By Bricu | November 16, 2010
Yesterday, I started a discussion regarding the definition of various Anti-social personality traits, including an investigation of the terms used in pop culture. Today, I want to focus more how to integrate some of the APD traits with RP.
To begin with, I’m going to one more client: Hannibal.
Hannibal has a history of violent offenses. He was a clumsy manipulator, and a frequent target for less-than-ethical staff and for the kids. His offenses were horrific, his abuse history was terrifying and he knew it. He tried to make progress in his treatment work, and frequently felt some levels of guilt, but he was not always displaying an appropriate affect. He also had a tendency to stand too close to female staff and study them–very much like a creepy guy at a local bar. For instance, while playing softball he missed the ball–either hitting it or catching it–because he was too busy starring at female staff.
But Hannibal wanted help. He as trying to develop a more appropriate emotional range. He knew, intellectually, what he wanted to do but hew as too angry to actually do anything about it.
Last I knew, Hannibal served his probation sentence in a juvenile correctional facility where he received little, to no, real treatment.
Hannibal was often cited as being “the other psycho on the unit.” He fit a pop-culture definition of APD/Psychopathy; however, his development history suggested he was suffering from more emotional trauma than APD. Instead of being trauma focused, we focused on his (admittedly, extremely scary) violent behaviors. Looking back, I think Hannibal would have benefited from Trauma focused therapy. Despite being more mild than Jenga, Hannibal still is difficult to relate too. It was not his comfort with violence that was problematic. It was how he treated other people. While on an intellectual level, he attempted to process people as more than just individuals to use and abuse, emotionally he thought of them as opportunities and obstacles. The most appealing aspect of Hannibal was his attempt to understand his own psychology, and that he wanted to, “Be good.” He just could not figure out how to do it… and the people who should have helped him, failed him.
Both Jenga and Hannibal had the same four key traits we discussed yesterday:
2. Lack of remorse or guilt
3. Shallow affect
4. Callous/lack of empathy
Jenga, however, had more extreme versions of these trait–I would argue a 2 on the PCL–while Hannibal had low scores–mostly 1s on the PCL. Jenga could not muster transient (fake) guilt. Hannibal could. This could be done in RP. One can try and emote and demonstrate appropriate affect, apologies and discussions. People with APD, typically, CANNOT even approximate culturally appropriate responses to certain behaviors. This is more than just being socially awkward–ie a Night Elf being confused at a Gnomish ritual or a human being unable to comprehend a dwarven wedding–it is akin to trying to understand non-euclidean geometry.
The most successful APD people can mimic proper responses and learn what is called for during a particular event. APD means having a difficult time using empathy–and empathy is an inherently human trait. These can be RP’d as well; however, it means striking the proper balance between unsettling and dark humor. Playing a lack of empathy is comparatively easy to playing a character who does not seem to understand that people are not objects to be abused.
I honestly do not advocate playing someone with APD, but this is in regard to my own comfort zone. Some of these behaviors trigger very specific responses to my behaviors. As a player, I find it difficult to remain in the
RP if someone is trying to RP an APD that wants to associate with Bricu. That being said, I think it is possible to do APD well in game. Here are some of my suggestions:
1) If you want to “Save them” or “Change them” make it epic.
I know we’re talking about RPing in a world where magic exists, dragons destroy cities and elves live for thousands of years; however, there is inherent consistency within the setting. A person that is incapable of Empathy and has an aggressive sense of self will not change because “they found love.” First, a person without empathy has a difficult time relating to other people. Secondly, one cannot love with out empathy. The Healing Power of Love Cliche will not work with this.
A story of bringing someone to terms with their past and encouraging them to heal is a epic in and of itself. It should not be easy.
2) Stick to, and exaggerate, the traits
Having the traits of APD does not, in and of itself, indicate that one has APD. The criteria for scoring the PCL requires a number of sources of information and the scorer needs to have an advance degree in order to do this properly. That being said, if one is interested in playing someone with APD traits, one needs to stick to the traits. Not every person with APD has the same number of traits, or the same ‘degree’ of trait; however, they do have some of them.
3) Understand the Traits and where they come from.
Evidence for psychopathy seems to indicate that people with APD can be “made” and Born. One of the trainings I attend with Dr. Anna Salter suggested that through the historical record, we can see instances of psychopathy in nearly every culture in nearly every era: From the Inuit to the ancient Greeks. Some people who have scored high on the PCL report having an idyllic childhood, and have the documentation to prove it. Some report terrible instances of trauma. Either path towards APD is a viable character option. Understand how the traits you chose for your PC make your character.
4) Recognize the difference between Asshole and APD
Assholes, bullies and APD may share some traits, but they are not the same thing. A war vet that doesn’t like people doesn’t have APD. Likewise, a bully that has all the adults fooled and the children terrified may, in fact, be more than your average jerk.
5) Doing good and getting help may mean things get worse
I don’t expect Azeroth to have a lot of treatment or rehab clinics. Sure, Shadow Priests maybe able to futz around the brain and “Fix” things, yet keep in mind attempts to rehabilitate people with APD teaches them how to hide and how to mimic. It typically does not cure them.
6) Flat Affect is a Key
There’s a scene in Silence of the Lambs where Dr. Chilton tells Clarice that Hannibal’s heart rate, “never went above 80″ as he viciously attacked a woman who got to close to him while undergoing a medical procedure. Studies have been done on people with high scores on the PCL: The only time their affect or pulse rates changes is when they have been personally humiliated. Not attacked. Not witnessing violence. Not engaging in violence: When humiliated. This is factor cannot be understated, and should be key in understanding how APD influences your character.
My experiences in the field have made me very specific about the terms I use when talking about mental health issues. The jargon is an attempt to take difficult concepts and give them a precise language, so we can understand what the issues how and how we can address them. RP is an attempt to spin a story. Some will prefer the more pop-culture elements of psychopathy. Personally, I’m more afraid of the real ones. I understand the appeal of invoking psychopathy in your stories, and I hope that this provides some direction in terms of understanding how to “get it right.”
Feel free to ask more questions or comment in the comments!