04/25/18 - Edited 09/30/20 for anonymity
The stage of my life during which I was functionally a roleplay character has given me a strange relationship with fiction. I don’t exactly categorize the events of that stage of my life as not being real, although I don’t categorize them as real, either -- it is its own category of reality, “things which happened to me but which did not actually happen,” that I have no words for. Its own stage between “real” things, like this life and my last one, and “unreal” things, like the lives of my rpg characters (however like me they may be). It is as distinct from “real” and “unreal” as they are from each other. I don’t feel like I can communicate it well. I’m not going to continue trying.
But that stage of my life has given me a strange relationship with fiction. It is fiction, inasmuch as larping is fiction -- none of those people or places involved were ever real to the people who made them, not in the sense that I am real. I didn’t experience them as being real. It was a lucid dream. But they live in my mind as if they were real, even knowing and having known then that they weren’t, even in spite of the complete lack of continuity. Those were all of my relationships for most of my life here. I miss those people, and I think about going back to those places, even though I can’t. Even though, in most cases, my entire experience with them was something like half an hour in-game.
Now I play RPGs, and...whatever Animal Crossing is. Games where I can play as myself, because I get enough of playing someone else in the real world. And though the events of those games are not funneled into that “real-unreal” category in my mind (not precisely, anyway -- "fiction I am deeply involved in” registers as its own category, too, if one with a more tenuous separation from “unreal”), sometimes the people are. I find myself thinking of an an Animal Crossing villager or a nameless npc or the roommate’s [OC] in the same way that I think of anyone whose reality is (or should be) uncontested. In fact, it may be less accurate to say that those characters are funneled into any particular category of reality than to say that people generally register to me as people with absolutely no regard for which of those categories they would occupy.
This has...very little effect on my life. The only trouble it's given me is a need to avoid acting overly familiar with certain fictives, which isn't difficult, and which certainly isn't a problem limited to people who parse fiction the way I do. The only reason I think of it at all is that making no meaningful differentiation between fiction and reality is a stereotypically unhealthy trait. I have not felt compelled to change over that -- my existence is also a stereotypically unhealthy trait, and coming to terms with that will make you a little jaded toward certain societal norms -- but I have felt compelled to think about it. I don't think my experience is unhealthy. I know at least one person who has always held a much stronger line between the real and unreal and has also had a deeply unhealthy relationship with fiction. I think anyone who looks at them, and at me, and says "but at least they don't feel they have relationships with video game characters" has strange priorities.
I suppose in the end I am dealing with some fairly abstract feelings, and can only directly compare them to those of my headmates. Maybe this is a normal way to interact with fiction, and they're the odd ones out -- or none of us are. Is there a point to differentiating a very mundane sense that a relationship with a character is meaningful from comments such as "these characters are so well-written that they feel real?" Is there any way to distinguish a difference in experience from a difference in describing an experience? I don't know. Probably not, on the second point -- until we can know the minds of others, our descriptions are what we have to work with.