Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Long, Dark Night of Eddie Mendoza

So I mentioned over a year ago that I was playing a "new" character in our current tabletop game, a journalist named Eddie Mendoza. And I'm having a tremendous blast playing him, although it apparently doesn't look that way from the perspective of some of the other players in the game. Which sounds like something interesting to explore in a post.

As I mentioned in that previous post, Eddie started out as a provisional character. I wasn't sure if I was really ready to commit to another long-term game, but the premise sounded intriguing, so I came up with the concept for Eddie. The game master Sargon was dubious about Eddie, because everyone else was playing high-powered magic-using characters of one stripe or another, while Eddie was a mundane human journalist.

But with a strategically discovered magic pistol and a set of experimental new rules I was encouraged to break abuse use to my advantage, Eddie is able to hold his own in combat, and his nose for news has proven the launching point for many adventures. So I'm really happy with how Eddie has developed.

But here's the thing: Eddie's not happy. In fact, I don't think Eddie's capable of being happy, at least not yet. Eddie doesn't trust happiness, because happiness is what you feel before the rug is yanked out from under you. Eddie has spent years feeling guilty for something that happened over a decade earlier, although not in a mopey emo way. In a very-careful-to-guard-his-feelings-and-not-get-close-to-other-people way. And even though recent events in the game have shown him that the events he feels guilty about were more complicated than he thought, so that some of his guilt is misplaced, it's not something he can just give up.

The worst kind of character you can play in a tabletop RPG (and yet one that you encounter so often) is the Loner, because by nature, the game is about teamwork, and a Loner doesn't work well on a team. Eddie is a loner who doesn't necessarily want to be a loner, but learning how to change is not always easy.

I've been keeping a journal in Eddie's voice that the other players have access to on a cloud drive. Part of it is to say, "This is what happened." But Naamah, another player in the game, also keeps a similar in-character journal that is better at detailing events (I totally copied/stole her idea-not even going to lie).

But there was another reason. Because Naamah's journal tells events from her character's point-of-view, events are often characterized in a certain way that lines up with her character's attitudes. Eddie perceives things in a different way, and I wanted to represent that point-of-view. Also because Eddie's actions were often baffling to the game master and other players and I wanted to give a little insight into his thought process.

Sometimes even that isn't enough, because I think we sometimes approach gaming from completely different perspectives. It's like the difference between literary genres. Superhero and romance stories are largely about wish fulfillment. Horror stories are about confronting and working through fears and anxieties. I think the other players approached this game more as a superhero/romance, while I've approached it more like horror.

One of the players is an anime fan/devoted reader whose character is a magical girl fairy princess who is also a librarian. One of the players facing job anxiety has a character who is super-rich with a magical house that can travel anywhere at a moment's notice and also provides unlimited food and clothing. Literally any material possession she wants is available with a snap of the fingers. One of the players with RL family issues has a character with a close, loving, happy family.

And although some of the characters have tragedy in their pasts, none of them were at fault (or feel as if they were at fault) in any of them. Their characters are generally happy with themselves, happy with the way their lives were going before the game started, and not looking to change in any fundamental way. And they have had no problems falling into friendships (and beds) with each other.

Eddie was and is different. Eddie is not some wish-fulfillment fantasy. Eddie is much more a horror story character, a guy who may appear smart and cool and brave on the outside, but who is broken inside, and whose struggles mirror some of my own issues.

Eddie is more me than probably any other character I've played in my life. He's got my old job (journalist). He's got a lot of my attitudes. He's got a secret that he has never confessed to anyone in his life, and I have the exact same secret, something that absolutely no one knows about me, not family, not friends (and it's not evil or shameful, just sort of lame and embarrassing).

He has few friends, and what friends he has, he feels like an outsider among. He keeps his distance and has unrequited crushes (there was this one preacher's daughter; everybody knew how I felt, but I never copped to it, so we never actually dated). He tries to keep his head up, but he feels the guilt of a lifetime of bad choices that seemed right at the time. He even has my name, the name my parents originally meant for me to have before life laughed at their plans.

So Eddie is maybe a way for me to work though some of my own anxieties. He's also sort of opposite to everyone else in the game. But I think it works well for the game dynamic. A little sour to go with the sweet. That little hint of salt in the chocolate-covered pretzels.

It doesn't hurt that he is also an absolute terror with a pistol. And he is slowly trying to change his ways. Sometimes he has to do some logical contortions to find an excuse to change, but he is changing.

He's not happy, and he may never be truly happy, but I'm having a great time.

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