In this highly personal treatise, Stephany explains how RPGs can be an outlet for an introverted, reticent and downright shy woman who revels in exploring digital fantasy worlds.
I am a huge fan of fantasy. Always have been, always will be. You can blame my mother for handing me her worn out paperback of The Hobbit when I was nine years old. You can further blame my father for letting me read his collection of Conan books starting around 10 years old when I should have been reading The Wind in the Willows instead. Don’t even get me started on anything pertaining to Merlin, stories penned by McCaffrey or any other fantasy writer on the planet. I just enjoy it.
This love of fantasy also spilled over into movies, Dungeon & Dragons and eventually, video games. RPGs especially. There was, and still is, no other medium in which you can immerse yourself into the role of another person who is brave, strong, magical and thrives on dishing out deadly justice to evil-doers like goblins, orcs, Beholders or even worse creatures brought to life by creators. It’s rather awesome isn’t it?
But there is more to it than that: I am about to get extremely personal here – exposing my very soul as it were, so please be patient but mostly, please be kind. I am sure many of you can relate to some of what I am about to tell you.
I didn’t have many friends growing up. When I was nine years old, my family moved from the subdivision we lived in to a mile or so outside of town. Each home was on a one acre lot and the road, while long, only had around 17-20 houses on it, many spaced apart by farmland. The home we moved to had a cattle farm behind it with a scummy pond and there was a hay farm across the road. The only children close by were next door, and both were boys 3 and 5 years older than I was at the time. They weren’t interested in playing with me. They were only interested in shooting targets or the occasional frog at the pond with their BB-guns. Shooting frogs definitely didn’t want to make me play with them either.
I imagined myself the outcast hero saving the town and the woman he loved from the evil wizard in the tower; the deadly dragon hell-bent on burning everyone alive with its fiery breath. I was the hero. Everyone loved me.
Sure, I had friends at the private catholic school I went to, but other than the occasional slumber party, I only interacted with them during school hours. I wasn’t very close to many of the girls. Each one had a different “best friend” every week, and I had a hard time trying to decipher my role on any given day. Unlike a public school where there are many classes of the same grade, there was only one each for K-8, so each year, it was the same kids in each class and the dynamic changed radically upon the start of a new school year.
I had no siblings at the time, so my main interaction came from adults, and there were many in my house: both parents, my maternal grandparents, my uncle and occasionally my other uncle if he drank too much to drive home. Thank the stars it was a large house, and it amazes me even to this day how well we all functioned with only one bathroom to use between all these people.
Being as isolated as I was, I started immersing myself more and more into books. I imagined myself as the outcast hero saving the town and the woman he loved from the evil wizard in the tower; the deadly dragon hell-bent on burning everyone alive with its fiery breath. I was the hero. Everyone loved me. No longer an outsider, I was now the lauded hero of the townspeople, and in turn, I won the heart of the princess/lord’s daughter/milk maid. It was an amazing escape from a boring existence surrounded by adults in the country and fickle school children.
Upon reaching 12 years of age, my parents enrolled me in public school because I needed interaction with a larger peer group. I made new friends. Not many though. Four of those girls, now grown women with children and careers, I am still great friends with. Amazing. Still, I never felt I fit in with anyone completely. I was never one of the cool kids. I was never part of any clique (thank God).
Despite being painfully shy, I was nice to everyone. I never spoke to anyone that wasn’t close to me, unless I was spoken to, which caused many to think I was a snob. Nothing could have been further from the truth. I was just really, really insecure and shy. No matter a classmate’s social status, I would always return a “hi” or a “smile” in the hallway or in class. This definitely made none of the “cool kids” like me. You don’t speak to a “grit” (a poor person) lest you be labeled one yourself. I wasn’t poor. I wasn’t rich either. My father was a maintenance supervisor at a factory; my mother a loan officer at a bank; my grandfather and uncle trained horses; and my grandmother was a baby-sitter. Basically, we were a middle-class family. Nice house. Nice clothes. Nice cars. But nothing too extravagant. Even if we had been well-to-do, material things never help you out in the confidence department. It has to come within.
