Aesthetics of Play: Catharsis

Many players bring to their relationships with their characters an aesthetic that I call cathartic play. The cathartic playstyle approaching roleplaying as a venue where players can take risks or indulge impulses in ways that might have unacceptable consequences in real life. The satisfaction of cathartic play is the opportunity to blow off steam.

Consequently, cathartic characters are often much like their players, but with certain traits amplified and certain inhibitions muted. In a more extreme form of the aesthetics, these characters may be wholly designed around the trait in question. I’ve known people who used short-tempered characters to work through anger issues; I like to play con men and Secret Masters from time to time.

More commonly, however, a cathartic character is simply a version of the player who kicks more ass and isn’t afraid to be a jerk. This milder form of the aesthetic is extremely popular — at its root, traditional “hack and slash” gaming boils down to “It’s us, but we’re killin’ orcs and takin’ no guff from nobody.”

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