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Author Topic: on making the same character over and over  (Read 8511 times)
Paul Czege
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« on: December 28, 2001, 02:12:00 PM »

Hey,

On the http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?topic=1083&forum=3&12">A Connecticut Narrativist in King Arthur's Simulation thread in GNS Model Discussion, Skippy wrote:

I have a current player who always plays a mage. ALWAYS....Kelly has been dissatisfied with his games for quite some time. Not enough to go actively seeking something else, but enough that he was tired of the system limitations he'd seen.

When my friend Tom ran Theatrix this past summer, he very much wanted the personal subplots of the characters to eclipse his main plotline, the way Berkman says they should in the rulebook. He'd send emails prior to the game sessions, asking the players to tell him scenes they wanted to have. He didn't get much in response.

Maybe four sessions into a game that wrapped itself up in eight sessions, we had a phone conversation about the subplots issue, and the lack of input from the players. I told him that the real issue isn't that the players don't want to see certain things for their characters, to have a specific kind of story emerge, it's that they don't consciously know what those things are well enough to be able to tell him. Think about it. People generally know what they really like when they see it. Everyone has favorite movies and favorite lines and characters and scenes from movies. When a player creates a character, he definitely has ideas about what he thinks is a cool character, and unconscious preferences for what kinds of stories he'd like to see for the character.

It's just that the average person doesn't psychoanalyze himself to the point where he knows the real patterns of his likes and dislikes, the patterns that cross genre and medium. So when I talked to Tom, I psychologized what I knew about the other players. "Remember how much Jim liked the Edward Norton character in Fight Club. He couldn't stop talking about it. And remember how quick his character was to make friends with the Pa'sion character in my Everway game? Remember how much gratitude he roleplayed when his character met mine, and he thanked me for the climbing shoes? And think about how into the Japanese culture of formalized respect he is."

I told Tom that I was convinced that Jim very much had a pattern of appreciation for characters who have a friendship or mentor relationship with a more significant and powerful character, and advised him to create opportunities for that kind of thing in Jim's subplots.

I did the same psychoanalysis of the other players.

And subsequent sessions of the game proved that I was dead on.

So why does a gamer create the same character over and over, the way Kelly does, and the way Joe's friend Gordon does? Because consistently, in each and every game, the character fails to emerge from gameplay with a story that satisfies the player's unconscious preferences. Just because the player can't articulate their preferences doesn't mean they don't have any. The player gets trapped in the RPG equivalent of the woman who consistently goes back to her alcoholic, abusive husband. It's too important to her psychology to give up on the chance of overcoming the specific set of relationship issues she has with him.

Vampire, Mage, and AD&D, to name just a very few, consistently deprotagonize player characters. The suave character botches a seduction roll and the game or the GM assigns an outcome that undermines the character concept. The fierce character whiffs and stumbles through combat sequences. A great deal of table humor during RPG sessions comes from the system undermining the characters. Well, I'm sorry to say, but that's the textbook understanding of dysfunctional. And we're not even talking about railroading here. If system + railroading consistently create story outcomes that aren't satisfying to the unconscious story preferences embedded by the player in the character, you see the player creating the same character over and over again.

Cops hate domestic disturbance calls. The wife is black and blue from the beating she's taken, but she lunges at the cop when he tries to cuff the husband. Players similarly defend the systems that are killing them. And they go back for another slap, again and again.

That's why I suggested WYRD to Joe. It delivers authorial and directorial power to the player. I think he'll find that once Gordon works out the story that's been bottlenecked inside of him, to his satisfaction, that he'll be all over the map in terms of the characters he creates for games.

Paul
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Laurel
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« Reply #1 on: December 28, 2001, 02:29:00 PM »

Quote

Because consistently, in each and every game, the character fails to emerge from gameplay with a story that satisfies the player's unconscious preferences.


