Karl Orozco '13: Oberlin Shansi: The RPG (Role Playing Game) 

Karl Orozco was the 2013-2015 Shansi Fellow at Syiah Kuala University. This is his second year narrative.

A role-playing game (RPG) is a game in which players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting. Players take responsibility for acting out these roles within a narrative, either through literal acting or through a process of structured decision-making or character development. Actions taken within many games succeed or fail according to a formal system of rules and guidelines (Wikipedia).

Player Karl 
Level 1
Gold  ||  Undisclosed
Health  ||  30 / 30 HP
Attributes  ||  Bravery 0  |  Honor 0  |  Wisdom 0  |  Humility 0
Quests  ||  1. Make friends  |  2. Create change through art  |  3. Be a creative teacher

The hero of this game would not like to think himself as such. After countless Oberlinian discussions about the dangers of savior complexes, he would outwardly consider himself an anti-hero: someone who the role has been thrusted upon, not presented to. He will insist that he has no heroic tendencies and cite that he’s never saved a kitten from a tree or broken up a fight on a train, but deep down, he knows the hero’s heartstring is within him. He did, after all, sign up for two years of teaching English in Banda Aceh.

What fuels this hero? What quests does the hero seek to fulfill? The hero wishes to accomplish but three simple quests: 1. To make friends. Good friends, preferably. Friends that will join his party and ease the burden of his other quests and alleviate the steady drain of hit points caused by homesickness; 2. To create change in his new land through art. The hero fights with black pens, casts spells using long, smooth strokes, and heals himself and others using art’s generous, giving powers; 3. To be a creative teacher. An open, communicative teacher excited about his lesson plans, ready to laugh and willing to be laughed at.

Player Karl 
Level 2
Health  ||  27 / 30 HP
Attributes  ||  Bravery +1  |  Honor 0  |  Wisdom 0  |  Humility 0
Quests ||  1. Make friends  |  2. Create change through art  |  3. Be a creative teacher
New skills || Bahasa Indonesia

The hero spends his first two months in Indonesia training in the ashy, mystical town of Yogyakarta where he successfully learns the language of Bahasa Indonesia. He tries driving a motorbike once [bravery +1], but is not very successful [health -3]. He has certainly acquired knowledge of his new land — but has he grown any wiser? The jury is still out.

Player Karl 
Level 3
Health  ||  24 / 30 HP
Attributes  ||  Bravery 0  |  Honor -2  |  Wisdom -2  |  Humility -3
Quests  ||  1. Make friends  |  2. Create change through art  |  3. Be a creative teacher
New skills  || Driving a motorbike

The hero arrives in sunny, breezy Banda Aceh equal parts scared and indignant. Scared to drive on a motorbike, but always insisting that “he’s got this”. He is mildly offended at every “hati-hati (be careful)” everyone bids him each time he mounts his trusty steed. He later learns that everyone says hati-hati to everyone, and does not mean everyone thinks he’s a horrible driver. The hero is scared to teach, and it shows in the sweat stains, but is unwilling to request the assistance of his wiser elder fellow. The hero is scared that he is no longer the most knowledgeable person in the room, despite being in a totally new environment, yet still acts like he is [humility -3, wisdom -2].

All this aside, he is happy to be in his new home. Things are not nearly as scary as he thought they’d be. After all his travels through the mallscapes of New Jersey and the flatlands of Ohio, never has the hero imagined a natural environment as beautiful as this. Most would be lucky to vacation in a place like this — but let’s not get carried away. The hero has business to take care of, quests to complete. He blends in with the townspeople pretty well, although his louder, more rambunctious senior fellow often blows his cover. Everyone is friendly to him and most everyone would enjoy spending time with him, but he has yet to meet someone he wants to extend party membership to until —

The hero meets Ferry, who joins his party. Ferry is cut from the same creative cloth as our hero. Ferry is a believer in art, and a cynic for nearly everything else. He is the foil to our hero: snarky to his sappy, reckless to his measured. Our hero has completed his first quest, and in quick time: to make a good friend. Quest completed.

Boss battle: The hero accidentally knocks over a very nice looking motorbike in a restaurant parking lot. The fall creates a very loud “Crash!”, which prompts everyone enjoying their meal to stop, turn, and see who’s dumb move that was. A well-groomed, well-sculpted and very angry townsman marches over, eager to punish the perpetrator. His senior fellow insists that they flee from the scene of the crime, but the hero chooses to stand his ground and face his fate (just kidding, he’s actually just too scared to move) [bravery -1, I guess]. The hero sputters some pathetic, apologetic Bahasa, hoping that his American charm will do the rest. The hero is spared any physical harm, but he sure is embarrassed [health -3, honor -1].

