Eventually players of tabletop or play-by-post roleplaying games stumble upon the idea of playing themselves instead of adopting a fictional persona. Often in these games the players are either transported from the real world to their setting of choice, or the setting is closely modeled on the real world, with a twist. Playing yourself in a role-playing game has a number of unique challenges that, thankfully, aren’t too difficult to surmount. As a GM, it helps to be aware of these potential issues before they arise.
Resistance to the idea
Some players may, initially, be turned off by the idea out of self-loathing. “I play games to get away from my life. Why would I want to play myself in a game?”
Well, that’s the point. You’re you — or at least, a game version of you — but you’re not living your life and the parts of it you don’t like. It’s important that the players and GM are on the same page about what the game is going to entail. If you’re the one running it, be sure to clarify what the game’s actually going to be about, and skimp on the mundane details. While it’s important to establish what the characters’ lives are like beyond the adventure to provide a frame of reference in most games, when the players are playing themselves you can assume they already have a handle on that.
A second potential issue is players who have a hard time separating fiction from reality as it is. Characters suffer all sort of abuse in a role playing game, up to and including death, and some players don’t have the ego to entertain the thought of bad things happening to themselves.
Not all systems allow you to create “normal” sorts of people well. Some simply lack the granularity, and others are so genre-specific that creating a character from modern day earth just isn’t an option. Some games make it darn near impossible to play someone of a realistic human power-level. Make sure to select a system that allows you to create your players to the level of accuracy you prefer. Better yet, stick to a system that isn’t so simulationist.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect
Making yourself as a character in a role-playing game requires a good amount of self-awareness. The Dunning-Kruger effect says, in essence, that less capable people tend to overestimate their abilities, while more capable people downplay what they can do. In my experience gamers tend to either exaggerate their strengths or deficiencies, whether through a misunderstanding of how a game’s traits translate into real-world abilities, or simple self-deception.
How to Run a Game Where the Players Play Themselves
The solution to all the above issues is the same. Don’t try to model reality exactly. Whatever the game you’re playing, whatever tone you’re setting, tell the players to re-imagine themselves through that lens. If you’re running a game where the players are get superpowers, tell them to make up idealized comic book versions of themselves. If they’re zapped into the past and sent hurtling through time, have them make up Hollywood pastiches of who they’d like to be.
No matter what you do, there’s going to be a significant gap between who the players are and how they’re translated into the game, but if you manage and guide player expectations and don’t get wrapped up in minutiae, the game will work, and everyone will have a good time.
This blog post was originally published on my author site at mcoorlim.com