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Author Topic: Player-Character Distinctions  (Read 7889 times)
Jonathan Walton
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« on: May 24, 2003, 08:10:32 AM »

Wanted to bring this up, since many people seem to have very strong feelings about this subject that are baffling to me.  Some comments were made recently that brought this confusion back, so I thought I might address it.

First some observations:

1) In my stint here at the Forge, I've encountered several people who seem to think that the distinction between fantasy and reality is a critical component of roleplaying.  It should be clear, they seem to be saying, when you're talking about something that is real and out-of-game and when you are discussing the fantastic story elements within the game itself.

2) Further, I've had multiple people lecture me about "characters not being real."  Characters, they say, do not have desires and emotions outside of the player that represents them.  A character cannot want to do things that their player doesn't want to do, for instance, having no real or independent emotions.  This seems basically to be a strain of #1, that the distinction between real player and fictional character has to be drawn clearly.

Now, my gut reaction is to reject these claims entirely.  They seem almost nonsensical to me.  But I wanted to state my case and let those who think differently state theirs as well.  We gain nothing by continuing to misunderstand each other, even if, in the end, we agree to disagree.

On issue #1: Honestly, I don't really know where to begin.  Sure, there might be some danger in confusing fantasy with reality, but only if the people involved already had personal and emotional issues that they needed to deal with.  Among mature, stable individuals, a little confusion would be a safe, interesting, and rewarding thing (hence Powerkill).

Say a player is going through some tough emotional times with family members, but doesn't know how to confront them or resolves the issues.  Is it wrong to bring some of those issues into the game, having that player's PC be having similar problems with other characters in the game?  No, I don't think so.  Obviously, it would be nice to have that player's permission first, to make sure it's not going to upset them further, but there's no reason that roleplaying always has to be escapist and can't confront real issues that people face.

I mean, look at how roleplaying is often used in other contexts: for problem solving.  You go to workshops and they give you tough situations that you have to handle.  Then, you and the other people in your group act out the scene and try to resolve the issue.  Is there a reason that this can't work in a game setting?  Hell no.  Why can't you blur the lines between fantasy and reality and bring elements of the players' real lives into the game?  Why can't their having resolved problematic situations in a fantasy context enable them to deal with their RL problems in a more constructive manner.

And this is just one example of a way to healthily mix fantasy and reality, among the zillions of possible applications.  What's wrong with this type of thing?

On Issue #2: This one seems a bit more complicated, but, for me, boils down to similar components.  When people say "characters aren't real" I feel like I want to be Morpheus and say "What is real?"  Sure, a character's identity is just a construct of their player's invention, but, hey, the player's own personality could also be described as an invented construct.  There has been much talk recently of the "masks" people wear and the different personalities they have with different groups of people.  Is a roleplaying or theatrical character really that different?  Like the normal masks people use in social situations, a character is often just a tweaked and exaggerated version of a player's existing personality (or one aspect of that personality).

From this perspective, saying that character's aren't "real" or "don't have desires/feelings of their own" is bull.  Sure, the player is projecting those desires onto the character, but the player-as-character is also feeling them as legitimate desires.  We talk all the time about immersion in one's character, where the difference between player and character desires is virtually indistinguishable.

Additionally, writers often talk about certain characters "getting away from them" or "writing themselves."  Characters seem to take on a life of their own and their previous established personality demands that the writer continue in the same vein, having the character do things that the writer may not necessarily want.  This is the kind of distinction I often want to make between player and character desires.  Just because a player chooses to make a character act a certain way in one instance doesn't mean that the player wants the character to act similarly in similar instances later on.  However, the player may feel that upholding the consistancy of the game (in true Sim fashion) is more important than what they desire at a specific moment.  This is when player desires and character desires can diverge.

Ultimately, it may be that we'll have to agree to disagree, but this is the way things seem to me, where player-character distinctions can be both nonexistent (in some situations) and strongly constrasting (in other situations), both of which are great opportunities for roleplaying.
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clehrich
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« Reply #1 on: May 24, 2003, 08:18:12 AM »

Jonathan,

On #1, the idea that player and character must never, never blur, I think this is some kind of hang-over from the "bad old days" when everyone was worried about or accusing gamers of going nuts and hitting people with axes because they couldn't see the difference between fantasy and reality.  On the gamer side, this residue is defensive, but I agree that the extreme, absolute distinction is totally unnecessary.

