October is #RPGSEA month! Roleplayers from the Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore are coming together to share articles that put us on the map of the tabletop RPG scene. We’re loud, we’re proud, and we’re out to spread the love for our hobby. Tabletop roleplaying games are for everyone!
We’ll be sharing posts that we see from our friends in other countries on our Facebook Page. Make sure to check them out! If you want to participate, go right ahead: we’d love to see what you’ve got in store for us.
If anyone had told me before that roleplaying games and tabletop would be an intrinsic part of a long-term, loving relationship that I was in, I would have laughed and told them: “Yeah, I wish.”
You see, my girlfriend is my DM. I have three long-running campaigns under my belt – and all of them had her at the helm. Now, I’m currently participating in my fourth run at her table, and have been recently roped into her weeknight group as a veteran player.
Our hobby plays a big part in what makes our relationship what it is. Tabletop allows us to spend time together doing something we both enjoy, with people we enjoy spending time with. This is something that a lot geeky couples do. For us though – an LGBT couple in the not-so-progressive Philippines, the table means a safe space to be ourselves in company that we can trust.
LGBT geeks are generally perceived as unicorns. While we can say that there is more acceptance now, safe spaces are still really important. The truth is, LGBT is more tolerated than it is accepted here. It’s also, in many ways, more difficult for girls who identify on the LGBT spectrum, given that sexism and restrictive gender perceptions abound.
As one half of a duo who’s benefited from the way a handful of dice, fictional characters, and collaborative storytelling have helped us both grow to be better individuals – I wanted to talk about how having tabletop as a cornerstone of our relationship has made for a healthy and fulfilling partnership.
Honesty & Trust + Boundaries & Communication.
My play style as an RPer can be described as fairly immersive. I like getting into my characters’ heads. I research (often extensively and obsessively) the kind of things they’re into, and enjoy probing all the things that make them tick. My approach to character creation is to make them as close to living, breathing people as I can. A good 90% of the time, it’s really, really fun. Occasionally, though, when scenarios at the table hit a little too close to personal ticks or trauma, immersive play can veer into some not-so-fun emotions.
Trust is an essential part of any relationship. I don’t just mean trusting your partner: it also means trusting yourself. When you’re playing fictional people who aren’t you – that comes into play a lot.
When I first thought about putting this article together, it was because apparently, people were surprised that we consistently played at the same table. “We’re odd that way,” she told me, and we ended up talking about why.
There’s a generally unspoken rule of “No Couples at the Table”. While it’s not so much a hard rule, it’s acknowledged that it’s usually difficult for couples to be at the same table. Some pairs end up turning the entire campaign into a couple-fest. Others end up playing their issues out through their characters, to everyone’s detriment.
There’s this thing we RPers call “the bleed”. It’s when it becomes tricky to distinguish whether what your character is feeling is all them, or a lot of you. Not managing it can lead to drama, because it’s easy not to confront and articulate why something made you feel bad or uncomfortable.
I’m not going to lie: it is challenging. Participating in a consistent, long-term tabletop group fosters a kind of dynamic that develops because you’re basically simulating scenarios you’re deeply invested in. Life or death situation because someone made a bad call? Or maybe nobody can agree on what to do next? Are you frustrated because everyone wants their quest log prioritized? Have there been times when you feel like what you want doesn’t get airtime?
It happens. Player investment is real. And that experience can turn out to be a pretty thin line between playing your character and using them as a proxy to soapbox your own feelings.
Now. Imagine applying that to someone who isn’t just your friend, but your significant other.
Relationships are tricky to navigate all on their own.
When you add another layer – in this case, pretending to be other people – it makes things even trickier. Even if you say that OOC (out of character) issues shouldn’t be brought to the table, there’s an 80% chance that they will.
RP can most definitely dip into wish fulfillment. Your characters can end up as avatars for yourself. When that happens, everything about you – the good, the bad – ends up heaped into this fictional being. And since you’re playing someone else, it’s easy to claim “that’s not me, that’s just my character.”
In our first two years of us RPing at the table as a couple, I was grappling with my own sexuality, on top of seeing a counselor for anxiety and depression. I used to say that I could trust easy – but that wasn’t the case this time around. I jumped at shadows and struggled with doubts that I was good enough for someone else to love. Sometimes, I doubted that I could be the kind of partner who could fulfill her needs.
We weren’t – aren’t – completely “out”. A good chunk of our interactions were based online. We chatted a lot more than other couples our age, and online roleplay with our pups served as proxy for things we couldn’t do; things regular, heterosexual couples tend to take for granted. In a way, we were in a long-distance relationship while living generally in the same space.
It was difficult for me to wrestle with feelings of jealousy and inadequacy. Sometimes it felt like we talked more as these fictional people than we did as her and me; other times, when we did shelve our pups for “Quality Us Time”, it felt like something was missing. When we ventured into a game whose premise meant our pups could develop emotionally (and yes, physically) intimate relationships with other characters – we had some fairly emotional conversations about fidelity and putting each other first.
To her, the game was just a game; to me, an immersive player struggling with some heavy personal issues, it ramped up deep-seated insecurities that made me question if she was satisfied with what we had.
Being upfront about what parts of our RP experience was definitely reflective of our own experiences, helped.
We both agreed that gaming together meant a great deal to us. We realized that RP was our “couple thing”, the way movies and dinner dates were for others. It helped to put us on the same page – also definitely brought us closer. RPing as a whole has taught us a little more about each other, because getting to know each other’s preferences on the table, sheds a lot of insight on how we interact off the table.
The Table is Sacred – Us as A Couple vs. Us as DM & Player.
Remember that part where I said that one of the tricky things about having couples at the table is that it’s either a couple-fest or couples’ therapy featuring your Entire Party? It really is a slippery slope.
There have been uncomfortable instances where a couple just had to have their characters fall in love. There have also been instances where the couple may be super solid – instances of backseat gaming do arise. That’s not to say that couples that make it work don’t exist – they do. They just tend to be an exception rather than the rule.
Juggling who you are as a couple off the table vs. who you are as players on the table can get challenging.
I went into it in the last section, but intimacy can turn toxic, because of expectations and feelings.
There have been two instances where my girlfriend decided to wear the Girlfriend Hat instead of the DM Hat. She elected to ask two players to leave the table because things were getting toxic. One player was my sibling. The case there was that his backseat gaming tendencies were turning things volatile between us. The second player had turned his character into his personal wish-fulfillment avatar, often at the expense of the campaign.
In both instances, she’s maintained that her priority was to protect me. In both instances, just as I appreciate her looking out for my comfort and happiness, I also didn’t want to be that significant other who would end up compromising her game.
Since then, my sibling and I have worked out our differences and communicated boundaries. We’ve come back to the table as stronger players who respect each others’ character decisions and fun.
Our Ship May Not Be Everyone’s Cup of Tea.
It’s easy to say that we don’t always choose who our characters fall for, and sometimes – let’s be blunt – you do. Romance at the table might not be kosher for all.
Things can also get icky when your personal fangirling ends up dominating the narrative. I can say with some confidence that it’s not been the case for us. I only say “some”, because so far, the ships we’ve sailed in-game have had the consent of the table.
Still, it helps being honest with your table about what you’d like to explore. That also means that you have respect if your table isn’t comfortable with that sort of thing. And in a case like ours, I’ve also learned to acknowledge that my DM exploring romantic themes at the table is in no way something to be jealous over.
To close this off, it’s been a learning experience. I get to share a hobby I’ve come to love with someone that I love very much. I’m pleased that I had the opportunity to write this piece out as part of #RPGSEA.
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