Character Relaxation

Conflict. Setbacks. Putting stress on the characters. Since they all make for the best plot, they’re all pretty common in the average game or story. But that brings us to the question of how the characters try to deal off the stress: in short, what do they do to relax?

While the exact means of relaxing is going to be specific to the character, I’ve found that there are two overall factors that shape the kinds of relaxation strategies that people use. The first is the intensity of the stress that the character is trying to relax from; the second is the overall form that the relaxation takes.

Intensity of stress is, of course, common sense—the more stress someone’s under, the more determined they’re likely to be to do pure relaxation and avoid the stimuli that give them the stress in the first place (so, for instance, someone who can unwind with a simple but work-related distraction when only mildly stressed might need a non-work-related distraction when severely stressed).

Form is likelier to affect the kind of thing that a character does to relax. I find that most people have one form that they favor; for mild stress they might use a different form of relaxation, or blend forms, but as the stress gets worse, they focus more and more on their favorite form. So far, I’ve seen three that seem to dominate most people’s relaxation style.

One method of relaxation is indulgence. Doesn’t matter if it’s food in general (or a specific food in particular), drugs, sex, what-have-you, the point is that the character’s trying to get the stress to go away by taking in something in quantities that should (at least theoretically) overwhelm the oncoming stress. Often, the people who are doing this are doing so because most of the rest of the time, they’re having to refrain from doing what they want to do—that or they consider whatever it is they’re indulging in to have innate comfort value.

Another is clearing the mind. The object of the game becomes not to think about the stress, by not thinking about much of anything. Meditation is a common means, but some characters just kick back and relax. Often, people will be nudged towards this method by situations in which the stress is based on too many things going on at once, or things that they haven’t quite figured out how to deal with but might be able to if they could just detach themselves a bit, or just too much thinking leading to burnout.

Then there’s distraction. Can’t deal with the ever-encroaching thought of whatever the source of stress is? Employ your mind to think about something else. Often, this has aspects of both indulgence and mind-clearing; as with indulgence, the distraction is often an activity the character enjoys (whether she has to refrain from it or not is another matter), and as with relaxation, the object of the game is to remove the stressor from the mind. On the other hand, it’s quite possible that the character is engaging in distraction because mind-clearing just doesn’t work for her (I’m rather like this, actually); she needs to be thinking of and doing something, or whatever the stressor is floods into her mind. This is likeliest to take the form of thinking-intensive games.

Many people’s ideas of relaxation bear elements of multiple forms. For instance, I tend to relax by playing through video games I’ve already beaten and can beat again with ease (indulgence for the feeling of success/accomplishment, distraction for the action of playing). They also tend to guide to things that people enjoy anyway.

So how do your characters relax, and how does the intensity of the stress affect their relaxation?

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