Geek Culture, Lifestyle

What a Role-Playing Game Taught Me About Self-Image


Any role-player will know that the educational value of role-playing games is hugely underrated. They can help us to learn new skills, find new techniques for facing real-life challenges, and boost confidence and team-work.

My latest RPG life-lesson came from watching a RollPlay one shot of a game called Masks, a game which centres around a new generation of young superheroes, fighting crime, and of course, still struggling to find their place in the world. 

Watching the Masks one-shot (see video below), I instantly fell in love with the premise of the game. There was also so much to love about this one shot in particular, notably the intriguing and relatable characters, and the dynamic relationships between them. The GM of the game was Adam Koebel, and the game featured some names you might recognise: ShannonZKiller, Annemunition, Aureylian, and kaitlyn. I would highly recommend checking out the first part of the one shot below:

There was one particular game mechanic of Masks that struck me as very applicable to life. In Masks, each character is described by a set of labels: “freak”, “saviour”, “danger”, “mundane” and “superior”. When creating their character, each player gives these labels values ranging from -2 to +3, which act as the stats for the game, and represent how each character sees themselves.

For example, they might decide that their character has +2 to freak, meaning they see themselves as pretty strange and unusual, and a -1 to saviour, meaning that they don’t see themselves as very heroic or protective. The labels are pretty self-explanatory. The “mundane” stat describes how “normal”, empathetic and understanding a character is, whilst more “superior” characters see themselves as more capable, stronger or smarter than others, and characters with a higher “danger” stat see themselves as dangerous and strong.

Throughout the game, players can adjust their characters’ labels, to change how they see themselves, and to make them better at performing certain actions. They might increase their “mundane” to become better at relating to others, or increase their “danger” to become better at engaging the bad guys. More interestingly, during the game, other characters, including NPCs and the other players, can attempt to change their labels, therefore changing the way the young superheroes see themselves. But the players don’t have to accept this influence.

labels, masks.jpg

For example, someone might say: “You’re so weird, you’re never going to fit in”, to try to boost another character’s “freak” label. The player who controls that character might decide that the other character is right: they’re a freak, and so they increase their “freak” stat. Alternatively, they might decide that actually, they’re not a freak. They’re not who this other person is trying to tell them they are. Maybe they’ll lower their “freak” label instead.

Similarly, someone might try to boost a character’s stat in a positive way, saying something like “you’re so unusual, it’s so cool that you’re not afraid to be yourself.” Again, the character can decide to believe them, and let them change their “freak” stat, or they can reject their influence.

I thought this was such a cool mechanic, partly because character development is one of my favourite parts of RPGs, and partly because it seemed so relevant to real life. Other people are always trying to adjust our labels. In school, bullies will try to label us as “freaks” or “mundane”, and parents will tell us that we’re “superior” or a “danger”. Friends will tell us that we’re not as “freak”-ish as we think, or the really good friends will tell us that we’re complete freaks, and that’s what’s so great about us.

And just like in Masks, we don’t have to let this change how we see ourselves if we don’t want it to. We can decide that actually, no, we’re not as mundane as people say. We can decide to take away influence from that person, and not let their words affect us. Or we can accept influence, and change our saviour label from 0 to +1 when a friend thanks us for helping them out in some small way. Of course, our labels are also more complex than this: there are more than five of them, and you can never really condense a person into a set of categories and values.

maks image 2.jpg

We may not be budding superheroes like the characters in Masks. And we might not have our labels printed on a character sheet for all to see. But we do have a say in how we see ourselves.

You get to choose whose opinion matters to you, who gets to have influence over you. 

I really do urge anyone who is into tabletop gaming to watch the above one shot. And I really hope this particular series turns into more than a one shot, because I would love to see how these characters develop.

If you want to find out more about Masks, check it out here or find it on Kickstarter.

Images: Magpie Games.

2 thoughts on “What a Role-Playing Game Taught Me About Self-Image”

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