Monday, 16 April 2007

Playing the role you don't want to live

My father was, in many ways, the inspiration for the character of the Innocent Man. Yet he loved to play villains on the operatic stage. As a bass-baritone, he often got the opportunity, though sadly he never fulfilled his ambition to play Mephistopheles in Faust, the ultimate villain.
Neighbours of ours once took their young sons to a production of The Mikado in which Dad was playing the title role, and Dad was highly amused by the question one of the boys (about 8 or 9 at the time, I think) asked his parents afterwards: "Now the play is over, can Mr McMillan go back to being a nice man?"

All of which as introduction to why I'm really enjoying playing Garan in Vaxalon's Amber wiki game.

Garan, I've come to realize, is like a stereotypical D&D character, only HARDCORE! (to use Jess Hammer's technical terminology). Not only does he want to kill Corwin and take his stuff, he wants to chop the corpse into small pieces and create a zombie Corwin army (which I suppose would make him Chaotic Evil, in D&D terms). He's also suggested killing Brand: "If the blood of Amber is so great, I'd like to see some."

The format of the game helps with being able to do stuff like this. Because it's a wiki, we can retcon and revise, and I can indicate either in the wiki or on the out-of-character email list we are using to coordinate in the background that I'm not seriously suggesting this (besides which, the scene is set within the existing Amber canon, so I know going in that the suggestion isn't going to be taken up). We're creating a shared fiction in which Garan is a particular kind of extreme character, who pushes things in a particular direction but isn't going to get his way most of the time. I'm loving that; I get to propose mayhem, with the knowledge that it won't get acted on.

In other words, it's a safe way to indulge my desire to be a complete loose cannon and sow mayhem and destruction - not something I actually want to do in real life, because unlike Garan I'm aware of consequences.

I remember years ago reading a Philip K. Dick story (the one with Lincoln in it, I think) and being struck by the term Maschenfreiheit, which means "maskfreedom". This is the freedom you have to act in what would normally be unacceptable ways, by virtue of wearing a mask. Garan is an instance of maskfreedom for me, just as the Mikado or Dick Deadeye were for my father.

EDIT: See my follow-up post.

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