Paul I really liked your entire post and I agree.  I'm going to add one other tangent to it.   I think another reason that relates somewhat to all of this is that we have players who are "fixiated" upon being a mage/fighter/vampire/whatever because there there is something about the specific archetype they are re-living over and over again that represents to them something lacking in their own lives.  With mages, it could very well be something as like "control over one's own environment".   These people aren't really roleplaying for pleasure as a primary motivation; they are roleplaying for escape from the reality of their own limitations.

Hence the players who must -always- be gorgeous and sexually desirable; because roleplaying is the only time they feel desirable at all.  Or be a mage, or a whatever.  Online gamers are particularly notorious for "enactment", as I call it.

Laurel
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #2 on: December 28, 2001, 02:56:00 PM »

Quote

On 2001-12-28 17:29, Laurel wrote:
I think another reason that relates somewhat to all of this is that we have players who are "fixiated" upon being a mage/fighter/vampire/whatever because there there is something about the specific archetype they are re-living over and over again that represents to them something lacking in their own lives ... These people aren't really roleplaying for pleasure as a primary motivation; they are roleplaying for escape from the reality of their own limitations.


Ahem... not that there's anything wrong with that.

Or more seriously: I think people often come back to the same character type not even necessarily for escape, but for some sort of subconcious resolution. I find myself often doing this: when I was divorced, my next character was an untrustworthy little wart of a character who acted like a nonchalant asshole, but had an aching heart in need of a mother, and who would subconciously act on that, recoiling when caught. I don't want to get too much into my own psychoanalysis here, but:

a) Whether or not true, I felt like a untrustworthy little deformity after being called these things by my ex-wife.
b) I was trying at the time to act like everything was ok, to the point I brushed people off constantly.
c) A lot of what I got from my ex-wife was a sort of mother relationship: she taught me how to cook, how to clean, and was my source of comfort. I remember that often when we held each other, it wasn't as equals, but with my head in the crook of her arms, like a child.

So, I played a character that was a fantasy-world reflection of this. (I killed him off, as well.) My resolving these issues through a proxy, I got rid of them in my real life as well.

I think this happens a lot more than we recognize.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #3 on: December 28, 2001, 02:58:00 PM »

Couldn't just be that the outcomes of playing that character type are so apreciated that they want to see them again and again? Just like I keep going to see HK action flicks knowing exactly what the plot will be every time? Or have I somehow deluded myself into thinking that I'm enjoying myself?

I play mages 'cause I like magic.

Sometimes, Paul, a cigar is just a cigar. Not to say that the cigar might not be something else for you, however...

:wink:

Mike
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #4 on: December 28, 2001, 03:24:00 PM »

Hey Mike,

Sometimes, Paul, a cigar is just a cigar.

When a cigar presents itself to you, it's just a cigar. When you choose a cigar, you've got a reason.

Paul
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #5 on: December 28, 2001, 03:54:00 PM »

What does that mean?

Yep, I choose cigars (mostly Punch and Arturo Fuentes if you must know). My reason is that I like the taste of cigars.

Or do you mean to imply that all cigar smokers do so for sublimated reasons?

OK, enough with the cigars. My point still stands. From a psychological POV I could as easily accuse you, Paul, of projection. I'm sure that if we discovered that you were playing the same character over and over, that your diagnosis would stand. All I'm saying is that, for some (probably legitamate non-narrativists), your diagnosis may just be confusing a predeliction for a problem.

Or am I really that deluded? Well, at least I'm happily deluded. I think.  :smile:

Mike
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Skippy
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« Reply #6 on: December 28, 2001, 10:05:00 PM »

Thak like Fire!  Fire warm!

Okay, assuming I'm competent enough to understand what's been said,

1) As Ron pointed out in that other thread, who am I to psychoanalyze my players?  -and- (more importantly)

2) Am I qualified?

My wife worked for a psychiatrist for five years.  Brilliant man, lots of fun, even if he is a Forty-niners fan.  He doesn't presume to know about Quality Assurance anymore than I presume to understand his specialty.

There's an anecdote that I believe involved Hemmingway.  He was approached by a surgeon at a party, who told the author that he planned to write when he retired from medicine.  Hemmingway responded by saying when he retired, he planned to operate.

