#RPGaDay2018 Day 30

Day 30: Share something you learned about playing your character

I’ve usually got only a few paragraphs in response to these, but this one is long. Apologies in advance.

The character I’m playing right now in Masks is the teen superhero “Radiance”, aka Summer Skye Newman. For those not familiar with her backstory, buckle up, because it’s the result of 50 sessions of play and about as much side-story on our forums.

My original PC, Leo Snow, built robots, using a machine that used his own brain as a template for original AIs. His bots are psychologically as human as he is, but not him, so there’s none of this “I want to be human” Pinocchio nonsense. No, their major hurdle is convincing everyone else that they’re human, and we’ve played through some of that in the game already.

Then there’s this article, “Why Must Women Fall In Love To Be Human?”, about how female-presenting AIs in fiction must apparently prove themselves by hooking up with the male human protagonist or whatever. Leo’s second creation, Pneuma, started life this way because Leo visualized her as being in love with him at the moment of her creation (he was lonely, wanted a girlfriend, didn’t know better at the time). But Pneuma wasn’t comfortable with feelings being imprinted on her like that, so they broke up and became best friends. And together they learned important life lessons like mutual respect. They started the game as amicable exes, and both of them clearly acknowledge that what Leo did then was wrong.

Early in game, Pneuma was “forked” due to shenanigans - a backup of her was brought to life as an independent entity. We named this backup Numina, but she then took on the name “Summer”, just as the original Pneuma adopted “Aria” as a civilian name. They grew to identify as twin sisters, taking the last name “Newman”. And sometime shortly after that, Aria got back with Leo as his girlfriend, of her own volition. [no, really - I explicitly told the GM “do not let me the player determine this PC’s romantic destiny with her”, and he made all the decisions for her]

So now Summer is wrestling with her feelings about & for Leo, her feelings about being a clone of someone else, plus how to deal with clear romantic interest from another guy (Jason Quill, who later hooks up with a different girl). By the time the Valentine’s Day dance rolls around and she has no date (not that she actively went looking for one, mind you), when even the ghost girl on our team got asked out, she’s definitely dealing with feelings of being unwanted. Part of that is her own damn fault, though.

She’s also roommates with Jason’s nemesis-turned-girlfriend, Alycia.

I’ve learned a ton of things by playing this character. In no particular order…

My instincts for how to play these characters appears to be working. I’ve presented Leo’s story to a few people I know and trust, and they’ve not alerted me to any red flags (in terms of representation, stereotyping, etc.).

Summer had a talk with Alycia about Jason, and you’d think “ugh, Bechdel Test, hellooo?” But that conversation was just using the boyfriend as a proxy for these two girls to talk about each other and themselves, about acceptance and purpose and so forth, for them to kind of learn about each other. And they had a lovely series of exchanges, about the dance, which saw a friendship develop between them despite serious personal misgivings on both sides. If Jason was out of the picture at this point, nothing substantial would change between them, which I think is great.

Robot characters are fantastic proxies for talking about diversity and inclusiveness. This game has tackled issues (through Summer and her kind) that real people face every day. Am I comfortable in the body I inhabit? Will other people attack me for looking how I look? Is the way that I love people going to be accepted? What do I do with these feelings of alienation and loneliness? What if there’s only a few other people like me - how do I balance wanting friends with staying safe?

Otto, another robot, is a transforming car-robot that in humanoid form towers over everyone else. He can’t use conventional stairs, enter buildings (such as schools, libraries, etc.) He would require special accommodation to live anything like a normal human life. I wouldn’t call him “disabled” in the least - if anything he’s more “abled” than anyone around him - and yet accessibility is a constant challenge in his life.

It’s important to note that as robot characters, they are not presented as actually disabled, trans, and so on, and their stories are not those of real people in such categories. I would say that their stories contain elements of others, but no more. And nobody gets to come tell me “your portrayal of sentient humanoid robots is unrealistic and disrespectful to real sentient humanoid robots”, which is nice. That said, could there be (for example) a gay Newman-type robot? I don’t see why not. Let me know if you feel like writing a story about one, so I can give you the details about their tech.

Related to that, who we are as people is infinitely complex.

For example, just talking about Summer’s ethnicity is a twisty labyrinth of questions. I visually modeled Leo on actor Aramis Knight, who has parents who are Pakistani-Indian and English-Irish-German. In-game, Leo’s biological mother is Korean, and his father is not. His robots, like Aria and Summer, can technically look like anything they want, but they are most comfortable looking ethnically like Leo, because his memories inform their own and that’s what he remembers. So Summer could be described as “Asian” by a casual observer. She was “born” and effectively raised in America all her life, but (like Leo) remembers a succession of foster parents, including some who were Black, and some who were Korean and Japanese.

So…if you were the sort of person who needed to assign labels to a person, what would you call her?

I wouldn’t identify Summer as “Asian-American”. I might call her “Robot-American”, because the “Robot” part has dominated her unique experience. But I could also just call her “Summer”, because if you try to put her in a box, she is likely to try climbing out of it.

Which brings me to the best lesson: the characters I have the most fun with, and make the best stories with, are the ones who aren’t easily defined. Summer’s life is a giant ball of drama and confusion and hurt and love, but she’s still making coffee and making friends, doing her best as a hero, and saving the world. She’s wild and weird and confused and sweet, and she looks like a Manic Pixie Dream Girl if you squint, but she has a way of opening your eyes to see the real her.

RPG-a-Day 2018