On #2, this emphasis that the characters aren't real: well, I think this remark usually has a certain kind of context.  There is a relatively traditional sort of player who cannot see outside of the character.  All choices and decisions made by the player in play are constrained by "what my guy would do."  While this is a perfectly legitimate way to play, a number of folks around here want to point out that it is not the only way to play.  And in fact, that sometimes stepping back from the character allows you to do cool things, or solve group problems, that don't happen from within character as a rule.
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Chris Lehrich
Alan
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« Reply #2 on: May 24, 2003, 08:45:02 AM »

I'm uncertain what you're asking.  I couldn't identify the two claims you want to reject.

For your #1 you say "I've encountered several people who seem to think that the distinction between fantasy and reality is a critical component of roleplaying."  The answer to this is, of course it is - how else do you know when you're adding something to play?  But later in the message you bring in the issue of character's facing issues the same as those currently in the player's life.  It seems were not talking about making distinctions, but whether real world concerns should enter play.

Your #2 also confuses me.  You want to reject the claim "characters are not real."  The question is real what?  Real people?  Real ideas?  Real experiences?

Can you reformulate the two claims you want to reject?
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- Alan

A Writer's Blog: http://www.alanbarclay.com
Jeffrey Miller
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« Reply #3 on: May 24, 2003, 10:22:45 AM »

Quote from: Jonathan Walton
On issue #1: Honestly, I don't really know where to begin.  Sure, there might be some danger in confusing fantasy with reality, but only if the people involved already had personal and emotional issues that they needed to deal with.  Among mature, stable individuals, a little confusion would be a safe, interesting, and rewarding thing (hence Powerkill).


You are, of course, assuming that the gaming world is full of mature, stable individuals.  There's many, many issues of maturity and stability within the larger world community -- I'm going to get flamed for it, I'm sure, but I believe a case can be made that there exists a subset of gaming community that is and attracts a population who has difficulty with distinguishing reality from fantasy, to extract personal issues from in-game issues, who are decidedly NOT mature and certainly not stable.  A quick tour of the Actual Play forum (and RPG.net) shows this, with many examples of poor social interaction/skills leading to conflicts.

Quote
Say a player is going through some tough emotional times with family members, but doesn't know how to confront them or resolves the issues.  Is it wrong to bring some of those issues into the game, having that player's PC be having similar problems with other characters in the game?


It depends.  I've had a number of players who continually  bring their real-world issues into the game, and its disturbing in a Not Good way - the player who continually makes his characters passive-aggressive anger-balls hell-bent on disrupting the world around them to alleviate their feelings of inadequacy and lack of control issues.  The player who insisted that every character he made have deep-seated mental issues from having been abused as a child.

Are those appropriate avenues for characterization/game play?  Sure, in moderation, and when handled with maturity and respect.  When the game table becomes the therapists couch, I start charging ($100 for a 50-minute hour)

There's also issue of Social Contract involved.  Are you playing a game that allows or encouraged psychological exporation?  CoC, Unknown Armies, Sorceror, Dust Devils, Little Fears...?  What are the ground rules of the group?  Why are people at the table?

Quote
On Issue #2: This one seems a bit more complicated, but, for me, boils down to similar components.  When people say "characters aren't real" I feel like I want to be Morpheus and say "What is real?"


You can't refuse to define what standard you're going to define "real" by, and then argue that characters are real ;)  What do you mean, by "real"? I get the sense that you've got a strong feeling on this, and I don't generally disagree with what you're saying about the experience of literary examples of characters who are "real", but I still don't know what the boundries of your argument are.

