself together for college finals so I could perhaps attempt to squeeze by with an A in my classes, but even then my mind was always working in the background.

So I've pushed it onto rping. In the next two upcoming games, I've created two very different characters, both of which I feel a need to play. One is a devout religious man, actually an authority in his faith, who feels himself torn, as he KNOWS there is a God, but is constantly disillusioned by the things he feels he must do for that God. The other is his opposite, another man who has just as strong a conviction that there is no God, that, as he says, "this is all just a game." This is due to life experiences I'm not going to go into right now. But these characters mean a lot to me. I have what you could call two personalities, two parts of me constantly fighting for control and trying to eliminate the other. For those of you familiar with Chinese elements I'm a Fire Water. My religious man is my water, and my atheist my fire. I don't know how this will play out, but it gives me a chance to examine these key elements of my personality and play them out in an important fashion. Roleplaying can be the best way to solve problems, to work through your issues.

Just so you know, I'm not trying to compare my miniscule problems with what you're going through, Calamar. I could never compare. But I wanted you to know that I understand where you're coming from. For all of us who've roleplayed, we understand just how much it means to us. We are all a community of diverse and intelligent people, devoted to something that seems so small and yet means so much. Don't let it go, Calamar. Let's all stick with this.

Let's keep rolling those dice.

The other guys have already expressed what I wanted to say upon reading this. I do not have much to add. It really is a harrowing tale and I wish I could help.

Welcome back, friend. Stay and roll some dice.

EDIT: Since I now see Tzuriel has already put in the dice line...
Calamar, here's some graph paper. You're mapping tonight.

...can't take credit for the dice line, friend. Mile Krenyon (think I got that right) already had one. I just used it cause it's a nice way to end. But the graphing's good, too. Nice touch, zip.

I know I'm a wallflower here at gamegrene, but I have always enjoyed your articles, Calamar. It's good to have you back. For what it's worth, your family will be in my prayers.

As for the clinical aspects of roleplaying a quote comes to mind "the world is a cold place, we need our myths to stay warm."

Thanks everyone. Your words do help, more than I thought they would. I will try to write some new articles for you, and feel free to start flame wars (ah... the good ol' days...) if you want to.

Have a great time and keep gaming!

Flame wars? Just pop into "moral compass goes haywire" and read a lively discussion. :)

I've been absent from around here for awhile too. I still pop in from time to time and read but I haven't even bothered to log in and click the "recent posts" button.

Today I did...and this is what I read. Your story broke my heart brother. My thoughts go out to you today.

And I'll be more than happy to have a flame war with you Calamar. It's been too long.

You know, I was reading through some of my old postings looking for an article to give a friend and ended up reading this one and all your comments. You guys really did make a difference when I originally read what you wrote. Thank you.

I know that we here at Gamegrene tend to keep our personal business private, but in this case I feel a need to share a bit about what has happened since I wrote this incredibly heartfelt article.

First of all, the police and social services found me innocent of any wrong doing in my daughter's accident despite the numerous allegations of neglect and abuse leveled by my in-laws. Or ex in-laws.

When something like this happens in your life, a tragedy of this magnitude, it tends to get rid of all the gray areas in your life leaving only the stark black and white. You find out which friends and family truly love you and who is self centered and evil. It forces you to re-examine ALL your relationships.

In the first few months after my daughter's death my wife and I seperated and I lost my youngest sister, the one that I was the closest to growing up. My wife and I had a shotgun wedding and could never really make things work. My sister ended up being one of the evil ones who made everything worse so that she could feel better about herself.

My best friend also got divorced. The accident and aftermath showed him who his wife really was and despite having 5 kids with her, he couldn't stand what he now knew about her.

So yes, it got really bad there for about six months or so after Kathryn's death.

However, life has been drastically improving since then. So much so that I'm to the point that I believe that everything happens for a reason. Even something as horrible as losing your child. I would give anything, including my own life, to have her back. But I understand that what happened was, on a cosmic scale, neccesary.

Despite the nightmares that plague me, I am spiritually healthier than I was before, calmer, and more mature. I have written a full novel, appreciate my surviving children much more, and I since my divorce I found the woman of my dreams.

The only lack in my life right now is finding work. The economy here in Denver blows. I've seen job ads that require a 2 year degree that only pays $8 an hour. I'm not joking!

If the accident hadn't occured, I would most likely still be stuck in a miserable marriage, depressed and moody, shutting myself away from my family, and just unhappy with life in general. I would have the same job related issues, but without any support. And I wouldn't have such a clear understanding of who my friends really were.

I don't know if this little update is appropriate to the Gamegrene forum, but I want you all to know that I am as "normal" as I think I will ever be. If something doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger or cripples you for life. I'm happy to report that while I may have some mental and emotional scarring, I am slowly recovering. I am walking again and soon I'll run.

Once again, I want to thank you for your supportive comments. They helped me a lot as I wrote this original article while still dealing with severe depression and the aftermath of my daughter's death.

Thanks for sharing Cal.

I've gone through some drastically life altering experiences lately as well, and I can identify with the ability of something like that to throw everything in sharp contrast. It really does help sort the weeds and snakes from ones garden...and it feels great doesn't it?

When the dust finally settles it does. Till then it blows chunks.

We have all seriously got to meet in person sometime. Thanks for the update, Cal. I'm so happy to hear you're doing better. Looking back at some of the comments, I kinda spilled a little of myself up there too, didn't I? Well, I guess I better update if anyone's curious. Long story short, I finally made my decision and have left the church that up until now I've always been a part of. Like you said, Cal, though my decision is so miniscule to your troubles, it does help clarify your relationships and who you can rely on. My brother and I, despite the fact that he is still a part of the religion I've left, have grown closer than ever, and we were already quite close before. I've never appreciated life and my family like I do now.

So yeah, it blew chunks. But, the dust settled, I feel content with my life in a way I've never felt before. Hopefully it'll stay that way.

But seriously, guys, we really do need to get together and just play some games. That'd be so cool.

Good to hear you're improving, Calamar. What you've been through makes me realize that my troubles are reall very small.
And thanks for the update, Tzuriel.

C'mon, group hug.

This might seem oddly self-serving, and may or may not be out of line, who knows.

I originally thought that 'cybering' was mostly a thing for losers, and so on. Fooling around with some female friends led me down that dark path anyway, one thing led to another and four years ago I was forced to start an adult role play forum.

Ignoring everything about community building that the site has taught me, it's a rather common refrain that role playing on Elliquiy has been quite a boon to a lot of couple's sex lives.

Obviously, not for everyone, but take it for what you will. There's no reason to shut your imagination off when you shut the door : )

They're different from real life, but there's no denying the impact that the things we hold dear can have on our life.