Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Externalizing Emotion

Forewarning here for you boys and girls, this is another post inspired by Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. In truth, it was inspired by my thinking about what we talked about yesterday, which was inspired by the movie. So I guess it counts as a derivative thought? Not sure how that works. Anyhow, what I want to talk to you about today is externalization. This is something a lot of players have problems with. We don't want to steal the spot light, so we keep things internal. This internalization then spreads to other aspects of our play, and the end result is that the beautiful - for lack of a better word - things going on with your character get lost to everyone.

Vast Internal Landscapes
This is a phrase I picked up somewhere, most likely John Wick considering where a lot of my initial research into GM/RP theory began, but the basic idea behind it is that in stage and other forms of acting, the actors often give their characters vast internal landscapes. The idea is to develop the background and emotional structure of a character, so that it can be properly played in front of an audience. The end result is, hopefully, a character that seems more real than just a part in a play or movie..

This is also something that a lot of RPers do. Think about it. How often have you sat down to game with the GM having a 3-5+ page backstory giving glimpses into a history and events that no one will ever know? Now, how often have you kept those secrets going, letting them drive all the action? Sure, you may be having fun, but you're not engaging the other players. And when you aren't engaging the other players, you are cutting off the potential for even more fun from the interaction.

Now, this doesn't work for everyone, or for every character. I'll flat out admit that I have issues with externalization. At the same time though, sometimes when I think I'm clear on the goals and reasons for my character's actions, people still misinterpret the intent. It is something I enjoy - seeing what people think is going on - but it is kind of counter with externalization. So, just keep in mind that with some characters you may prefer doing otherwise. However, you should still give this a try at least once or twice, it could lead to a lot of fun.

Strong Emotion
This isn't a problem for everyone, but some people - like me - have a tendency of retreating from strong emotional responses. Even if we know how our characters would handle them, there is just something about them that makes us retreat. The reasons for this go into the psychology of gaming, which I don't want to do here, but it can be an issue. Other players, when it comes to certain emotions, simply revert to who they themselves are. As if, once emotion comes into play, the character simply drifts away and the player takes over. In my experience, most players fall into one of these two categories.

The trick for the first kind, something that I am trying to experiment with now, is to take it in small steps. Don't retreat, but act through it. You know how your character will act, so do it. Fight down your own impulse and run with it. Maybe the character will surprise you here, after all as emotion increases you start to run on instinct and if the character is flowing right, it will drive that instinct for you. For the second kind, at least starting off, the trick is kind of the opposite. You want to take a step back and let your own personality relax as you analytically put the character through the emotions.

Either way, emotion can be a good thing to externalize with a character. Even if the character internalizes their emotions. Let people know if your character is feeling a certain way. Show is better than tell, but tell is a lot better than nothing at all.

So, How Should I?
As I said above, showing is better than telling, and telling is better than nothing. This doesn't mean that you have to take the emotion into your voice. There are a lot of visual cues you can use, or just explain to the other players. Telling the other players that your character's voice is heated and that she is clenching her fists tightly will get across a sense of anger quite nicely, and bring out that aspect of play. This can even be done after cracking a joke to calm yourself down, or even with a dull tone. Hell, if you're really stuck just say, "he seems angry as he's talking." Use those descriptive talents, or ways you handle emotions and put it into how you play. Do it a little at a time, and you'll be able to keep comfortable with it.

For those like me, who retreat from emotion, and those on the opposite end of the spectrum, who just return to basically being themselves in place of their character, this can serve equally well since you don't need to be in the midst of the emotion taking you out of character at the time.

Also, that long complicated backstory you made up? Let the other players in on it. It doesn't have to be in an info dump, but tell them what's going on. Something as simple as a "Remembering how my brother died, I'm definitely not going to take this deal" can speak volumes. It gives the other players an insight into your character, and lets you run with an interesting decision. Role Playing Games have a wonderful combination of the strengths of theater and literature when it comes to conveying characters, so don't limit yourself to just theater when playing your character. Bring it all out in your own way using both.

Miss Anything?
Did I miss anything? Is there other advice out there on this that you can think of to give? Anyone willing to admit to retreating in the face of strong emotion, or to their characters transforming into them when in a rage? Sound off in the comments.

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