-jeffrey-
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jdagna
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« Reply #4 on: May 24, 2003, 12:23:03 PM »

For my style of play, blurring the lines between character and player is a bad thing, and not because of the potential for unstable types to go overboard.  I think it's important to have a sense of who the character is as a person.  When you're done playing him, he should feel like an old acquaintance or a character like Frodo that you spent many hours getting to know as you read LotR.  It shouldn't feel like it's just you dressed up for a Renn Fair.

That said, there's nothing really wrong with bringing player issues into the characters.  Most of my characters are me, with the addition or subtraction of some element.  One character is based on the pre-Christian me, as a ninja.  One is based on me, but with all sense of compassion or empathy removed.  During a phase when I was working on my real life social skills, I played a politically-active cop.

Done in a non-disruptive way, this is extremely valuable.  It adds depth to the character and (I believe) is a powerful way to examine yourself and your life.
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Justin Dagna
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #5 on: May 24, 2003, 12:53:04 PM »

Hey, Jonathan

I think we need to quantify this with a situation. First off, I doubt we're talking about a loss of reality like in Mazes & Monsters. What we're refering to is more about who is the audience and for who's pleasure the proceedings are for. The character? Heck, no. They aren't real, so it's for the player's benefeit.

Problem is, what motivates or effects the player can often be the same thing as what effects the character, so like a lot of stuff we talk about, it can be a slippery little shit. But I think we can discuss this with the whole "what is reality" thing which is only so much smoke, TBH.

Example: Ever see Last Action Hero? Few did, but in that flick Schwartzenegger as the movie character Jack Slate laments "All I want to do is be a good cop and husband and father, but I keep getting into these silly adventures." This is the character dealing with the player, as it were.

You see, it's odd and it will vary along GNS lines for people and other things. For some, their desire is to "get into" their character others use their character as a means to an end. Some do both. Slippery and probably a tad big to go into, I think.

But the main thing is the player created the character. The player plays the character. After the game, the player goes home and if the player doesn't show up one week, neither does the character (in most cases). So the player is the real person you deal with and dealing with the character as a motivating force in play only works insofar as the player is invested into their character.

Stupid anecdote:
In a recent D&D3e game, I played a half-orc. Well, sorta. I was drifting away from my group by then. But part of my background, determined randomly by Task Force Games's Central Casting, was that my father was captured and sold into slavery. One day, We just happened upon my father. Lame, true but I, the player, did not react. Almost as an Afterthought did I have the character do something about it. Good thing this happened when it did. At the time I merely discussed with the perfume merchant who owned the father to buy the father's freedom. Today, I would probably have just made sure he was alright, being well treated and left him in slavery or, if pressed by the GM to try to free the guy, killed the merchant in broad daylight in the city streets and then been killed by the guy's bodyguards or tried and executed in a court of law. Am I so soured?

The point here is, the character does nothing apart from the will of the player. In this case, the player was unmotivated in the game period, much less the character in question. Thus, motivating the character into action is futile because the player will not act except, perhaps, out of a feeling of obligation.
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #6 on: May 24, 2003, 12:59:06 PM »

Hear, hear, Mr. Walton! I think I've said something akin to this before.

Alan's right that your first point is a bit blunt, but I see what you're after--why should we not try to explore real issues in play? I think around here at least that's pretty well accepted, although with caveats which I think you include. Do we want to explore what it's like to be a rape victim in a game in which one of the players is a rape victim? That's almost certainly callous, and is going to lead to hurt feelings and broken friendships. There will be aspects of reality that one group will not include in its games because members of that group don't want to go there. On the other hand, using role playing to understand (even dimly) what it would be like to be a rape victim is not itself an entirely undesireable goal--it should give you a lot more compassion for those who went through it in reality, if it's done well. No argument there. Let a bit of reality into your game worlds, to the degree you can all handle it.

On the characters, put me down as an author who has had characters refuse do to things. That's ridiculous, I hear. How can a fictional character you created refuse do to something you want him to do? Just write that he does it. It's not so absurd as it sounds, though. I can't just write that he does it. I can, if I wish, destroy who he is and create a new character with the same name, snap the disbelief suspenders of every reader, and derail the intended focus of my story with this jarring shift, but I can't make a character do anything that serves my plot merely because I want him to do it. Sure, characters do things that surprise readers; but you have to build to those, and they become major points of character development. A character has to struggle with that kind of decision for some time before making it, and the reader has to see him struggling. Otherwise, it's nonsense.

