Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Game: Who Are You?

Varangians (Byzantine name for Vikings)
Let's play a game.


Today I am starting college. Okay, technically I'm starting orientation, but from now on I will live/learn/work on campus, so for all intents and purposes, I'm starting. Existential queries dwell on the threshold.

I've been thinking about how I'm going to change in college: I have vast and happy fantasies about how awesome I'm going to become once I start exercising my independence. But I've also been thinking about how I'm going to stay the same. What parts of me are so essential that to change them mean changing who I am, instead of what I am?

Today's game is based a little bit on my concept of the Doppelganger (which is different from the actual concept): a character you write with whom you identify but who is not a self-insert. They aren't identical to you, but they share key elements by which others (may) recognize you.

We will create Doppelgangers who share our core values while lacking most outer similarities. Shall we begin?


The first step is to figure out, as a first pass approximation, what your core values are. Sometimes we do things for concrete reasons, and sometimes we (refuse to) do things "on principle." What are those principles? What do you value?

Questions of "would you rather" or "would you ever" can often help with these, as well as silly/non-silly personality tests and questionnaires. The most informative source is, of course, personal experience: in real-life situations/challenges, how did you react and what does that say about you? What decisions have you made that surprised people? That could show a values dissonance. Sometimes the easiest way to see who you are is to see what you're not. Pay attention to when you use the word "should," because that's slapping a value judgment on something.

Sit down somewhere quiet or go for a walk and think about yourself. I will not presume that my method of introspection will work for you (though I will assert that it's probably easier if you do this alone at first, even if you ask a friend later to describe you to yourself). Just do what works.

[insert introspection here]

All right, do you have a clearer idea of yourself? Good.

Some of my values: everything always can and usually should be improved; self control is a good in its own right; knowledge is useless until used; everything is integrated; independence and choice for all; you owe the world your best; respect must be earned through actions/deeds; people talk too much; strength and power are desirable while weakness should be fixed (see: everything can be improved).

This is probably an incomplete list, and since I am a human and therefore want to think well of myself, I've probably got gaping blind spots for the aspects of my identity that are less admirable than my belief that independence and progress are good. But it's enough to start.


Second step: this is the character creation part. List basic attributes about yourself, and then change them.

For example: I am a female Asian human. Changing that makes me a male non-Asian...er...humanoid. Race and species aren't matters of opposites (and, strictly speaking, neither is gender) so let's pick arbitrarily and say...North African...svartalfar (dark-elf/dwarf).

North African because I've been thinking about Carthage, and svartalfar because when I picked randomly from this list of mythic humanoids, I got poltergeist first but poltergeist just isn't *me*--a spirit whose existence revolves around making other people's lives difficult? No. Dark-elf still isn't quite me, but I can work with it.

"The race and the species don't match!" Are you sure? Vikings traded with Byzantium, and Byzantium (or Constantinople--it wasn't Istanbul at that point) traded with North Africa. I apologize if any aspect of this exercise seems culturally appropriative. I'm just bored of having default European characters.

Back to the game: this Carthaginian dark-elf needs a name. Hey, look: Punic names. I like the sound of Admago.

Now we have Admago the dark-elf, an idealistic thinker who values independence, power, and social responsibility. Let's continue by writing down parts of our Doppelgangers' background.

Admago's father is a Carthaginian shopkeeper living in Byzantium, while his mother is a dark-elf who liked the climate of Byzantium better than that of her native Sweden. Dark-elves are similar to dwarves, so I'm saying that Admago's mother is a metalsmith.

All of my Doppelgangers (except Sarita) can use magic, which makes me wonder if I should have Admago *not* be a magician. Okay. This is difficult, which means it must be a step in the right direction. Admago can't do magic, despite being half-dark-elf. (He does, however, have remarkably good night-vision and patience.) He is therefore expected to take over his father's shop once he is older.

But Admago doesn't want to do that, because the thought of following someone else's path for him--even his beloved parents' path--makes him ill.

What does he do instead? Something that I personally would not do, but which someone could do without betraying my core values as identified above. Running away from home is cliche and, though I cannot quite define how, it feels like it would betray something.

I don't think I'd have the gumption to go out and find work of my own (I mean, look at me now, I'm heading off to university after having dutifully jumped through the hoops of the college app process) but that is something I admire so Admago does that.

Admago becomes apprenticed to a...to a what? Something I wouldn't do. A surgeon? I dislike blood and have never felt drawn to medicine, but that's not fundamental to me. Admago becomes a surgeon!


Third step now. In case you haven't realized, when I come up with these games I make up the rules as I go, and I'm not sure what will go here. I haven't written a poem is a really long time; let's try that.

A poem about the character you've created, a Doppelganger who does not resemble you on the surface. (An anti-Doppelganger, then, if we use the conventional definition of Doppelganger. Instead of a body double inhabited by a malicious spirit, we have a spirit double with an unrecognizable outside.) What kind of poem? I like sonnets, so we'll do sonnets.

A reminder on form: fourteen lines of ten syllables. Shakespearean or Petrarchan are both fair game. I think poems are easier to write by hand first, labeling the lines so you can see what the rhyme has to be.

Here is my attempt:

Admago the Surgeon

The man said "Welcome to Byzantium"
To maiden far from fair: a swarthy elf
Whose onyx hands did shape a piece of plumb
He fell in love: how could he help himself?
The man he had his shop; the elf her forge;
Then they had their son, Admago: the child
Nor smith, nor keep, as surgeon's prentice swore.
With steadfast stomach, eyes both sharp and mild
He learned the secrets of the shattered leg
Of flesh burned raw, of ailments slow and cruel.
By patient's side he lived; elsetimes seemed dead
At twenty-four, Admago bought a mule.
He left Byzantium one autumn eve:
In wider world he could his best achieve.


Fourth step: retrospect. It was nice writing poetry again, though I got stalled after the first two lines. You get moments like that, when you give up and read articles on your phone for half an hour before prodding yourself to write again. Activation energy is high.

I don't think that playing this game alone gave me a lot more self-knowledge, since I've been thinking around identity for a long time now (being in a liminal state == constant existential crisis) (is "liminal state" an oxymoron? Liminal stage almost certainly feels that way), though I do think it's telling that at the end of the sonnet above, Admago leaves Byzantium. Every single story I've written, ever, involves someone leaving home. Sometimes coming back, but oftentimes, not. I can't be like Poe and write closed-system stories.*

*"it has always appeared to me that a close circumscription of space is absolutely necessary to the effect of insulated incident- it has the force of a frame to a picture. It has an indisputable moral power in keeping concentrated the attention, and, of course, must not be confounded with mere unity of place."
--Edgar Allen Poe, "Philosophy of Composition"

In hindsight, perhaps surgeon isn't really *me* either. I like to make things; surgeons fix things that have been broken. Of course I do like solving problems, and I have Doppelgangers whose professions are even further from me-like (see: Orsolya the cop, Evan the soldier), so the point may be moot for the exercise. But I have learned something about myself from this, though the knowledge--whatever it is--is useless until it is used.

We shall see. Wish me luck.



Schwarzalbenheim - Therion

No comments:

Post a Comment