Few, if any, of the girls I hung out with were interested in Choose Your Own Adventure books, fantasy books and Nintendo, so the conversation never ventured in that direction. We’d discuss clothes, make-up, boys and the usual adolescent girl problems. But one group reveled in it as much as I did: the boys. This is probably one of the reasons I had – and still have – more male friends today than females. This is also the main reason why I never had many boyfriends through the course of my life. I was “too much like them” or the “really cool friend who liked Dungeon & Dragons, Nintendo, cars, beer, whiskey, cigars, Dune, and The Dark Tower books” as much as the rest of them. I was like an adopted little sister, and I was fine with that – at least I fit in someplace, and I was socially happy for once.
It was the same in college really. I had one friend I’d go to the local bars with to drink and dance. I am a completely different person when drinking. I’m outgoing, will do anything to get a laugh, and I love to dance and sing karaoke. I even sang in a couple bands in college. I had to get drunk to get on stage though – again, painfully shy. Liquid courage is a real thing. Don’t let anyone tell you any different.
After college came adulthood. Most of my friends moved on to have families or took a job in an exciting city far, far away from Kentucky. I didn’t do either. I took menial jobs full of office politics, back-stabbing and sexist co-workers, and even waited tables just for the extra spending money to buy new D&D dice and Forgotten Realms novels. I still drank quite a bit. It was the only way for me to have the confidence I needed to be social. Always afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing: constantly afraid of ridicule or being seen as “a bitch” or “highfaluting” for exuding any confidence whatsoever.
I always wanted a PC. When one came into my life, I was hooked. I immersed myself into a world where I finally felt happy, accepted.
When I wasn’t drinking to kill my shyness, I was writing short fantasy stories for my friends on an old typewriter, and playing The Legend of Zelda games on NES and SNES consoles I bought at a pawn shop to replace the ones my Mom sold in a yard sale after her and my father divorced. PlayStation 2 had been out for a while, but I could not afford one. My father moved in the apartment next door to me after his second divorce, and after getting in a fight with his new girlfriend, now wife, over chatting online with other ladies, he gave me his Hewlett Packard PC.
I always wanted a PC after playing DOS games on a friend’s, and when one finally came into my life, I was hooked. It wasn’t the best rig on the planet. I was lucky to be able to run Sim Farm, Alice and Deer Avenger on it, but it provided me with the perfect place to be myself without worrying about face-to-face ridicule. There were so many fantasy chat rooms and fanfiction outlets to pour my love of the genre into. I immersed myself into a world where I finally felt happy, accepted. I finally belonged to something. Some of the people I met online during this period I still keep in touch with and consider friends to this day. Yes, you can be friends with people online, and care about them, even if you have never met. It’s both a blessing and a curse.
At some point during all of this, a friend of mine formed a band and wanted me to help with PR. Basically I sold shirts and chatted with people at the bar for them. Again, I had to be lit in order to accomplish my task. This is where I met my friend Ron Whitaker. I hope he forgives me for dropping his name. At the time, I was working on my mother’s horse farm, having grown tired of working in an office full of bitches (literally), and while it is never ideal to work for your parents – especially a mother who is never satisfied with anything you do no matter how hard you work or try – it was better than nothing.
Ron was working part time at FileFront and asked me if I wanted a job writing gaming news and doing a few reviews here and there. He too was an avid gamer like myself, and this was the perfect opportunity for me to turn my love for games into a career. I worked from home, so there was zero interaction with hateful people (or so I thought – see Dave’s goodbye post) and all I had to do, all day long, was play and write about video games.
To do this, I had to get a decent PC. I picked out the parts, and Ron built it for me. Finally, I had a machine which would run Neverwinter Nights, Baldur’s Gate, Diablo, the Fallout series, and all sorts of other really cool RPGs. I was in heaven. During this time I bought my boyfriend, with whom I am still living with, an original Xbox for Christmas. The Xbox 360 had already come out, but we couldn’t afford one just yet. This was the bundle I told you about. This was also the day I purchased Morrowind for console because my PC would not run it very well. Some of the best RPGs in the world were finally at my finger tips. It was great. I had everything I wanted in order to continue immersing myself in a fantasy world where I slay evil doers and act the hero.
Ron also introduced me to MMOs. At first, I had zero interest in them. Why would a socially inept person like me want to play online with other people? What if I can’t get into a Guild? What if I screw up in a raid and they kick me out? What if they think I suck? Or I’m stupid? I refused at first, until he handed me a code for Lord of the Rings Online. He knew Tolkien was my Achilles Heel and that I would not, could not refuse.