Player Karl 
Level 4
Health  ||  9 / 30 HP
Attributes  ||  Bravery +2  |  Honor -2  |  Wisdom -1  |  Humility 0
Quests  ||  1. Make friends  |  2. Create change through art  |  3. Be a creative teacher
New skills  ||  Swimming  |  Mural painting

The hero escapes his second semester but suffers a severe loss in hit points: from the homesickness virus [health -3], from motorcycle accidents he does not tell his family about [health -5], and from identity crises he does not tell anyone about [health -8]. It’s a period of questioning and inconsistency — a typical sophomore slump. The shiny newness of Aceh begins to wear down, and underneath it reveals a rougher, more grating experience. At times like these, the only place the hero can find calm is in trips to the beach, where he can lie in the ocean, feel small, and realize that his complaints are quite trivial in the grand scheme of things [health +5; humility +1]. All this introspection means he is a great swimmer at this point, even if the body doesn’t show much proof. After spending so much of his life fearing the water, this new development excites him [bravery +2].

The hero does join a guild of fellow artists — knaves of ink, warriors of sharpened lead, mages with spray cans. Together they drink coffee and be merry, tag the town with cute if grotesque imagery, and teach younger artists the semi-ancient practices of drawing, writing, comics and graffiti. Over time, he tempers his quest expectations and gives up his more radical, vague, lofty, preconceived notions of “changing the people in Aceh through art”. The hero is but one person, one who is out of touch with the way things actually work in Aceh, and it would be dangerous to convince himself otherwise [humility +2, wisdom +1]. He learns to take pleasure in the smaller joys of his Shansi experience and avoid his tendency to place his personal expectations too high. So he pats himself on the back, doodles on and says, “Quest completed.”

Boss Battle: A bad batch of oyster curry. It is a long week [health -4].

Player Karl 
Level 5
Health  ||  17 / 30 HP
Attributes  ||  Bravery +2  |  Honor 0  |  Wisdom +2  |  Humility +3
Quests  ||  1. Make friends  |  2. Create change through art  |  3. Be a creative teacher
New skills  ||  How to say “no”

The hero begins his second year of teaching in a groove. He has settled on a stock repertoire of jokes that work in all of his classes. He has learned from his almost-disasters in the classroom (often the results of sensitive material) and wisened up [wisdom +2]. In general, the hero has begun to embrace his mistakes and view them as learning — not shaming — experiences [humility +3, honor +3]. He has set lesson plans that aren’t necessarily the most informative, but sure are entertaining. With help from his junior fellow, whose arrival and spirit injects a new fervor for teaching, he has found a way to incorporate his favorite animated films, 90’s rom-coms, and comics into the teaching curriculum. His students like him. His students are also very easy to please. Quest completed.

The hero strengthens his bond with Zya, the benevolent “princess” of Aceh (she will absolutely hate this characterization, but it is a fitting comparison), who joins the hero’s party. She is well-versed in the land and well-connected with its people. Zya is competent and confident; this princess need not be rescued. On the contrary- Zya saves his party’s sorry behinds more often than not. She leads the hero’s party on a magical trip to a small archipelago south of the province. It is a week filled with fresh fish, long swims and card games [health +8].

Boss Battle: The hero and his junior fellow get trapped in the mountains with a power hungry, overeager English teacher. The teacher jokes about kidnapping the two. It is a joke, but still. The hero and his co-fellow navigate the sticky situation with choice words and white lies [honor -1]. After much time and many reluctant “yes’s” to invitations he didn’t want to say “yes” to, the hero has picked up a valuable skill: how to say “no” [wisdom +1].

Player Karl 
Level 6
Health  ||  17 / 30 HP
Attributes  ||  Bravery +2  |  Honor +1  |  Wisdom +2  |  Humility +3
Quests  ||  1. Make friends  |  2. Create change through art  |  3. Be a creative teacher

The hero finishes his time in Aceh. Like your typical RPG, by the end of the game you have grown a bit tired of all the tedious, humdrum interactions with the townspeople — the lines of in-game text you wish you could just skip. Like your typical RPG, those first few trips outside of town that initially excited you are now suddenly filled with nuisances: low-level enemies (y’know, your typical monitor lizard or herd of cows crossing the street), traffic jams, and repetitive sound effects (honking; heckling; the word “bule“, or “foreigner”, being yelled at you).

The hero has returned home, completed his quests, and never lost all of his hit points. Sure, he had several soft resets along the way, but he refused to quit and erase his file [honor +1]. I guess that means he has won, but a winner does not make a hero. In reality, the hero realizes he isn’t the hero after all, but one character propped up by a narrative and supported by the cast of characters who have helped him come this far. These include the hero’s co-fellows, his co-workers, his students, his party of friends, and his cohort of other Shansi fellows who have embarked on similar journeys in other lands, playing different versions of the same game. Each one of them should be considered heroes in their own right. It’s a shame mine’s is the only game you got to play.

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