I'm a lucky dude. I present as a fit, able-bodied, middle-class, straight white man. Pretty much anywhere I go I am the dominant paradigm. I'm playing the game of life on easy mode. I have no fear of time machines.
A lot of people use video and role-playing games to escape their lives; to be more awesome versions of themselves. That's great. It can be wonderfully therapeutic. But when I do it, I get bored. What do I have to escape from? I live a charmed life! No, for me, games are an opportunity to explore; to step into another life; to walk a few miles in another person's shoes. They're an opportunity to experience different expectations and responsibilities, to think differently, to see what life is like without some of the privilege I take for granted. They're an exercise in empathy.
My current Apocalypse World character is that, turned up to eleven - and I think I've bitten off about as much as I can chew with this one.
My character, Grace, is a musician. There were a lot of choices I made putting her together, but the most important was this: she is a tiny woman, almost completely incapable of defending herself physically in a world ruled by hard men with gangs and guns. Grace is a prize; a pretty bauble for men to fight over; in control of her own destiny only so far as she can convince those with real power to protect her and fight for her.
Before we started, I told Caitlin, our MC, what my plans were. "This is an exercise," I told her. "I'm giving up my male privilege - all of it. Do with that what you will." And she did. Oh, gods, she did. In the first three sessions, I have been manipulated, violated, and sold like a piece of meat. I've been harassed. I've been ignored or dismissed when I tried to speak up. I've had my face slammed into a marble bar by a patron (who now effectively owns me) because I wouldn't do exactly what he wanted.
The experience has been harrowing.
The sense of powerlessness is overwhelming. The thoughts it creates are maddening. After Friday's session, I found myself running the last scene over and over in my head, wondering if there was anything I could have said or done differently to keep him from hurting me. I found myself hoping most of all that someone - a knight in shining armor; one of the other men infatuated with me - would come and save me. I didn't care which one.
These are actual thoughts which took place in my man-brain after Friday's session. And if that's how I was thinking after only a quick fictional jaunt, what must it be like for women who have to navigate these sorts of unsafe spaces in the real world every single day of their lives?
So yeah, empathy achievement unlocked. Mission accomplished. Now I just have to make it through the rest of the campaign. The one bright spot is that this isn't real life - it's Apocalypse World. At some point, assuming Grace survives, she's going to take that critical advance and have her cathartic moment - the one where she finally stands up to someone and can actually back it up.
I just need to hang on until then.