Here's the simple process. First, stand up from your computer. (But read to the end of this paragraph first, or you'll just be standing there and wondering about step two.) Walk over to the nearest mirror. Look at yourself. Think about who you are in life. Then log in to your game of choice and make yourself, except make it the person you don't want to be instead of the person you are.
I don't mean making a character who lives in a world covered in zombies and magical bees or a fantasy world populated by an awful lot of cats, that's something different. Obviously these worlds leave something to be desired. I mean that instead of creating an idealized version of yourself as a person, you look back at your history and twist your most defining moment in the other direction.
Have you always been proud of your brains? Make a version of you that never bothered learning much of anything. Do you think you're a great musician? Make yourself tone-deaf. Feel athletic and energetic? Make yourself clumsy. Just change that one element and let it play out.
Of course, you'll still need to have some skills. Human beings are a bit like goldfish in that regard; when deprived of our natural talents, we expand to fill the space we have left. Your World of Warcraft version might not have the smarts that you've got, but perhaps instead he spent a lot of time learning how to steal and hurt and assault. Your avatar in Anarchy Online can't make music, but she can hack a computer like nobody's business. Everything else, from your outlook to your loose family history, remains almost identical.
You're still fighting the exact same battles as before. The difference is that now you don't have your greatest natural advantage. Whatever you consider your most positive trait is gone, replaced by a version of you that looks a lot like you and is somehow crippled right from the start. You aren't the best possible version of yourself. You're a crippled echo, unable to overcome the obstacles in your life.
When most people create themselves in video games, they create idealized versions, on the basis that this is who they want to be. The fact of the matter is that it's easy to do that. It's easy to blame the mistakes in your life on external factors or on some inherent weakness, something that you would change but simply can't. This is not unique to those of you reading this column, either; I've done the exact same thing many a time.
The point here is removing that variable from the equation. You're creating a version of yourself that's meant to be strictly worse. And then you're heading out into the game world to strive for better things, to understand others, to fight the real and metaphorical dragons that are out there, and preferably to win.
Instead of playing the ideal you, you're playing the person you don't want to be. And not only does that help you appreciate the person you are, it means you have a personality and a set of hopes all lined up, making your character that much easier to play.
Obviously your character will develop his or her own voice over time. The connections to you will fray and diminish until only the nugget of that original concept remains, until you're no longer really playing the un-ideal of yourself. But you'll know the parallels are still there, and you'll be able to accept your failings in-character with that much more grace. It's not all that shocking, in the end; you might have failed yourself, and this is a worse version of you to boot.
I know, you roleplay to be someone other than yourself. But you're also familiar with the old authorial adage that every character is a part of you. Yes, your character is also distinct from you, but you've got a set of answers lined up for what your avatar would do. You know your character's deeper fears and needs. That connection exists, and even as the two of you drift further apart, you can still draw upon it.
In the end, you might not just have a deeper roleplaying character ready to go out of the gate; you might also get a chance to examine some of your own choices a bit more closely. What more could you ask for?
As always, feedback is welcome down in the comments or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, it's time to look at what you pretend to be around others, and the week after that I want to talk about things you shouldn't be able to do in the game. (No, I don't mean glitches. This isn't that sort of column.)
Every Friday, Eliot Lefebvre fills a column up with excellent advice on investing money, writing award-winning novels, and being elected to public office. Then he removes all of that, and you're left with Storyboard, which focuses on roleplaying in MMOs. It won't help you get elected, but it will help you pretend you did. If you need a refresher, check out the Storyboard Library.