By Bricu | November 15, 2010
I need to preface this post with the statement that I am not (legally speaking) a Qualified Mental Health Professional in my state. I do have over eleven years of experience of working with juveniles with extremely difficult mental health behaviors; however, I cannot provide a diagnosis. My role is limited to providing treatment–in a limited context–to kids involved with the juvenile justice system. So while I am familiar with a number of mental health issues, definitions and treatments, I’m not the guy who can prescribe treatments or medications. I can draw from, and comment on, my experiences, training and eduction on mental health concerns. Just do not ask me for a diagnosis.
Last week on twitter, I asked if anyone wanted to read about my thoughts on psychopaths and sociopaths for RP. While it wasn’t an overwhelming response, there was a hint of interest. First, some definitions:
Technically, there is no such thing as a psychopath. Sociopaths don’t exist either. Both of these terms are, in current mental health lingo, as useless as the term subconscious. These are terms– for literature and pop culture. In the field, we tend to call it “Antisocial Personality Disorder.” While it is true that clinicians are currently arguing about adding terms to the next incarnation of the American Mental Health Bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), as it stands right now Psychopathy is not measured in the DSM.
We do use the word psychopathy–and Psychopathy– in my field. We prefer that term over sociopath as someone has started to define and measure traits within Psychopaths. Robert Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist-Revised is a clinical measure that was created to measure Psychopathy and anti-social traits within an individual. The tool has been researched and validated for a number of populations. Antisocial Personality Disorder is the clinical diagnosis given to individuals who have high scores on the PCL-R. Sociopath, while used by some people in the field, does not have a clinical definition. Given the lack of any clinical definition for sociopath, I’m going to drop its use entirely; furthermore, while I am concerned about labeling a client with APD at say 15, that is a post for an entirely different blog. What does concern me is using proper terms when discussing these matters, even when discussing these matters for RP.
If you want to play a person that has Antisocial Personality Disorder, I would recommend the following things:
1) Talk with your circle.
Psychopathy is a dark subject. These are not well adjust people, nor do the change easily. In fact, most trainings I’ve attended have stressed the point that people with APD actually get worse if they receive treatment: They learn how to mask their predatory behaviors with treatment-speak. They learn what to say and how to act–just long enough to get someone’s trust in order to hurt them. If you want to play this kind of character, then you have to be able to explain this to the people you RP with and be able to accept the consequences of this PCs bad behavior.
2) Look up the traits.
One might think that this would be better first step; however, given how collaborative RP is, I think it is better to give people a head up before dropping a well researched APD in their lap. The traits for the PCL can be found here. I thought about linking them directly, but I was worried that someone would look at them and say, “omfg Bricu posted the traits of a psychopath and I have most of them!” The PCL has advanced degree requirements because an evaluator needs to be able to suss out the differences between normal human failings and a personality that is prone to violent behaviors. I want to focus on four particularly problematic traits:
Affect means observable emotional response. A shallow affect, then, means a deadpan when displaying most emotion. The rest of these traits are fairly self explanatory. All of these traits can be RPed by a character with the Azeroth equivalent of APD. Shallow affect can be be demonstrated through /say and /em, while lack of remorse, lack of empathy and manipulative behavior can be demonstrated in a variety of RP sessions. Here is an example of from my experiences working in the field.
Jenga–not his real name–called his mother. She was completely distraught over the news that he would be held in custody for failing to progress in his treatment. The staff member monitoring the phone call was playing Tetris on the computer while Jenga tried to convince his mother to come up for a “long visit before jail-time” even though she had to work. Jenga’s tone of voice never changed. Instead, he started to watch the staff play Tetris. Over the course of the phone call, Jenga became more interested in playing Tetris than in consoling his mother. He did not care if she was upset. He just wanted her to come up and visit.
It was later discovered that Jenga was using some previously established code to try and get his mother to bring him contraband–food, money–to his treatment facility. Jenga also had a list of what he wanted to do to each and every staff member at the facility. Most of these behaviors involved killing staff members.
Jenga had no regrets. The only time he would display more affect was when he was humiliated. This prompted him to plan more ways of manipulating supervisors and case managers to investigate staff. Jenga was, in my estimation, the most dangerous kid I worked with.
Tomorrow, we’ll continue to discuss these traits and how you can incorporate Antisocial Personality types into your RP.