Certainly every character I create is drawn from somewhere inside me. On the other hand (as shown in a thread not long ago about Myers-Briggs types) I can take tests as different characters and get different results. Several are extroverted (I'm introverted). I'm intuitive, but most of my characters are sensing. Nearly all my characters are, like me, thinking--but one is feeling. Also, most of my characters match me as perceiving, but one (and not the one who is feeling) is judging. Once I'm in my character's head (written or role played), I know what that character would do, and it's not always what I would do, or what I would want done for the purposes of the story or the game.

As Justin says, this can be a great way to examine who you are and who you want to be. In that sense, gaming always blurs the lines between fantasy and reality, because if we're not learning from our characters we're doing something wrong.

--M. J. Young
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Reprisal
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« Reply #7 on: May 24, 2003, 01:51:28 PM »

Quote
On Issue #2: This one seems a bit more complicated, but, for me, boils down to similar components. When people say "characters aren't real" I feel like I want to be Morpheus and say "What is real?" Sure, a character's identity is just a construct of their player's invention, but, hey, the player's own personality could also be described as an invented construct. There has been much talk recently of the "masks" people wear and the different personalities they have with different groups of people. Is a roleplaying or theatrical character really that different? Like the normal masks people use in social situations, a character is often just a tweaked and exaggerated version of a player's existing personality (or one aspect of that personality).

From this perspective, saying that character's aren't "real" or "don't have desires/feelings of their own" is bull. Sure, the player is projecting those desires onto the character, but the player-as-character is also feeling them as legitimate desires. We talk all the time about immersion in one's character, where the difference between player and character desires is virtually indistinguishable.


(My italics, by the way.)

I don't think that the point of contention is whether or not characters are real or not, but rather the idea that the character is the primary engine of the game. Some believe that they are, and cite such things as people have done here already -- see below. Others state that the players should be the main driving force behind the game and, in the end, they are the ones that control the direction of the session/adventure/campaign as a whole.

What people are worried about when they start debating this topic is not whether or not we should approach fictional characters as having their own motivations and desires, but rather the relative worth of the consequences of believing that they do.

Quote
Additionally, writers often talk about certain characters "getting away from them" or "writing themselves." Characters seem to take on a life of their own and their previous established personality demands that the writer continue in the same vein, having the character do things that the writer may not necessarily want. This is the kind of distinction I often want to make between player and character desires. Just because a player chooses to make a character act a certain way in one instance doesn't mean that the player wants the character to act similarly in similar instances later on. However, the player may feel that upholding the consistancy of the game (in true Sim fashion) is more important than what they desire at a specific moment. This is when player desires and character desires can diverge.


Risking some small offense, I'll say, "Well, that's all well and good for authors and the writing of fiction, but is it a healthy attitude to have in a collaborative endeavour like an RPG?"

As a GM, I find this statement somewhat dangerous in regards to the cohesion and "structural integrity" of the campaign itself. I've had instances where well-meaning players had their characters go off in wild tangents that had little or nothing to do with the flavour of the campaign as a whole. Often, I'd hear the line, "But, that's what my character would do!"

I'd then have to tell them that, "Remember, your character is ultimately controlled not by himself, but by you. Regardless of what 'he' might want, you are the final arbiter of his actions. You know that in doing this, you're relegating your character to less than 'supporting cast', right?"

During my campaigns, I'm often worried that some players are losing control to that of their characters. Not because I think it's entirely wrong, it definately helps roleplaying, but because it often has side-effects that tend to send the campaign into a death spiral.

Quote
On the characters, put me down as an author who has had characters refuse do to things. That's ridiculous, I hear. How can a fictional character you created refuse do to something you want him to do? Just write that he does it. It's not so absurd as it sounds, though. I can't just write that he does it. I can, if I wish, destroy who he is and create a new character with the same name, snap the disbelief suspenders of every reader, and derail the intended focus of my story with this jarring shift, but I can't make a character do anything that serves my plot merely because I want him to do it. Sure, characters do things that surprise readers; but you have to build to those, and they become major points of character development. A character has to struggle with that kind of decision for some time before making it, and the reader has to see him struggling. Otherwise, it's nonsense.


