Real Life as a Role Playing Game

Before reading any further, I urge you to read Tricia Sullivan’s guest post on Charlie Stross’ site. It’s a meaty, thoughtful piece chock full o’ ideas that make you think. I’m looking forward to her next three posts on antipope and I’ve already added her to my RSS feed. Seriously, go read it. I’ll wait.

Back? Ok, now on to what the things that Tricia’s post knocked loose in my head.

I remember seeing Boogie Nights and being struck by just how well is portray an idea that I’d been playing around with but hadn’t really found the words for. The best I’ve managed to-date is “niche celebrity.” The sort of celebrity that one achieves in an insular community that has almost no bearing on one’s status in the world-at-large. I remember Burt Reynolds, near the end of the film, trying to get some kid off the street interested in “Roller Girl” and how he didn’t seem to understand how little that name meant outside of his clique.

Seeing Rush Limbaugh on Monday Night Football (yes, that really happened) evoked that same sense of someone who was a big deal in his element trying to come to grips with the fact that the general American public was a very different audience. Just like the Burt Reynolds character in Boogie Nights, Limbaugh seemed completely unaware of exactly why people reacted to him differently than they did inside his bubble.

These are just two examples, but you can probably think of others in your everyday life. There are people who are really in to karaoke, and they’re well known in their circles. People who engage heavily with particular subcultures (goths, I’m looking at you) may be well known in their groups but whose names would be completely unknown to most of us. When I was younger, I was reasonably well known by the participants in a sports league in my town, and I was significantly more aggressive and self-assured in that environment. It was, in fact, similar to the well-known online role-playing game where I am not me, I am a shaman who commands elemental powers beyond the ken of mere mortals!

Which is, in a roundabout way, my point. I think, and I’m still working on this, that these niches which produce their own local celebrities and hierarchies are much more like LARP-ing than the participants realize. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I get the impression that when people engage in these subcultures and activities and hobbies, they’re playing a role. They have their own social order, their own rules, that are quite outside of those of general society. Sullivan’s description of the various orders of martial arts struck me as very much in the same vein. They’re as much about role-playing within the particular discipline as they are about actual self-defense.

I suspect, although I haven’t given it much thought yet, that jobs fall very much into the same category. The rewards for playing the game well are different, but the dynamic seems very much the same. At this point, we’re very close to the fina issue of volume 3 of Grant Morrison’s “The Invisibles.” wherein he suggests the possibility that a great deal of one’s personality is discretionary role-playing. I won’t go quite that far…yet.

This is, of course, not at all what I intended to write about today. Blame Tricia Sullivan for that. (You can’t see it, but I’m winking and smiling as I say/write that).


P.S. I’m well aware of the fact that I’m assuming a character for this blog and I’m not even entirely sure it’s the best of my characters for this particular discussion. That makes it more fun, doesn’t it?

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