In RPGs, I can escape. I can live out an exciting existence full of danger, adventure, excitement, and passion.
Seven years later I am still playing it. Granted, I have taken quite a long break. I have not logged in since January. My Guild, The Riders of Rohan, used to be one of the biggest on our server. It was a founding Kinship, and had its name long before the expansion Riders of Rohan came out. Most have moved on to other games, or life got in the way of playtime. I could have joined another Kinship, but I am loyal. To my own detriment sometimes. I still chat with our old Kinleader on occasion. He has a racing channel on Twitch which keeps him busy, but once in a blue moon we’ll hit each other up on Skype and shoot the shit. I consider him one of my best-friends. I love him dearly, actually. We tell each other everything. One day, I would love to meet the man and give him the biggest, longest hug ever.
I am a grown woman. I refuse to call myself an adult, not only because I don’t feel like one, but because emotionally, I’m not. I am still that shy, kindhearted, insecure little girl who grew up isolated surrounded by farmland. I am still isolated. I live on a farm which, once surrounded by cattle and horses, is now at the center of a massive cornfield. I can see nothing but 7-foot tall stalks no matter which window I look out of. I am still not one of the “cool kids”. When at a gaming convention, once the interviews and conferences are over for the day, I don’t go hang out with the other games writers at the W Hotel or whatever the hotspot is for that particular convention. I go back to my room with food and fizzy drinks and write up the day’s work until I fall asleep at my laptop.
Ask anyone I have met at those functions if I am outgoing or a party animal. Ask Sam. Ask Matt. I met both at GDC. Ask Brenna. I just hung out with her at the end of May when she came to Atlanta. I am not social in the real world, but when I am online, I am myself. This is the person you know: the one who delivers you the news; gushes about The Elder Scrolls and gets super excited over a cool-looking RPG.
This is why I continue to play RPGs. Skyrim has been out for ages. So has Morrowind, the Witcher, Dragon’s Age, WoW, LotRO, Torchlight, Diablo. I still fire those up. I can’t help myself.
I restarted Skyrim again recently. I can’ t stop playing. I am Areonwyn. I slay dragons, vampires, Cultists, bandits, skeevers, bears. I am Dragonborn. It was fortold I would be the savior of the Nords and restore their place of honor in Tamriel. I am the chosen one.
In LotRO, I am Morrethiel. Elven huntress raised by her eleven kin in Mirkwood when her mother was slain by orcs. Determined to avenge his spouse’s death, her father left Morrethiel in the care of his cousins, never to return. She has a twin sister raised by her mother’s family in Rivendell, but she hasn’t seen Gwuenhyar since their third summer. She had fallen in love with a man of Rohan, and not long after they had plight their troth, was killed during a Warg Rider attack. Now, her purpose in life is to rid Middle-earth of the orc menace. She will either die an honorable death in the process, or once the evil scum are vanquished, she will allow herself to pass. She will never take the ship bound for Valinor.
In RPGs, I can escape. I can create the character I wish to be. I can live out an exciting existence full of danger, adventure, excitement, and passion. Online, I am bold, creative, fun, and try my best to be funny. I interact with people; I laugh with them; I argue with them; I scold them when they are rude or unjust to people. I have fun.
In the real world, I am just Stephany. One day, that will be enough, but that is not this day.
In the real world, I am just Stephany. One day, that will be enough, but that is not this day. Until then, I’m satisfied with escaping through fantasy RPGs. As long as developers continue to make these games, I am fine with it. Don’t feel sorry for me; don’t label me as broken or pathetic. I am neither, but I promise, I am working really hard at becoming more confident. In fact, I think online games and RPGs have helped me immensely.
It’s getting better as time wears on. I owe so much to fantasy writers and game developers who love the genre as much as I do. I am sure many creatives felt the same as I did growing up, and this outsider mentality and love of fantasy eventually led to a banner career creating video games fans all over the world buy and love. They create a medium in which to escape the pressures of day to day life; they provide you with an outlet to be attractive, brave, strong.
To paraphrase the psychobabble of fictional self-help guru Stuart Smalley: RPGs create a world in which you are good enough, you’re smart enough and doggone it, people like you. And that’s okay. To hell with the real world. I’d take an RPG over it any day.