I could be a warrior. A holy knight. Someone donning armour, holding a shield and wielding a sword in the name of all that is good and honourable and just.
I could be a mage. Someone whose power is other-worldly. Someone who commands fire, controls the wind and the cold, heals wounds, changes the shape of matter and conjures demons.
I could be all of these things, or none of them. I could be a pure, single-type character or some fascinating hybrid warrior-mage. But eventually, I have to choose what to be.
The tutorial for the role-playing game Elder Scrolls: Oblivion takes place in the sewers. The opening cut-scene shows you imprisoned in some dark, dank dungeon. Whilst there, you are the recipient of a stroke of luck: the King is fleeing the city with his personal guard through the sewers, and your cell is where the entranceway is hidden. The King’s guards tell you to stand back and stay out of the way, or else. The King and his escort escape, and you, being a wily prisoner, decide to follow.
After following the group and witnessing the murder of the King and all-but-one of his guard, you are entrusted with a mission by the lone survivor. To fulfil it, you have to get out of the sewers.
You fight rats and goblins, acquire some armour, weapons and loot, and finally reach the exit. The gateway to freedom and responsibility. At the end of the dark tunnel is a circular grate. The sunlight is pouring in from outside and illuminating the grate like it’s some holy gate. Depending on how immersed you are in the game and what sort of character you see yourself as, you either run or walk nonchalantly towards the exit and the end of the tutorial. But before you can leave the sewers and finish the tutorial, you have to choose who you’re going to be.
Which race (Orc, Redguard, Khajiit, Dark Elf)? Which birthsign’s powers have you been blessed with (The Atronach, The Lady, The Steed)? What attributes will you emphasise(Strength, Speed, Luck)? These are the choices you must make.
Now, because I’m smart, I saved the game at this point. Which meant I could go back and create a new character whenever I wanted. Which I did. A lot. See, I’d get a few hours in and decide that something was up. That I chose the wrong attributes to emphasise. That being a noble healer Elf is boring. That playing as one of the Khajiit—a thief/warrior cat race—is less fun than I imagined it to be. So I’d start over. Over and over again.
You can do that in video games. You can hit replay and press restart. You can go back and recreate another life for yourself. A life which is better because you can apply the lessons you’ve learnt from a previous life. I think that’s why I love role-playing games so much. You can choose who you want to be, over and over again. There’s always an opportunity to right your wrongs and erase the mistakes you inevitably make.
You can’t do that in reality. In real life, I can’t play as a mage, be a giant cat, or go back to being fifteen years old whilst retaining everything I know now. I have to start as I’ve begun and make gradual, accumulating changes, rather than mass, sweeping ones.
In real life, unlike video games, I have to proceed from where I am, with what I have. And that’s the great thing and the worst thing about this life: there’s no backsies. There’s no starting over. Of course, you can reinvent yourself. But no matter the depth and the breadth of the reinvention, you’ll always be carrying the fragments of your past life and loves.