One thing I remember about early editions of roleplaying games is they always warned you against "putting yourself in the game." They did this to avoid the panic around these games being a negative influence on youth, but also to insulate themselves in case someone did live their fantasy a bit too closely and go off and do something terrible in the real world.
No game company wanted the negative light and legal problems if something stupid happened and parents blamed the game because "it was too personal" or "the game preyed upon impressionable minds."
I remember the sections in the rules warning you "this is not you" and "terrible things may happen" to your character, so it is best to not put your own "self" in a game where bad things happen. There was a firewall there, a layer of insulation that protected people and kept games around the table from turning into fights when things got dangerous for characters and there was a chance of players taking it personally. "You hate my character, or did bad things to him or her, so therefore you hate me!"
I always played games this way, and kept that healthy separation between players and their characters - encouraging them to be and try things outside their experience.
It was smart back then, and these days I wonder where it went.
These days it seems every game is written to be a power fantasy that puts "you" in the game. A lot of players play this way, and you even see this in videogames where you can build avatars that look just like you - or at least a fantasy version of you. The practice has gone so far that it feels like companies are encouraging people to "live their fantasies" through the game like some sort of experience that takes "you" and puts you "in the dungeon!"
Dying is purposefully hard in a lot of today's games, and all sorts of "you-isms" are in these games to help build characters and identities around "you" the person at home instead of a fictional avatar you create to tell a story - like a character in a play that "isn't you." It sells well I suppose, catering to the fantasy of being someone that is a hero, but there are times I wonder how much impact this has inside people's minds - or if it does, no one does scientific studies of psychology anymore, or at least nobody covers them.
I remember those warnings from the games still sitting on my shelves and I wonder how healthy this all is.
I took psychology in college and we covered fantasies, and how they could be normal, healthy things. But there was always this part in the textbook that warned us that taking things too far could cause problems. That fantasies were only healthy and safe if they did not cross the line into reality. It was okay to have dreams and think of yourself "if you were Han Solo" or something like that, but never let that fantasy get too close to reality.
Perhaps the world just collectively forgot the science of psychology in the last 20 years. Either that or companies got greedy and don't care. I worry because if someone does take fantasies too far in the real world, confusing themself with their character, the game could get blamed, and I never want to see that happen.
Another negative aspect of too much fantasy, or confusing fantasy with reality, is that fantasies are very powerful things. They can take over your world. So much so you start to care less and less for the real world. Your health could suffer, you could care less about participating in civics and volunteer work, not voting or being into local issues, you can withdraw from social life, relationships can suffer, and you could care more about a fictional world than the real one. You can start to confuse concepts and themes in fantasy with real life ones, and your frame of reference in dealing with the real world becomes one where you only have fantasy experiences to draw from.
All that was in my psychology textbook, which I still have in a box around here somewhere, along with all my games that warn me against the same thing.
It is also a subject I don't see discussed much, because it probably cuts a little too close to home for some, having identified themselves inside a game as a hero that only exists in their mind. I am not attacking anyone, or anyone's idea of who they are, just bringing up what I know and how I experienced these games when I started, and echoing some of the warnings the people that originally created these games put into the books. If someone takes a warning like this personally, it may be time to reflect on why they feel that anger. Are they too close to that fantasy? Has the line blurred? Is everything okay in their life?
Touchy stuff, and hurtful, I know. I am sorry if bringing this up hurts a little to some. But really, it needs to be said and discussed. This is more a warning to be a little careful, and keep your perspective to the real world grounded in things that are outside your fantasy worlds every once and a while. And while you may be able to keep the worlds of fantasy and reality apart, there may be others in your group you see as a little too close and you worry about them.
This is also for the ones you love playing with, since not everyone can keep powerful fantasies and reality apart - especially if reality kinda sucks right now. It is easy to want to pull away and live somewhere cool, compared to what we have in the current year.
And yes, my textbook mentioned fantasies as an escape from bad situations too. That education is paid for, so sharing it gives back and keeps the investment doing positive things.
Enjoy your fantasies, but in a healthy and safe way that keeps a little distance and perspective between the real you - who needs health and friends and a community and to be you in the real world - and the hero in the dungeon who does great things.
There is a real world out there, I know it hasn't been easy to see these last couple years, but trust me, it is there and there are adventures to have out there too - as you.