Schwarzenegger: The Model of Great Roleplaying

"Basic psychology is among my sub-routines."

Until Arnold Schwarzenegger faded from the movie screens and became the Governator, people rarely celebrated his contributions to science fiction and action cinema history. Now that it’s been several years since his last starring role (Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines) it’s become fashionable as of late to watch his films all over, whether to engage in camp celebration or to return to a nostalgic time when action movies were filled with manly men rather than limp-wristed Scientologists and effete Bretonians.

“Hindsight is always 20/20”, the saying goes. Even when people would ridicule his accent, his toothy grimace and the difficulty by which certain roles hung upon his oversized personality, I always believed that Schwarzenegger’s qualities as a performer made him a great character actor. So what does this have to do with role-playing games? Well, simply put, Schwarzenegger is a great role model for role-playing and I think more players should look to him for inspiration, whether they are playing clueless paladins, wise-cracking occult investigators or conflicted cargo smugglers.

Laugh all you want, but think about it: Schwarzenegger movies are filled with enough B-grade witticisms and knowing puns to rival those spouted at the table by zany players. When he needs to push himself to the limit, Schwarzenegger cares nothing for what he looks like as his face contorts in exertion, his eyes bug out and a horrible wail echoes from the oak trunk neck where his voice resides. Arnold Schwarzenegger is the consummate role-player, who pays no attention to his lack of leading man good looks and directs his energy towards addressing larger than life situations that exist only as cinema artifice.

No one will remember if we were good men or bad. Why we fought, or why we died. All that matters is that two stood against many. That's what's important!

Can you feel it coming? The icy cold of space! Aaahhhh!

So, without further blather, here are a list of lessons you can learn from Arnold Schwarzenegger:

  • Take what the DM throws at you with grace and humor. In Conan the Barbarian, Arnold indulges the narrative shortcomings of the campaign, even though it’s a poorly written series of events leading up to getting enough XP to defeat a Big Bad Evil Guy who’s never read The Evil Overlord List. He takes everything graciously, whether it’s being arrested for a gem heist was railroaded into or being tied to a tree and forced to endure vultures trying to feed on his face. He laughs like Crom does at The Four Winds.
  • Play the material to the hilt. If your DM skews the campaign heavily to one aspect at the expense of another, indulge him. For example, if your DM insists on having you match wits with NPCs, paint your personality in broad strokes and become larger than life. Just like Arnold! In movies like Batman & Robin and Junior, he goes into an over-acting rage and hopes that people will remember him even when they couldn’t care less about the plot.
  • Exercise your suspension of disbelief. Sure, you’re all just guys sitting around a table rolling Platonic solids and squinting at each other. But if you really want that emotional payoff, you’d better be prepared to buy into the world. In Total Recall, Arnold uses his over-acting schtick to show us that even on a cheap set, gazing out on a matte backdrop with 80s CGI, he absolutely totally believes that he is on Mars, and that a miracle is happening and that miracle is AIR.
  • The more contact I have with humans, the more I learn.

  • Contrast your personality against other players. Because Arnold is so much larger than life, he doesn’t try to blend in among his co-stars. Instead, he plays against their performances. In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Edward Furlong is kind of a hyperkinetic spaz while Linda Hamilton makes gloom and doom faces the entire time. As “Uncle Bob,” Arnold chooses to underplay the character as a kind of grumpily patient daddy figure. On an insane film set, it was the sanest choice.
  • Make the characterization become the story. In all of his movies, Arnold portrays individuals with a very strong self-image. In Jingle All the Way, he has to keep himself in check to ensure that he doesn’t do anything reprehensible while trying to get a Turbo-Man action figure. In Total Recall, he insists that he’s the good guy, even when confronted with video evidence of himself saying otherwise. Both movies are about his ability to stick with that character, even when the DM Behind the Camera is conspiring against him.

These are just a handful of the things you can pick up from the Governator. The greatest thing about Arnold, is that no matter what he’s doing — playing self-impregnated scientists, getting kicked in the nuts by Sharon Stone or being forced to act opposite himself — he gives a hundred percent of himself to the performance. It’s not that he’s a thespic genius so much as he refuses to see even the stupidest roles as an opportunity to slum it, or try to sleepwalk his way to a paycheck. And that’s what makes him a role model for role-players everywhere.

If you enjoyed this piece about Arnold Schwarzenegger, the greatest inspirational model that role-players could have, then consider supporting us by making a Paypal donation via our Donate button on the right hand side of this blog. Such contributions will help finance the future of My Girlfriend is a DM and POLYHEDRAL. And now another great shot of the Schwarzenegger. Just ’cause we can.

You can scream at me, call me for a shoot at midnight, keep me waiting for hours - as long as what ends up on the screen is perfect.

3 Responses to “Schwarzenegger: The Model of Great Roleplaying”
  1. tobie says:

    A great read! 🙂

  2. psuedo name says:

    Not a bad read, except for cheap shots at actors who actually do 99% of their own stunts. The cheap shots take away from the effectiveness of the writing, and only pigeonhole you.

    yes your jab was a passing attempt at humor. It failed.

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