A merry band of digital misfits and pixel-based rogues…

Lady Marian Fitzswalter: Why, you speak treason!

Robin Hood: Fluently.

I work, I read, I watch a few things with my dear ones. I do a lot of creative things, I study. My life is full of distractions, many of the best kinds and a few not so great (I’m looking at you, social networks, but we’ll chat later). I don’t really have much spare time as it were. When I’m stressed over all those things I try to get done day to day, I make spare time happen and relax for a bit. Often times, I allow myself to get swept off to Kirkwall, the main location in Dragon Age II, pretending to be someone else for a while. Fellow gamers will know what I’m talking about. My experience is not unique.

Video games can be an altered space. The room fades away and there you are, running around on quests for artifacts and coin, trying to keep your party alive as you face down bandits and darkspawn, and the occasional dragon.

The thing I found interesting the first time I played through the game, is that I chose a few particular customizations to my character, Hawke, that reflected a few things about myself and how I’m feeling and who I might like to be moving forward in my life.

First off, despite the option to choose a female Hawke, I went with the default male. I’m not going to unpack the gender issues here. Many other people have done so before me and I’m not sure I have a handle on it for myself anyway. I’m also a mage. I like playing mages because I tend to be crap at close combat, even on “casual” mode. So far, pretty normal stuff.

It started getting interesting for me as I customized what this guy was going to look like. I knew very little about the game when I started. I just made him look the way I wanted. Before I knew it, I was looking at Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow from the comics, or maybe Fandral from Thor.

I started playing the game. There are three dialogue options for most interactions: one diplomatic, one forthright, and one . . . cheeky. I kept choosing cheeky. The more you choose one option over the others, the more the game solidifies that as your character’s “voice” when talking in general.

After a few quests I took a look around. Pull the lens back a bit on Hawke and I had recreated Robin Hood, minus the give to the poor part because anything that isn’t nailed down is Hawke’s and anything he can pry loose is not nailed down.

Robin Hood has been with me since I was a kid. First the Disney version as a fox (which incidentally, ties him to Reynard the Fox of French folklore), then Errol Flynn (swoon), later Kevin Costner (Morgan Freeman was awesome! Alan Rickman chewed scenery! Fight me!), silent Douglas Fairbanks (surprisingly swoonworthy, too), Robin of Sherwood in the British TV series and, yes, even Cary Elwes in Men in Tights.

Robin Hood and Hawke have a few things in common: a general disregard for authority (especially of the corrupt variety), a sparkling wit, and a general sense that life is good, even when it’s bad or difficult.

This last bit I started keying into as I struggle with various challenges in my life. Hawke and Robin both feel like they come from the Trickster archetype — the Rogue subset, if you will. One of lesser acknowledged aspects of that energy is the way they tackle the really tough shit life throws at them. It’s not that they laugh it off and are without a care. On the contrary, they care more deeply than the others around them.

What they understand is that a great way to get through the hard stuff is to acknowledge it and plunge forward anyway. Kind of an “Alright fuckers, if that’s how it’s going to be, let’s dance!” attitude. Not “party to forget the pain”, but “party because the pain is real and shit is hard, so let’s have fun where we can.”

That’s Hawke in a nutshell. In the game, his family are refugees from the Blight that envelopes their homeland. People he knows and loves die along the way. Part of a once affluent family, he struggles to keep them all together and survive in the aptly named “Lowtown” until he can get enough coin together to reclaim the old, abandoned family estate. There is enough crap going on in his life to crush another person.

And yet, Hawke smiles. A lot. He laughs, makes friends, falls in love, gets excited about adventures that he hopes will bring in some coin, and even some of the ones that leave him even poorer. He grabs his crappy life by the collar and drags it off to see the sights.

It’s a way of moving through the world that I have yet to fully inhabit. But I want to. I see others around me doing it. I know it’s possible.

So each time I play the game I’m watching Hawke remake his life according to his own rules. The participatory nature of this means that I’m actually helping him make the choices that will get him there. Role play as therapy? Yeah, you could say that. I find myself mixing the choices I would make in each situation with the choices the character would more likely make. More often than not, I’m picking the ones I think Hawke would make and then examining my reaction to it. “What if I made that choice myself? Why does it make me uncomfortable? Why don’t I choose the fun option more often?”

I examine those questions as they come up and occasionally, I find answers. I’m not sure I’ll ever get to the end of the game having become the upbeat adventure seeker Hawke is, but it’s definitely making me take a hard look at the way I move through the world and where and when I can, if not laugh, at least smirk in the face of adversity.

Maybe next time I play through this game, I should try out being a Rogue.