Welcome to Week 2 of my Anxious Activist series, in which I highlight spiritual practices which could assist in better self-care and self-maintenance for activists living with anxiety. See my first post here. This post focuses on gaming with friends.
Please note: I am a bi-racial (white/Arab American passing as white), cis-gendered, heterosexual, and able-bodied woman who writes through those lenses. I know there are a number of mental health conditions which could be discussed in relations to self-care and activism, and I will be writing only about anxiety, as a person living with anxiety and not as a medical professional.
Maryam Summerton is a halfling scribe hiding a terrible secret about the night her university was attacked. She’s a rogue fighter who travels the land of Valkana with a socially awkward elf/lizard-creature hybrid, a bloodthirsty orc, a quiet mage, and a couple of raucous elves.
Every few months, I become Maryam. My friend Scott’s apartment transforms into Valkana, and with our band of misfits, we fight monsters and unravel our party’s personal lives and motives.
I never thought much about RPGs (role-playing games) until I was in my late 20s. A combination of Stranger Things and Scott’s involvement with them piqued my interest due to the storytelling and fantasy elements. The act of building a character who embarked on quests, confronted problems, and wrestled with morality gave me all the theological and social justice feels, so when Scott asked my husband and I to join an RPG group, I jumped at the opportunity.
I’ve only played as Maryam on two occasions, but I look forward to those game days with great delight, and it’s not only because I love our DM’s storytelling abilities, the junk food we eat, and our friend Nick’s epic Orc costume.
Playing as Maryam engages my imagination. I have to build her character, from her backstory to her interactions with the party members and non-player characters. This engagement with her helps me become a better storyteller and a more empathetic person. The ability to hear and tell a story, first our own and then another’s, is an important gift to utilize in activism and mental health care. When we can tell our stories well, we can hear, understand, and share the stories of others in ways that do them justice.
When I act as Maryam, I have to look at a problem from another perspective. Maryam is as quiet as I am brash, so her interactions with others challenge me to confront physical, social, and emotional obstacles in ways which require more planning and subtlety. As a rogue, Maryam gets close to the action and fights hard, whereas I am more likely to step back and let others do the battle, after which I will tend to them.
This use of imagination assists both mental health and activism. Getting into a character’s head helps develop problem-solving skills. As activists, this helps us think of more creative and constructive ways to engage our culture’s systemic evils. As people living with anxiety, this assists us in our quest to learn as many self-soothing practices as possible and to understand that what might work for one person does not work for everyone.
Not to mention, playing with our imaginations is good fun. It calls us to a life in which everyone can play and be joyful. The time and space to play is a holy act of liberation, for ourselves and others, because it reminds us we are creative beings who experience joy when we create together and enjoy each other.
This is why the community involved in RPG games is so wonderful. Through Maryam, I am in community not only with other characters, but with their players. By succeeding in quests, building alliances, and sharing drinks at the inn, both the characters and the players who shape them grow in their bonds with each other. They realize the game would be a lot less fun if only one were playing, not to mention a lot more dangerous.
Instead of enabling my self-isolation, Maryam pushes me into community with my friends and their creations. She brings me into sacred, life-giving communion with others when I am tempted to withdraw from the world in all of its despair. Sometimes, she drags me kicking and screaming into it, but for the sake of my activism and my own health, I am thankful that she does.
We are still working out when our next game night will be, and we often have months between quests. But I know when we meet again, Maryam and the party will be waiting for me, and creating their stories will give me the imagination and joy I need to live my own.