Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Rambling: Roleplaying (And The Glass Wall)

I remember my first roleplaying experience. It was in school, of all places, in... was it third grade? It was in a class that periodically pulled students out of their regular classes for what were probably called "enrichment activities."

I was a shy kid. A really shy kid. So shy that I couldn't talk to strangers, even to order my food in a restaurant. So shy that even later in junior high I still waited for people to move out of the way of my locker so that I could get in, rather than saying the words "excuse me". So shy that I could go through an entire school day without speaking.

To digress for a moment, I remember a film that we were shown in class sometime in the elementary years, about a child drowning in a pool. The film included another child who witnessed the event but said nothing, until the struggling child was noticed by the nearby adults. (Why would they show such a thing to children? I can't remember. It does seem creepily surreal, doesn't it?)

I remember that the class was encouraged to talk about why the silent child didn't speak, and I remember the other children's explanations - she hated the other child, she didn't care, she didn't understand that there was a problem.

And I remember thinking, no, you idiots, she couldn't speak. She was afraid that if she broke through the glass that silenced her, her words would be wrong. The drowning child would really just be playing, and she would have spoken, and she would have been wrong to speak.

And being wrong to speak - the fear of that didn't require, to me, any explanation, any exploration of the consequences. It was the consequence. If you say, "If I do that, I'll die" does anyone ask you, "And? So?" This was the same. Speaking wrongly was its own, unimaginably horrible, consequence.

But of course, I didn't say that, because I couldn't evaluate my own proposed words and break through my own glass until the moment was long past.

So, to un-digress: Shy kid in enrichment class. On the last day of school, we were pretty much finished with our academic work, so the teacher led us in a roleplaying exercise. We played characters on a spaceship, facing some dangerous enemy. I played the ship's dog.

Something about taking the role of someone else broke through the shyness and allowed me to interact with my fellow students, and the teacher, in a way that I never had before. Yes, as a dog I didn't exactly break out in great oratory. But I barked, I whined, I growled, I scampered, I crawled under the table when things were bad. I participated.

It was wonderful. Indescribably wonderful. Nothing so exhilarating had ever happened to me before. I didn't just break through the glass - while I was playing that role, the glass was gone.

My second roleplaying experience was roughly a decade later, in college. I got to play a human this time. I was less shy by then, able to at least order a burger, though not yet able to choke out an answer to friendly strangers asking, "So how are you today?" Not yet able to thank someone who opened a door to me. The glass wall was definitely still there.

And again, when roleplaying, the glass was gone, and I participated. I was an interacting, social, human. It was wonderful. I felt the same exhilaration; I was so excited after the game was over that I couldn't sleep for hours that night.

The glass is much weaker now. I can chirp out, "Just fine, and you?" and thank people who open doors for me, just as if I'm a human being like the rest of you. But I still have a soft spot for those early roleplaying experiences, for the first characters and adventures that I played. And for that freedom.

First Image: By Mark Sebastian. Wikimedia Commons
Second Image: Wikimedia Commons


  1. This post has made me cry. I too was a shy child. I once peed in my pants in 1st grade because I was too afraid to ask the teacher if I could go to the bathroom. Something about attention, good bad or indifferent was just scary for me. Sometimes still is. I'm glad you're my friend. I am grateful for your creativity and whimsy and especially our shared quirkiness.

  2. Thank you. :) I'm glad you're my friend, too.

    Now I've gone all Shy on what to say, but I really appreciate your comment. This post is one of those "Do I really want to publish this where it's accessible to the world?" things, so a nice response is very, well, nice. :)