Perspective & Identity

A while back, I posted a piece about the text-based adventure community I participate in: Improbable Island.

In the eight or so months that I’ve now been playing this game/writing with these wonderful people, I have two characters that I use. And, as I’ve watched other players interact with them, I’ve come to understand what my subconscious did with these two, and what they represent and do for me.

Emwyn, my original character, is all about identity. The poor thing goes through incarnations like other people go through socks. She’s been a paranoid shut-in, a naive ingenue, a pawn of an evil AI, a shaman, an elemental sorcerer, a Champion warrior wielding Excalibur, a slave, a zombie priest, and probably at least another half-dozen things I’m forgetting. One of the other players commented the other day that Emwyn is always having an identity crisis.

As a transperson, muddled identity and the search for an authentic self is something I’ve had to go through at about the same rate as my poor Emwyn, trying to find the identity that truly suits me. And, it being the nature of the human condition, this is an ongoing search. She’s exaggerated, but she represents my own search for a lasting and authentic identity.

She also explores how deep interactions with others shape identity. Emwyn flings her heart around like a frisbee. She’s been in more relationships than I can remember. All of them end tragically. So how am I finding a positive identity in a character who is completely tragic? I don’t know the answer to that one, but she continues to maintain a state of core innocence that seems to be crucial to her ability to keep searching for her identity.

My other character, Castalia, is a study in perspective. Her existence came about three months into my playing time on the Island. For the RPG folks, Casta is Chaotic Evil. This is the first time I’ve ever used a CE character as my PC. Or, for the non-RPG folks, she loves random acts of senseless violence, is motivated by greed and bloodlust, knows no limits when it comes to so-called ‘morality,’ and this is the first time I’ve tried to actually play such a person on a lasting, ongoing basis.

As I said, it’s an exercise in perspective. How can I, as a (hopefully) decent person with a pretty firm set of moral guideposts, actually write this character who spits in the face of all of that? And do it without compromising myself? The answer has been to keep her having a sense of humor and allow her to make friends and feel emotions (there was a small window where she became a robot and lost all emotions. It made her a completely unplayable monster).

Her perspective is surprisingly easy to slide into. There is no intention to warp the facts, she just sees things differently. Case in point: she’s a drug dealer and one of the game’s clan leaders attempted to put down a firm line in the sand. Casta was not welcome to sell product (that’s what she calls it. Note how changing it from “drugs” to “product” takes much of the negative emotional impact out of it) to any of her clan. Okay, so now Casta gets pissed because this other character is acting like a mother…to a group of adults. So she sneeringly said so, allowing her perspective to rule her: she wouldn’t want someone telling her what to do and what not to do, so she believes that anyone else wouldn’t voluntarily submit to such treatment. Unless they were sheep.

Again, how the perspective warps the facts. Drugs are harmful, the other player is trying to protect those she loves. But Casta can only see an impediment to her business interests, a dictatorial mother-wannabe imposing her will on others, and contempt for those who would allow her to.

It scares me, sometimes, when I write Castalia. Where do these horrendous ideas come from? Am I an evil person for being able to think them up and play with them? What does that say about authors who can write a convincing – yet human – serial killer? How can I find it amusing when she does something awful for her own amusement, and still call myself a ‘good’ person?

…and here you didn’t think you could get deeply philosophical from playing an online text game.

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