If you are qualified, more power to you.  I would feel very uncomfortable performing this exercise.
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Ryan Ary
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« Reply #7 on: December 28, 2001, 10:49:00 PM »

My friend that runs our Vampire game has often said that roleplaying is about wish fullfillment. I think he's right for the most part. I know I definately like his games. :wink:

Ryan
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #8 on: December 28, 2001, 11:14:00 PM »

Heya Skip,

who am I to psychoanalyze my players? -and- (more importantly)...Am I qualified?

I wasn't suggesting that GM's should feel an obligation to psychoanalyze their players. In fact, despite having had a little success at it the one time, with a few guys I know pretty damn well, I think it's generally an impossible task. The solution isn't to analyze the player, but to deliver authorial and directorial power to the player such that they exert enough influence over game events that the story preferences they have embedded in their character can emerge. You can't expect to psychologize the player and know specifically what his story preferences are, so you can make them happen, and he probably can't tell you what they are, but they'll be reflected in the choices he makes with his authorial and directorial power.

Paul
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And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans
hardcoremoose
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« Reply #9 on: December 28, 2001, 11:29:00 PM »

Hey guys,

Paul's most recent comment cuts to the very heart of what makes directorial/authorial power so damned cool.

If you're playing a game with someone, and you're approaching it from the traditional player/GM relationship (i.e., primarily actor stance), the GM might hit the cues he's supposed to.  I repeat, he might.  But even if he's good friends with someone and he has a reasonable understanding of the things that person likes, he's still going to be lucky to play into their wants and needs about half the time.  Because we're not psychoanalysts, just like everyone is saying here on this thread.  We can't know what the player wants all the time, and when we get it right, it's most often a lucky stab in the dark.  And the end result of this floundering in the dark is, too often, an experience that just doesn't hang together the way the player had envisioned it.

Now deliver that player some extremely powerful directorial and/or authorial power and stand back.  

Why?

Because the player can not be wrong.  

He simply can't be.

Take care,
Moose

[ This Message was edited by: hardcoremoose on 2001-12-29 02:30 ]
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: December 29, 2001, 07:46:00 AM »

Hi there,

Paul's opening post on this thread is strong stuff, and he and I have been kicking it around in private communication for a while.

One thing that ought to be clarified is what constitutes "sameness" among the characters played by a given person. It is nothing so simple as "always playing a mage," in game terms. It is instead, as was described earlier about the person who always played the paladin personality, about bringing in particular issues and standards of play, no matter what other context is involved. In many cases, the in-game description and role of the character is similarly repeated, as a kind of marker for these issues and standards.

I want to address Mike's basic comment: "Must repeated play of a character be dysfunctional?" To extend the relationship metaphor, that is much like asking, "Must any marriage be considered codependent abuse?"

I think the metaphor holds. The abusive marriages that Paul refers to are a subset of marriages. The (for lack of a better word) neurotic version of repetitive-character play is a subset of repetitive character-play.

One might be "working out neat stuff," psychologically and artistically speaking, through role-playing. Or one might just like elf babes and thus always plays one. Fine and cool. That is not what Paul is talking about. He is talking about unhappy players, and thus the discussion starts there.

I have nothing to say about "all" examples of repetitive character-play. I do know that Paul's description is borne out in many examples. When I started my current run of games, in which the same group plays a given game/system for a while, then shelves it and moves to another, I saw that people would play the "same person" over and over, and then, later, branch into more diverse character creation. The sense of "Ah! Finally got it right," was extremely strong in all cases.

I think Paul's point is dead-on correct. I also think it is easily misinterpreted, unless we understand that, before all else, we are talking about unhappy role-players. If you're not unhappy, then the point doesn't apply to you no matter how repetitive your characters are.

Best,
Ron
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contracycle
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« Reply #11 on: December 29, 2001, 11:56:00 AM »

A player once explicitly told me that he likes to play "incompetent" characters because he has to be hyper-competent in the office all the time.  This came about after I had tried empowering his character for, as I saw it, balance; I found he would actively resist these attempts (not that I should have been doing them anyway).  The result was a conversation in which this emerged quite specifically, and helped me cater to his style.

