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Switching Weapons – Rolling a New Character

Posted by Jim on August 5, 2011

You enter the wet, dark hallway you discovered behind the old, creaky bookcase and steel yourself against the cold air that wafts into your nose, carrying the smell of corpses and some ancient evil. You grip your fiery sword of righteous fury, and clench your holy symbol of the Morninglord’s Devout. You are ready for anything; you have ventured far and wide, collected an arsenal of equipment, and amassed powers and experienced most adventures merely dream of. You step forward, when you hear a loud, violent thud and realize the bookshelf has slammed shut, trapping you in the vile dungeon’s depths. Everything goes black. Speaking a quiet prayer, your sword erupts in holy flames, lighting your way. You look forward—and meet the gaze of an vile corpse wyrm. A foul miasma emanates from its rotting, mottled flesh, scales wearing off and hanging in clumps. It opens its mouth, bearing rows and rows of horrible, yellowed, dagger-like teeth that seem eager to rend your flesh and taste your blood.

CHOMP.

Roll a new character.

I entered the Army in October of 2002, as a Field Artillery Surveyor. As an artilleryman, I deployed to Iraq within 3 weeks of being assigned to my first unit after training, and was on the ground in Kuwait by May 9th, 2003. Seven months later, I was critically wounded when a grenade was thrown into the vehicle I was driving in.  I was evacuated from country. As a result of my injuries, I was required to reclass to a new occupational specialty, or face the chopping block and medically retire. I chose pharmacy specialist, where I still serve to this day. In a sense, I had to reroll my own character.

Many say that one of the greatest benefits the escapism that gaming gives us is the freedom from true defeat. At the end of the day, no matter what happens, you can always roll a new character. The game will continue. The adventure goes on. The beauty of gaming is that it will persist, as long as we have a passion for it. While this is mostly true, I definitely have a counterpoint to provide.

I have played the same Toreador character in Vampire: The Masquerade for about four years and a Lasombra character in the same game for close to eight years. These characters are a part of me; a little aspect of my psyche and soul that I have given form and breathed life into. They are as much alive to me as anyone flesh and blood in my life – any patient in my pharmacy, any friend from home, or any soldier beside me on the line. They live within me, through me, and my decisions guide their fate. I have felt that rush of exhilaration when they overcome some nigh-impossible challenge. I have felt the hurt when they lost a comrade, or failed in their quests. I have felt that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when I make a decision that I fear may end their existence.

To that, I argue, there CAN be true defeat. Those characters, I’ve come to love and cherish as part of myself, but also entities of their own, can elicit such a bond, an emotional response, and spur feelings in me I wouldn’t think possible from a game of make-believe. Of course, as a very close friend told me, there’s no sorrow in ending a story, as long as the story was a good one. When my Toreador, or my Lasombra, or any other character I’ve formed a close bond with, born of my own mind and soul, meet their inevitable demise, I can be confident that the story they told was one worth telling. Sure, I’ll be saddened to see them go, but happy for the experience they left me with.

However, true defeat isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, while it can be tragic, rerolling can open new doors. Bring new opportunities. I rerolled into a pharmacy occupation, and it led to my promotion to sergeant, meeting my closest friend, and introducing me to the love of my life, which I’ve been happily married to for four wonderful years. What I learned, was that maybe when life gets too stagnant as a warrior, what you really need is to try things from an apothecary’s perspective.

A large number of soldiers returning from deployments overseas often report a loss of emotional connection, being unable to feel things the way they did before, having been ‘numbed’ by their experiences. I completely understand this, having experienced it myself. These characters, while still fictional, have allowed me to invest part of myself in an emotional endeavor, and through them, I’ve learned how to feel those feelings again. While I live through them in game, they live through me in life. I can exemplify their best traits in what I do, pull from their strengths, overcome their weaknesses as my weaknesses, and learn from their successes to form my own.

After all, despite the unique lives these characters forged on their own, they were always me to begin with.

About Jim

Sergeant Jim Beverly is a Pharmacy Specialist in the U.S. Army, and, for much longer, an avid gamer. A purple heart recipient and veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, Jim is always looking for ways to connect with his inner gamer, despite his obligations to his country. He strongly believes that the medium of gaming can be used to help servicemembers cope with adversity, post-war trauma, and strengthen relationships. His philosophy on life, the military, and being a nerd is shared in his column "Switching Weapons."

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