We all have one. You know, the characters in games where we played the bad guys. And lots of times, they are our favorites. Mine is Diva; the game, Cyberpunk 2020, a tabletop roleplaying game.
First, a little background on Diva. Really, she was misunderstood, see? When she was young, she was involved in an accident which cost her her two legs and the lives of her mother, a high-fashion model, and her millionaire father. Her uncle took her in, raised her and nurtured her need for vengeance, for the loss of her parents, at the loss of her legs (though they were replaced with nifty bionic ones), and at the theft of the fortune that was rightfully hers.
This need for vengeance was handy for her uncle, a Chinese mafia bigwig, who used her considerable talents for removing barriers to his progress in the ranks. Yes, it was handy until the day Diva learned it was that very uncle who was responsible for her parents, her legs, her lost fortune, and her near-psychosis due to overwhelming amounts of cybernetics added as part of her uncle’s training (one of the game mechanics was as the cyberware increases, your human empathy, and therefore psychological intactness, decreases). So, naturally, she snapped. It’s really quite a sad story.
But it made for a delightful backdrop of roleplay. She was essentially a sociopath who joined up with a group of mercenaries in the hopes that one day she might gain access to her uncle. She trusted no one and cared only for vengeance. Her favorite possession was her SIG-Sauer pistol that once belonged to her father. She was beautiful and seduced people at will – it was a means to an end, usually the seductee’s.
Among her exploits: She dispatched of a boatful of corrupt river police while her groupmates tricked them into going below deck, one by one, to their doom. She once uttered the words, “I may die, but I’m sure as hell gonna take you out first,” to one of her groupmates who betrayed her. She stealthed into a building held by six hostiles holding several dozen civilian hostages, dispatched all of the hostiles to solve the situation, but at the same time made sure to hit her mark (the real reason she went in) so she could collect the $18,000 bounty.
OK, so maybe she was a little bit more than misunderstood. But why did I like playing her? Because she wasn’t me. At all. There was nothing in her personality that remotely resembled my own. This was truly escapism. There were a couple of key motivators I could latch onto, a background from which to build, and I left my real life behind on those Friday nights.
Sure, the play was sometimes stressful in its own right, but in a completely different way than my everyday stress. Yes, occasionally, we got really swept into the action, such that we got angry and yelled at each other – the “I’m gonna take you out first” night was one of those. But that doesn’t mean we’ve all since become a band of mercenaries. The game’s ability to pull us out of this life to another was its brilliance, what made it our favorite.
Playing “bad people” is the ultimate trying on another identity for a time, escape of self. But in that escape, we also better learn what our self is. We learn better our shape, our lines we do not wish to cross, what feels possible, and what simply isn’t. To some, that knowledge may seem scary or dangerous. I proffer it is not. It is what one does with knowledge that makes it bad. And it is without fear of this knowledge, that we present this week’s issue of The Escapist, “Good to be Bad.”