Not all of my characters are crazy! Just most of them. People often ask me why. Here's one version of the answer.
"the lunatic is on the glass. . .the lunatic is on the glass . ."
Why are all your characters crazy? Why do you play all those insane characters?
I get those questions all the time. Not all of my characters are crazy. However, the vast majority of them have a bit of a wrinkle. A quirk. A neurotic twist. A touch of some at least minor derangement. I've played a lot of insane characters over the years, in many different gaming systems.
The answers are complex. The main one is, it's a challenge.
Roleplaying is the art of taking on the role of someone else. Good roleplayers really walk a mile in the other guy's shoes, so to speak. When you create a character, you think about their motivations, and what makes them tick. You think about how it must be to suddenly be involved in this bizarre situation, whatever it may be. You think of what your character would have felt, being turned into a vampire, or awakening as a mage, or whatever the case may be.
The challenge is to see the world through the eyes of your character. Isn't it a more difficult challenge to see the world through the eyes of a character who is mad?
The further your character is removed from your reality, the harder it is to play them. It is relatively easy to play out a character whose background is similar to your own, who has become involved with the supernatural, or even become supernatural themselves. It is that much harder to play a person from a country you've never been to, or a culture you know little about. With research, and thought, you can do these things, and do them well.
Many good roleplayers enjoy that challenge. To me, playing insanity is taking it a step further. It is like playing a character from a country that no one knows about, whose culture is alien, and whose reality is often uncertain. How does someone from a place like that see the world around them?
Insanity has rules of its own. They may seem irrational or illogical or inconsistent, but there is some internal sense to them. Creating the rules of a mad character's reality is a challenge. Not only do you have to do all the other things that go into creating a character, you have to create the filters through which your insane character views the world.
It's not just once in a while. It's constant. Anything your character sees or hears or does has to go through that filter. The most gracious kindness may seem a great evil, through the eyes of some insanities. Or a horrific act may seem reasonable and good. A character may do something terrible one moment, and kind the next. To other characters, there may seem no reason for it, but to the insane character, there is a reason. It may be something as cliche as little voices telling the character to commit the atrocious act, or it may be that something internal set off that act. Or perhaps the horror was a natural part of the character, and the act of kindness the result of intervening voices. And no one but the player of the insane character (except possibly the storyteller) should know which it is, or why.
Other than the challenge, why do I play all these insane characters?
There are a few more reasons. The alternative realities, the wide variations in perceptions fascinate me. The internal struggle is also compelling. Like a vampire must face their Beast, or deal with it in some way, the insane character has to live (or unlive) with their madness. It's a disability, but one that can add to the sweetness of a character's triumphs.
I also have a close relative with some serious problems, though I do not know the diagnosis. Plus I worked in the activities department of a mental hospital a couple of summers when I was an undergrad. Attempting to play out insanity helps me understand people that I know, and I draw from my experiences to flesh out the roleplaying further.
Communication is my field. It's why I'm a language teacher. It's why I learn languages. Communication with people whose reality is distinctly different is not always that different than communication with people from other cultures. The twist on communication is another reason why insane characters fascinate me. Obviously, the best example of that is Tess, the Malkavian who does not speak English, but her own language. Yes, the dictionary is 500 some words. No, it's not online, and no, you can't have a copy!
I've learned things, playing my insane characters. From Magpie, a TT Malkavian, I learned how to change personalities in mid-sentence, and how to portray seven different personalities well enough to make them distinct. From Emily, my Vegas Malkavian, I learned to juggle extremes within one character, and how much fun it is to write like my students do, in endless run-on sentences. I also learned to make posts longer than two or three lines! From Gideon I learned how to be funny and frightening at the same time, and how to make a character that breaks out of my standard three archetypes (helpless, bitch and caregiver). And then there was Tristan, who wasn't a Malk, but was crazier than a good handful of them. Tristan had multiple personalities, but two of them destroyed each other, and from their ashes (so to speak) another personality was born. An amnesiac. He remembered nothing since the night of his embrace, in 1925. That was fun. The innocence and dislocation was what I learned there.
And from Tess - ah, Tess! Tess started out as a character in a brief LARP. I re-created her for Ashland. She was an experiment. Tess, as some of you may know, was inspired by a combination of the title character in the movie "Nell", and Genie, a case study examined often in Linguistics courses, and also in psychology courses. Genie was a girl found at the age of about 13 after having been isolated in a closet by abusive parents since she was somewhere between the ages of one and two. Genie never completely learned to speak. Her language was always limited. According to a documentary on Genie, people always responded to her - giving her things and helping her out, even though they didn't know her story. When I started playing Tess, it was for the challenge of the language. But what I found was that people responded to the character in much the same way real people responded to the real Genie. That was a surprise!
Heck, if you want another answer, go see the play "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". Or read the book, or see the movie. If you want a very simple answer to why I play all these crazy characters, it's my way of being a Randall P. McMurphy in a world ruled by Nurse Ratched. And liberating the Chief.
"the lunatic is in your head. . .the lunatic is in your head. . ."
Return to the Other WoD Items of Interest Page