(Credit: Geek & Sundry / Ariana Orner)
I joke about it a lot, but I absolutely have a ?type? when it comes to fictional characters.
The joke extends as far back as my teenage years and my obsession with The X-Files? Dana Scully ? a red-haired FBI doctor ? before the animated movie Anastasia became a formative film at the time of its release. Not just another redhead, but a redhead Russian with the name of Romanov? No surprise that the comic character I clung to and held as most important in my life was red-headed Russian spy Natasha Romanoff, aka the Black Widow. When I got obsessed with LOST, I had a hard time finding a female character I loved until Juliet Burke arrived. She was blonde, but what was she in her previous life (and on the Island)? A doctor. And during the time the sci-fi show Fringe was on the air, I gravitated more than anything towards BOTH versions of Olivia Dunham ? one a blonde FBI agent, the other a redhead.
(Unimportant to this piece of writing but worth mentioning is the fact that I applied to college with the intent to be a medical doctor. When I saw how much math and science was involved, I fled like you wouldn?t believe. ENGLISH IS A SAFE BET FOR SECURING A FINANCIAL FUTURE, RIGHT?)
Anyway, since I already had the characters I identified with from Critical Role?s Vox Machina campaign, I was interested to see what would happen with these new characters who were being created in real time, not having been fleshed out and formed over a period of years before we were lucky enough to join their world. I don?t think it was a surprise to anyone that Jester ? with her blue hair and tiefling look and love for sweets and adorable accent ? was an instant favorite, but I attempted to be smart about it.
?Okay,? I said to myself. ?I know how it goes. We?ve got a long road ahead of us and so many secrets that need to be revealed, and I should wait at least a few months before trying to identify too strongly with someone. After all, it?s going to take forever for their backstory to come out.? As you might guess, my plan to try to not feel ALL THE THINGS until I felt like I had tangible information I could really relate to failed.
Over the course of the campaign?s beginning, we?ve seen Jester?s personality come to the forefront more than other characters. We know she?s eager and excitable, sometimes to the point of literally acting or thinking like a child. We know that she?s tricky, that she enjoys causing mischief, and that she?s in trouble for pranks she pulled before running out of town. I wish we knew more, though at the same time I don?t, because I love that we have so long to figure out all the secrets of these characters. And I love that this group is allowing us to fall in love with their creations without pulling back the curtain too much. In this way, the response that we are having is genuine, and it makes for a more intimate relationship between the players and the viewers of this game.
I have laughed with (not at ? okay, maybe at, but not in THAT way) Jester. I have flailed over Jester. I have become hungry because of Jester. (I know everyone?s on West Coast time, but YOU try being tempted for donuts at 10 or 11pm.) But during last night?s episode, I had a different emotional response: I cried.
We know Jester just wants to make other people happy; we don?t know if there?s a dark lining behind that personality trait that stems from covering up past hurt or from being influenced by someone or something else. I hesitate to theorize beyond what?s given to us because I?m quite sure that Laura Bailey has created a much better and more extensive character background, and it?s one that I?d never want to infringe on. But Episode 8 gave us a small window into Jester?s early life, and we know that Jester?s father left when she was born. We know her mother was a famous singer who attracted a small group of ?clientele.? We know that she spent most of her childhood in her room, the implication being that she was kept inside for large amounts of time while her mother sang to her and read stories to her. We don?t know the relationship between between Jester and her mom, but we do know that her trickster ways and fighting skills were taught by the Traveler, not her parents. And any child that spends all that time alone isn?t locked up like that for a reason, whether it?s well-intentioned or not.
But I want to specifically talk about a moment in an episode that was otherwise filled with laughter and amusement. When Jester started praying before bed, she became vulnerable, talking about how she was far from home, confused, and worried that she had lost the Traveler. She was scared of being alone, but more than that, she was scared that she might do something that would cause her to unknowingly lose her best friend. And because Jester has become used to relying on the Traveler to guide her, help her, and comfort her, that realization terrifies her. My assumption based on what I?ve read and heard is that the Traveler is supposed to be a deity of sorts, one who Jester worships and who she communicates with through her sketchbook. While I don?t relate to having that kind of companion, as much as I have my own religious beliefs and believe in someone guiding me when things get tough, I do relate to those feelings. Jester, for all intents and purposes, has crafted a personality where she appears as a confident, happy tiefling. But she?s also used to relying on things that are ?safe? ? namely, the Traveler, who has been a constant companion. And when that reliance felt threatened, it emotionally compromised her.
And I was surprised that it emotionally compromised me, as well. But maybe I shouldn?t have been surprised. After all, I?m not exactly shy about how this group of voice actors and their little streaming show has affected my life. There?s so many instances where I?m watching an episode or listening to the podcast that I forget these are people playing D&D ? these are characters who are experiencing love, loss, heartache, fear, setbacks and victories. It speaks to the strength of Critical Role and Matt Mercer?s skill as a DM that I?m able to so easily let my imagination take over for hours on end one night a week while watching something on a Kindle.
A lot of my personal struggles as of late have been centered around me breaking out of my ?safe space?: a mental cube I?ve built for myself that keeps me from being anything other than what I?m expected to be in my job and in my life. Doing the bare minimum is probably the best way to describe it, and even that feels like it?s not an explanation that?s sufficient enough. I?ve been struggling with how to feel confident enough to break out of that cube, the cracks of which I?ve been pushing at for awhile, while leaving that safe part of me behind. Like Jester, I?ve found people who I?ve come to rely on, who have supported me and pushed me forward, who are taking the place of the loneliness that my brain likes to remind me I carry with me. Like Jester, I admit to feeling terrified when I wonder about the person I?m leaving behind as I try to become a different but better person. Like most people, I don?t open up about my angst. I hide behind cheery smiles, fun tweets, and sarcastic jokes. It?s not all pretend ? we all have good days and bad days, and I do have a lot of good days. There?s absolutely enough of the good outweighing the bad most times, but the fear is real. It?s inside of me, pushed down but waiting to flare up during those moments when everything gets to be too much, which it does much in the same way it does for Jester: during nights when I?m alone.
It?s too early to feel confident about how I?m going to relate to the characters that the group formerly known as Vox Machina have created. I already know I identify with Beau?s guarded nature, Caleb?s thoughts of not being brave, Nott?s nervous impulses, Fjord?s intent to stay honest, and Molly?s confidence in certain situations. (Come back and play, Ashley! I need to learn more about Yasha!) Beyond that, I?m watching each episode with passion and interest, seeing where these characters take me and how their own journeys evolve.
But it?s not too early for me to find parts of myself in these new travelers, and I remain thankful beyond belief that this game and this family of voice actors has allowed me to access my feelings and address mental roadblocks in such an introspective, smart, and challenging way.