Some twenty years ago around 1983, I was involved with the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA) in Mobile, Alabama. My persona in the SCA was Aidan of Lindisfarne, an Irish monk working in Britain. Around this time, Springhill College hosted a Renaissance Faire and a lot of the SCA folks attended because we were ready made for such an event. We had the costumes, the personas, and the attitude.
While roaming the event at Springhill, an oddly and garishly dressed guy came up to me and introduced himself with a German accent as Stefan von Hapsburg. Yes, a real live descendant of the Hapsburg dynasty. He had pictures and everything to prove it. I don’t think he was expecting it and not many people in the South speak German; but I had already taken a year of German at college. My mother grew up on a farm speaking German in Minnesota. So I was not too terribly unprepared to try my German on the royal personage. It was odd though. Stefan had no idea how to speak German and what he said in ‘German’ did not sound German at all to my neophyte ears and I let it go. He had pictures! With no cell phones, Google or Internet to instantly verify authenticity, he instantly became a celebrity with my social circle of Medieval wannabees.
Stefan von Hapsburg was truly one of a kind. He was the life of the party. We quickly learned that if we were going to have any sort of party and if the party was to succeed he would have to be there. Of course, I was always suspicious and it sorely irked me that I could never speak German with him. It was always ‘verboten’ or ‘nein, nickt’ with a heavier plattdeutsche accent; not a more melodious high German a Hapsburg really ought to speak. But heck, what did I know?
Eventually it come out that he wasn’t really Stefan von Hapsburg from Austria. He really was just from across Mobile Bay in Baldwin County. We even discovered his real name. However, he was always Stefan von Hapsburg to us up to the day he died. He was always great fun to have around. It was his persona as Stefan that allowed him to escape his Alabama upbringing. In his role-play, Stefan discovered a world he would never had been privy to see.
Some of my friends actually met Stefan’s real family. I gather Stefan’s role-play was a way to generate his own story in which he could live and live much more happily. When I think of the millions of people growing up who are completely dissatisfied with the hand they were dealt; wouldn’t it just be better if they just invented a different persona? One in which they could be happy; one in which they could prosper?
Some of us do it in an organizational setting, such as the SCA, online in various types of games, offline in games like Dungeons and Dragons (which I played and still love). When we interact on the Internet we don’t really know who is on the other side of a conversation anyway.