I’ve been thinking about death in Dungeons & Dragons, partly because of a funeral I went to a little while ago. My understanding is that the person whose funeral we were attending shouldn’t have died. He wasn’t very old. There’s a suspect being tried in relation to the death later in the year. So you would be able to understand, there was a lot of grief.
Reflecting on the funeral got me thinking, How is it that we can sometimes approach death so blithely in a game? Normally what you do is just write up another character sheet and continue the adventure with a new character. If you put a lot of work and time into the character you’d proabbly be annoyed, but that’s it. I wonder if there are any ways that we could remind ourselves of the gravity of death when we play?
These are a few ideas I had:
We could suggest that surviving adventurers attempt to return the dead to their relatives. This would probably mean having to face the anger and grief of bereaved loved ones.
We could roleplay a funeral for the deceased character.
We could have each surviving character make a speech about the deceased.
We could roleplay a wake after the funeral where the characters speculate about what happens to the souls of the dead.
We could allow the death of an adventurer to direct the future path of the story, by having the surviving characters drawn into a quest for restribution.
One of the reasons I’ve been thinking about this is because of Henri Nouwen’s ideas about the illusion of immortality. He believed that our society often tries to avoid recognising the transience of life. Just like attending a funeral should help us to come to terms with our own mortality (as well as expressing our grief for the dead), roleplaying could give us opportunities to reflect on our own mortality. (Not everyone’s game needs to do that – but the opportunity is there.)
Can you think of any other ways to make death carry weight in the game?
When I lived in Ferntree Gully with my parents, my dad made the same joke a number of times when we passed the cemetary. ‘It’s the dead centre of town!’ I can remember being in the car with one of my cousins when we passed a cemetery and he made the same joke. I wonder if he heard it from his dad?
This afternoon as I was walking home I passed the Melbourne General Cemetery, which is quite close to our house. Sometimes I walk through it, but this time I walked around the outside. I think it’s kind of sobering passing the resting place of the dead and considering the wieght of all the lives lived.
My understanding is that the earlier cemetery was in the location where the Queen Victoria Market now stands, and that there are a whole lot of people buried there, unmarked. I don’t think it’s good for a society to treat the dead in that way. I think it gives the living the impression that they too could be forgotten and walked overwithout a thought some day.
Endings are a good opportunity for reflection aren’t they? The Ignatians make a practise of taking time to reflect on the whole day each evening, but even those of us who are less disciplined tend to get reflective at the end of the year. It probably helps that there’s often a bit of time of away from work between Christmas and New Year.
We also tend to get reflective at the end of someone’s life, and as many have stated, it seems like so many people have been dying this year. I don’t think that this is because 2016 has been a particularly bad year, but more about our historical relationship with the mass media. It was in the 1950s that television became the dominant form of media, making it so easy to become familiar with the faces of celebrity. My guess is that 2017 may not be much different, as celebrities from the second half of the 20th Century continue to pass away. I wonder whether we will continue to hear about every public figure that passes away, but I also wonder whether we might take these occassions as opportunties for reflection?
When David Bowie passed away earlier in the year we invited a couple of neighbours around and watched a DVD of one of his concerts to reminisce about the impact his songs and person had made on us. I wonder whether we might take each news of death as an opportunity to reflect on our own lives, and how we want to spend them? The truth is we never know which will be our last day.
The other question I have is about whether we are attentive to the deaths of so many less celebrated people? Over the Christmas break another asylum seeker, Faysal Ahmed, has died while illegally detained by the Australian government on Manus Island. Others will die if this policy doesn’t change, so we need to be telling our federal MPs that we are attentive to these deaths and the ill treatment of asylum seekers generally.