It's confession time: I've fallen off the wagon and have started playing Football Manager again. My free time is going to the hell where youth and laughter go - an endless series of boring looking menus, crappily animated match graphics and annoying features which is utterly loathsome and yet at the same time irresistibly compelling.
But it has me thinking about role playing in the wider sense. This is something I have talked about before in the context of wargames: the tendency for people who are engaged in any type of game to...well...role play. We all do it - doing a voice for the little top hat as you move it around the Monopoly board; uttering dark threats to our competitors and cackling like a maniacal dictator as we conquer Ukraine in Risk; imagining that our chess pieces are little warriors fighting it out on the chess board like that game Chewbacca and R2-D2 play on the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars. Our imaginations demand it.
I always do the same thing when I play the computer games I play - which are almost always strategy games, admittedly. When I'm on Football Manager, I have to admit that, childish as it might seem, I am acting as an actual real life Jose Mourinho figure in my own mind - interacting with players and scouts; having rows with journalists; watching DVDs of the Marseille v Red Star Belgrade match from 1991 at 3am to gain tactical insights while my estranged wife texts her lover in another wing of my enormous Cheshire mansion; passing brown paper envelopes stuffed with £50 notes to referees' assistants under the table in fancy London restaurants; flying off to Milan for secret meetings with Silvio Berlusconi to see if he wants to make me an offer I can't refuse; attending a bunga-bunga party. Just playing the game is not only unsatisfactory, it is literally impossible. Your brain won't allow it. (Or, mine won't.)
The acts of playing a game and playing a role are somehow connected in our brains, it seems. Oddly, the same goes for sex. I wonder if there is something about losing yourself in a fun activity that allows your personality to slide - something about lost inhibitions and freeing one's mind and vaguely hippyish-sounding nonsense like that. I once read about a psychologist who noted that when people engage in a creative activity which they enjoy they lose sense of time and bodily needs and become hooked into that activity and totally focused: he called it a "creative fugue" or words to that effect, and I wish I could remember his name.