Posted by: Jess Riley | November 27, 2008

Theme Week Undead: What I Know About Your Character, Grief, and Trauma

It’s no secret that my favourite race is the Undead, so when it came time for Theme Week Undead, I commented to Sean that I wouldn’t be surprised if every post I made this week was theme week.

Now, I am also working on another writing project at the moment, so I haven’t been updating as well as I should, and for this I apologise. However, I do plan to stick to the theme week as much as possible, so I’m not feeling the urge to come back to this topic quite so much in upcoming weeks. If you’re disappointed and looking forward to my usual introspection about roleplay, I’m sorry, and feel free to drop me a line verbally abusing me for this week of typing with one hand rambling about my favourite of all the races*.

Now, to my actual point. If you play an Undead, there’s a large amount of your history that I already know. No, I know, it’s your character, it’s an individual, but hear me out here.

What I know happened to your character is that they were killed, and so were their families. Odds are good that they personally witnessed friends and neighbours, if not actual family members, being killed, or at least fleeing in terror. Then they themselves were killed, and rose as a mindless member of the Scourge. Whether they remember this, they know that it’s true.

Eventually something happened and they woke up, actually able to think for themselves. Maybe their thoughts aren’t too clear. That’s only to be expected. They are, after all, dead, and only now having the chance to actually grieve for their families and friends that they lost. Even if their friends and family didn’t die (and let’s be frank, they probably did), they are now miles and miles away from everything they knew, and they are walking corpses. Were they to somehow track down any living family members, they would be fought off and feared. They certainly wouldn’t be able to communicate.

That’s not the worst part of it, though. The idea that your family members are safe and alive, but unable to see you again? No, that’s not the worst. That they’re dead and buried? No, that’s not the worst of it, either.

The worst is that maybe they’re part of the Scourge now, the Scourge that you are going out and killing mercilessly. Sure, they’re just mindless zombies now, but those rotting corpses used to be people’s families and loved ones. Maybe that one over there, the one who almost killed you before finally falling at your feet… maybe that one used to be your mother.

Now, of course, what I don’t know is how your character reacts to this. Maybe your character didn’t like their family much anyway and so didn’t really care; maybe they’ve divorced themselves from this idea of family, or given up on the idea after death; maybe they’ve lost the majority of their memory and, while knowing objectively that this must have happened to it, don’t remember a lick of it.

However, all of them will have one thing in common: this was a very traumatic event that they went through. Even if not all the details (some may not be true for everyone, of course) are applicable to your story, the Scourge invasion that eventually culminated in your character’s death was incredibly traumatic.

So, how do you play that?

There’s two things that I need to separate here: post-traumatic stress, and grief. I wrote a post on post-traumatic stress disorder in the past, and I stand by anything that I said there. The vast majority of Forsaken will have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Exactly how this comes out will vary from individual to individual (there’s a lot of symptoms, and you don’t have to show signs of every one of them to be diagnosed), but it will be present for a lot of them.

The other matter is grief – the number one thing that I must stress here is that everyone is going to grieve differently. Grief isn’t, as a lot of people seem to think, characterised by crying and sobbing over the deceased. Not exclusively, anyway. The fact is that grief (and more to the point, bereavement) is a very individual process and there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to grieve. Some people will be emotionally devastated, some will be shut in. Some will get angry, some will turn to religion or faith.

A lot of people cite the Kubler-Ross model of the five stages of grief, but personally, I don’t think that’s the best model for it. For a start, it was originally designed as the five stages of grief of a person suffering from a terminal illness and preparing for their own death, and it’s only since then that a lot of people have co-opted it as a guideline for dealing with bereavement. Furthermore, the model has five determined ‘stages’, even though Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (who came up with it) noted that it’s not as simple as all that; people don’t go through each stage one by one, neatly. They go back and forth, they get stuck in a stage, they go back to an earlier stage… grief is a messy thing, and people have always felt of it that way.

For the sake of completeness, however, I will include it for those of you who don’t know it.

  • Denial: The standard ‘this can’t be happening to me’ response. ‘This isn’t happening’ or ‘you must be wrong’.
  • Anger: ‘It’s not fair!’ is the standard point here, but irrational anger targeted at other people (in the case of death/terminal illness, the doctors; in the case of the Forsaken, the quest-givers in the starter area, for instance).
  • Bargaining: The ‘grasping at straws’ stage – is there anything I can do to get out of this? In the death/terminal illness example, this is often a variety of treatments or faith; for a Forsaken, this could come in the form of a twisted sort of faith, or convoluted plots to try to track down family members, for example.
  • Depression: ‘What’s the point of anything?’ Are they ‘giving up’? Have they decided that since their life isn’t worth living, they might as well not live it?
  • Acceptance: Finally accepting the situation and trying to deal with it. This could be preparing for the inevitable death in the case of a terminally ill patient, or trying to start a new life (er… in a manner of speaking) as a Forsaken.
  • Although I don’t have a lot of time for this model as an actual step-by-step model of grief, it could be quite useful as a general roleplay tool. Feel free to keep this in mind.

    *Blogatelle, was that too racy a joke? I’m sorry.

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