by Wanderer Werewolf
©2010 Wanderer Werewolf
As one year draws to a close, another begins. The passing of a year, an age, a torch, a bequest
in all its forms, it is one thing:
Change. Difference. Alteration.
Most game settings have at least a few transformations scattered about the landscape. Shadowrun and its magic, Underground with its genetic engineering, Dragonstar with its semi-robotic soulmechsthe list goes on and on. For that matter, rare indeed is the gamer or author that hasnt made at least one turning into my character tale. The sheer intrigue, the excitement of becoming what you dream of being its a heady feeling. Almost an infatuation.
But theres a pattern to this, as with most things. This pattern will be familiar to anyone thats ever gone to grief counselingbut Im getting ahead of myself. Psychologist Dai Williams breaks the process of adapting to changeany change, good or baddown into five stages:
1. Initial Shock: What the ?
This is the first stage, starting right after the Event. Your brain is desperately trying to wrap itself around something it wasnt expecting, and has no pre-made coping mechanisms for. So it takes a step back for 1-2 months.
For positive events (like becoming your dream-self), this is the stage of excitement. Its Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa and a hundred birthdays all rolled into one! Its great, its terrific, you cant believe it!
For negative events (such as curses, being turned into something you find disgusting, etc.), this is the stage of numbness. Youre in shock; its like the whole thing is some kind of weird dream. Its you just cant believe it.
2. Provisional Adjustment: I can handle this
This stage is something of an Indian Summer in the process. Your brain isnt ready to deal with the negatives of your new situationso it doesnt. It closes its eyes, covers its ears, and makes up its mind that the bad stuff isnt there
or at least isnt so bad
for 1-2 months.
For positive events, this is the honeymoon stage. Youre different! Its exactly what you always wanted! You love it! Ive got a tailhow cool is that? You love anything and everything about your new self. You want to try everything thats different and new, and see what its like.
For negative events, this is the stage of minimizing (This isnt so bad ) or denial (Im going to wake up any minute now ). Most people in this stage try to soldier on, pretending that theyre fine (yeah, F.I.N.E., or Fouled-up, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotional). Which, when you run up against mental limitations (Beasts lowered IQ in La Belle et La Bete), physical limitations (the non-anthro dog transformation in Dogsbody), or social limitations (the invisible girl on Buffy), can be a real problem. Which brings us to
3. Inner Contradictions: Thats
At this stage, the two types of event approach unity; positive or negative, this is when your brain starts realizing it has to deal with the realities of your situation and it doesnt know how. This can range from discovering what its like to have a mating season to realizing that people treat you differently now that youre a talking hamster. Over the course of less than two months (as the stages accelerate), you begin to doubt everything you used to know. You doubt yourself. And as you sink into confusion and depression, you reach
4. Inner Crisis: What do I do now!?
Its come to a head here. You have to come to terms with whats changed in your life. You cant ignore it anymore
its time to admit that having paws instead of hands is limiting. Its time to face the fact that people dont treat talking rats with much respect.
And its time to decide where youre going from here. This stage is immediate, visceral, and completely unavoidable. This is the scariest stage of all. This is the moment when the mind has to stop what it was doing and pick something else. How your character acts here not only grows out of the previous stages, but determines what happens next.
5. Re-construction and recovery
At least, thats Williams label for this stage
but the name isnt necessarily accurate. Not everyone comes out the other side of a transformation (of any sort) intact, or even working. If they cant let go of what went before, the character could end up stuck at the crisis point, tormented
or even kill themselves. Of such moments are the great tragedies made.
But lets assume they avoid those two paths. Once theyve let go of their preconceived ideas, they could settle in to partial recovery. This is where those characters wind up that still do what they used to but with allowances for their own differences. The ladies man turned into a hyena-morph remains the same, but aims for a different crowd; the engineer turned into a rat develops tools to match his new size.
And theres nothing wrong with that. If this is where the character stops, thats where they stop. Theyve found a way to go on. And if theyre not completely happy with their lives well, theyre happy enough.
But beyond partial recovery, if they can reach for it, the characters find the final stage.
Acceptance. Instead of minimizing or simply allowing for the change, the character accepts it. They come to grips with the fact that theyre not who and what they weretheyre something else, someone else, and they have a whole new life in front of them. Its time for them to find out what the new them is really like, and decide where the new them fits. And then then they can be happy.
(n.b.: This last possibility is extremely rare for negative changes, true. Most negative changes top out at partial recovery. But peopleand characterscan surprise you.)
Now, of course, this last stage is the hardest one to put a timetable on. It could be 1-2 months, or 1-2 years or longer. This stage happens at the characters pace, and rushing it (like delaying it) is not a good idea. Which can really complicate matters if another traumaof any sortoccurs in the meantime.
Now, again, these guidelines to incorporating trauma arent for everyone. You can get by just fine without. But consider:
Of course, there are a lot more ways to go here
transformed character backstories certainly take on more meaning when you realize that youre following the stages of grief pattern. In a real sense, youre grieving for yourselfthe closest person in the world to you. Perhaps the character even has a grave to his former self
Everyones different, after all.
And with that, we reach the end of my first RKD of 2010. (I think I missed my rendezvous with Rama.) Heres wishing you and yours a most joyous New Year, and many positive changes in the year ahead!
Next time, well be looking at community size and design. Nomadic communities are completely different from our Roman-esque grid plan, and its time we knew what that means. See you next time, in the Red Kings Dream!
Yours in some slight embarassment,