Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Role Playing Disabilities: Considerations and Concerns

I know I said that my next post would be a reply to The Letter, and that I would go into depth for what I want to aim for being an ST. I had intended that.

This is not that post.

My friend Kat re-activated his own larp blog called "Dealing with Aces". His first post is one that I find not only dear to my own heart, but I think is a major concern in Role Playing. His post was about playing disabilities, or "derangements" as they are mechanically known in some gaming circles. In his blog, he comments about playing those derangements and the consideration one should put into it, especially if one is playing it seriously. He can say it better than I can

Here's the thing. I'm a psychologist, I've dealt with people who have schizophrenia, autism, major depression, bipolar and shit I'm not sure are named yet. Each and every one of them all have one thing in common. It's a simple thing, and by far the most difficult.

Each one of them limits the person's ability to function in normal society.

This is a major issue in a game which is based around social interactions and and networking. A character, such as Kat's, is suffering severe mental and psychomotor issues. In a game and club that rewards actions and interactions, playing a legitimately ill or disabled person is limiting for both the player and the player around them. It's difficult to work with Kazuo (Kat's character), especially when my character is torn between his role as his therapist and one of his handlers and the role of the Prisci of his Clan. During last month's Requiem game, Kazuo had entered (plot related) convulsions. My character, Taglia, was seeking to help him. Meanwhile, Taglia was approached by the Keeper of Elysium, who demanded an immediate audience. When Taglia says he's trying to help Kazuo, the Keeper offhandedly offers that he can kill Kazuo to lighten my schedule.

The Keeper is dead, btw, Kazuo lives. Irony, kids.

But the point I'm getting at is that I can definitely feel the awkwardness of dealing with Kazuo on a regular basis. In all honesty, it's the same feeling I get when in the ward and helping patients. It's that level of disconnect between me and them, and that in some imperceptible way, our views of reality are skewed without context. In Cam, though, I know that Kat is Role Playing, I can seperate enough of it. But that's meta gaming, and frankly isn't fair to him, me or the game.

Kat plays derangements like they should be. Another example is my friend Brandon. Brandon plays Alan, a drugged out pastiche to Alan Moore, Grant Morrison and Hunter S Thompson. This is the character that walks around with ayahuasca lacrima (drink that a vampire can ingest) and talks about being sired by Aliens from the fifth dimension. He's the flip side of the argument, where Kazuo is borderline Catatonic, Alan is Manic and high energy. Both are played seriously though, and that's the point.

Most derangements as I've seen them are often played for laughs, or when a player is bored. There is a term for these kinds of players: Fish Malks. The term comes from Clan Malkavian in Vampire: The Masquerade. The Clan's main weakness is being completely and irredeemably insane. In my mind, Christopher Walken plays a lot of Malkavian roles, and takes both tacks. In some, he's the alien mad man. Think Gabriel in the Prophecy:

Catherine: Go to hell!
Gabriel: Heaven, darling. Heaven. At least get the zip code right.
Catherine: It's all the same to you, isn't it?
Gabriel: No. In heaven, we believe in love.
Catherine: What do you love, Gabriel?
Gabriel: Cracking your skull.
In some, he plays just a wacky old man. He's the Continental. Detached from reality, but effectively harmless. These are fish malks, deranged, harmless and essentially exist as attention grabbers. No one knows the exact origin of the term, but many suspect this photo...

This is a picture that exists

This goes back to my discussion that many of us are playing in the World of Darkness, almost everything and anything is in fact dangerous. What is the point of playing Edd the Hyena when he exists as a convenient laugh to the audience of players?

One of my favorite characters with Derangements is Vampire The Requiem's Rebecca Allen (I'd post her playr's name but I'd rather permission first.) Aunt Becky, as she's sometimes called, has Dissociative Identity Disorder, more colloquially known as Multilple or Split Personality's. Many people would play it as a joke of one body with two different voices. I've done scenes that were resultant of her triggers and her alters. While Aunt Becky is abrasive, some of her Alters are complete monsters. Even when culpable in damaging offenses, it is most likely her alter personality's than herself...we think.

This all comes down to one major things that should be prevalent and essentially the point of bringing a character with a disability in the game:

What are the consequences of this character being in the game?Actions should have consequences. A joke is terrible circumstances that excuse consequence for the punchline. A lot of people will decry that a lot of this goes on in Changeling, that the venue is inherently wacky. This is wrong. It allows for more whimsy but you need to keep in mind that this is a venue entirely filled with abduction and abuse survivors. The game is one giant exercise in coping when Normalcy is shot in execution style.

Thank you, this was your downer moment of the evening.

So, when introducing characters with clear and present derangements, always ask this question: how will it affect my performance and the game? What are the consequences?

And now for the list of mentally ill I'd be interested to playing in the future for Requiem:

- Moroi: a bloodline relatively exclusive to the Ordo Dracul. They are a combination of Gangrel and Nosferatu. These are the Order's shock troops, and they're titles are Hunters. They exist for one real purpose: Kill the Enemy. I mentioned it once to a fellow player about possibly playing one, and he told me "Why? You'd never get any interactions because of what he is." Well, why the hell not? A lot of other players walk in as clear Hitter's, why not him? He's a monster to monster's, that's wonderful to work with especially if he's in a social setting. What if his superior is out of the way that evening and he's expected to deal with it? What if a fellow Kindred somehow appeals to something deep inside him, humanizes him? It would be ironic, and definitely grounds for good RP. For a good inspiration for a Moroi, watching Jet Li in Unleashed (aka Danny the Dog)

- Alucinor: I feel like they are the second cousin to the Malks. The Alucinor are Mekhet based around dreams. Their main weakness is that dream and reality tend to bleed in. Think of Cobb in Inception, how by the end of it dreams and hallucinations were bleeding in every where. The weakness is debilitating, especially considering that the power of "go to sleep" is so damaging. However, I see the weakness glossed over for minor, Fish-Malk Funny moments. This was the bloodline Taglia was originally going to be, but then he picked Agoniste (because they are both, in a sense, death seekers).

Allow me to finish this post with one final word: playing a derangement is harder than it looks. Like Kat says in his post, it's exhausting after four straight hours and is draining because of the effort it takes to limit yourself on a physical, emotional and mental level. You need to constantly be aware of your physical positioning and your emotional affect. I can appreciate that level of detail, I'm not sure if I could pull it off. It's not recommended for everyone, but damned if I don't love it when it works.



  1. Funny enough, someone OOC compared my play of Kazuo to the Jet Li role in Unleashed last game.

    1. I was convinced for a long time that Kazuo was secretly Moroi himself

    2. It's funny you and Nadia both try to work with rather than around or away from Kazuo. And remarkably similar to how so few are willing to try and help similarly disturbed individuals. Of course, when Kazuo has his, er, "moments", he has Agg-dealing claws and very little interest in target differentiation, so...