As I mentioned on another thread about characters not too long ago, I definately feel that many of my characters, probably the ones I am most at home in, are essentially an extention, or exploration, or tangent, to my own personality.  I think this is necessarily the case, given the extent to which we quite shamelessly make up a character for ourselves out of whole cloth with "super powers" and the works.  Or perhaps not really out of whole cloth, in that the range of character types that can be incorporated in a setting varies (although often these are just archetypal reinterpretations).

I think the idea is worth exploring even for the "non-clinical" cases in that I think that if a player is typecasting themselves, its probably the case that they are not playing at their best; quite possibly if they got to do what they always wanted to do with this sort of character, everyone would have more fun.  I definately agree about the extension of authorial powers and so forth.  I noticed that one of the ways sorcerer is structured to facilitate authorialismn is player-generation of individual demons which are one of the characters primary mechanisms for acting in the world.  One might reasonably expect that preciesly because the player knows that they are constructing two characters, almost, which will be closely related, that they would tend to build in some appropriate sort of trope or theme or whatever that they would want to get out of the game.  Thus, the player brings to ther able, I would hope, quite a lot of self expression in terms of how they are going to interact with the world.
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Laurel
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« Reply #12 on: December 30, 2001, 11:52:00 AM »

We're definately just talking about people who are unhappy here; they keep repeating a cycle and not enjoying themselves, but also unwilling or unable to break the cycle.  My suggestion is this isn't a good thing, because RPG success= players' happiness, right?  So if you are a GM, and you have a player who's unhappy, because he's constantly a mage but no game anyone runs, regardless of system, regardless of G/N/S approach, satisfies him... then if this person is your friend, maybe its time to help him figure out what it is he -really- wants from playing a mage.  That might not work either, but it will help you realize that his dissatisfaction is a personal issue, and not your fault.

Laurel



 
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Joe Murphy (Broin)
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« Reply #13 on: December 30, 2001, 12:01:00 PM »

A little side-topic which probably warrants detailed discussion at some point...

Do GMs (that is, people who GM a lot) tend to vary their characters more than players (ie, people who don't GM so much)?

In my experience... probably. I think I've been conscious of my fondness for characters who are specialists, for example. Since noticing that, I've experimented a little and played generalist characters.

That said, that could be down to how I'm introspective at the best of times, and like analysing RPing. I'm *here*, after all.

Joe.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #14 on: December 30, 2001, 06:42:00 PM »

Hi Joe,

I am primarily a GM, rather than player. Speaking only for myself, my "character profile" ended up looking like multiple takes on a narrow range of issues. It wasn't as if I were playing the very same person over and over, but the motifs and the issues did get raised over and over, in different ways.

The highlights of the 80s:
Asrovak d'Ursini - sinister shadow-mage with snake familiar (Rolemaster)
Vivianne - undead sorceress with shadowy-dark scary spells (GURPS; setting Cynosure)
Rico - kick-butt latino speed freak, with venomed fingertips (Cyberpunk)
Serpentine - sexy snake-powers babe, with narcotics-powers + kicking butt (Champions)
Nocturne - shadowy occult superhero, lots of darkness and intangibility and magical scariness (Champions)

Most importantly, to turn to theme rather than motif, all of these characters had terrifically dysfunctional family backgrounds, often being related to major villains in the game, often exiled/detached from family.

This pattern changed a few years ago, and since then my character creation has become much more diverse in terms of both motifs and themes, and I've been willing to entertain a wider range of in-play outcomes for characters as well.

Based only on observation of personal acquaintances, I've found that GMs actually show more tendency to play "similar stuff" from game to game. I suspect it has a lot to do, in the specific people I'm talking about, with the same reason they are mainly GMing in the first place - frustrated Narrativism.

Best,
Ron

[ This Message was edited by: Ron Edwards on 2001-12-30 21:44 ]
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