(My italics, again.)

The problem with the author-analogy is that as a player, you're the only one that really has any significant interest in the way you're playing your character. The only person you're disappointing is yourself, and sometimes, that sacrifice might be worth it. What people are doing by stating that "Characters aren't real" is warning you that it's somewhat folly to get so attached to one version of a character that it becomes more important to you than the collective enjoyment of the group. If this sort of thing is done, I would argue that characters do lose some of their tangibility, but the entire game benefits from the added flexibility to a degree that offsets any loss. It just seems to me that approaching RPG player-characters as anything other than a means to an end is somewhat selfish.

I suppose it's become obvious that I'm one of "those people" who are the ones that try to tell others that characters aren't real. I suppose it's also obvious that I don't approach RPG campaigns as an author might, and again, I believe that characters are a means to an end -- not the other way around. Therefore, they should never be as rigid as a character in a novel might be because there are multiple variables in the story -- each of them another player with his/her own character.

And I'm not touching "exploring uncomfortable issues" with a ten-foot pole, heh,
 
 - Rep.
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"Intelligence in chains loses in lucidity what it gains in intensity." - Albert Camus
Alan
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« Reply #8 on: May 24, 2003, 06:24:24 PM »

Well, after reading over the original message and some responses, I think I see that there are several issues all mixed up here.  This is why I asked Jonathan to clarify his original post.  As people have gone merrily ahead, we've developed a jumble of subjects, including:

A  The fear that players will confuse fantasy and reality if not strictly reminded of the difference.  

B  Player emotional attachment to in-game events which may spill over into real-world choices.  (eg you killed my fighter, now I'll kill your thief.)

C  Should play include in-game situations that reflect a player's own real-life concerns.

D  What stance should a player use to make in-game decisions.

E  Do characters have a life beyond the player?

 ...and others, I've probably overlooked.  


Frankly, I think A and E are the least interesting.  D. has been discussed extensively in the GNS forum.  B. would make an interesting discussion about social contract and player interaction.

But C interests me the most.

Should play include in-game situations that reflect a player's own real-life concerns?

Real-life concerns _always_ enter play.  The player's own psychological landscape resonates with the fantasy landscape of the game.  This resonance is what engages the player, whether they want to kill orcs to relieve their anger at their boss, or just to feel more effective than they are in everyday life.  In a traditional RPG, the GM places most elements of the fantasy landscape - a good GM would be sensative to what engages their players and bring those elements to the front.  A game with more player-empowerment allows players to create or focus their own conflicts - thus relieving the GM of much of the burden.

However, should a GM place specific, overt elements of the player's real-life into the game?  Should he (or any player) have the character's wife leave when the player gets a divorce?  I think this is where we get into dangerous ground.  It becomes a boundary issue in the real world of people around the table.  The player may enjoy working out his geshtalt fantasies, but not want to deal with his issue overtly.  I think it would be just plain rude for another person to bring another's overt issues into play.

This is where player empowerment becomes interesting - a game that allows players to create conflicts for their characters, may provide a venue where a player feels safe enough to actually introduce real-life issues.

So, I think a wise social contract forbids one participant from putting another's issues into overt fantasy elements.  Only the player themself may do so (or request so).  Likewise, any player can ask to have element which upsets them removed from the fantasy.  

I think these rules are a general part of our social contract with friends, so why not in an RPG?
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- Alan

A Writer's Blog: http://www.alanbarclay.com
Kester Pelagius
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« Reply #9 on: May 25, 2003, 08:05:44 AM »

Greetings Mr. Walton,

Great weekend so far, eh?


Quote from: Jonathan Walton
1) In my stint here at the Forge, I've encountered several people who seem to think that the distinction between fantasy and reality is a critical component of roleplaying. It should be clear, they seem to be saying, when you're talking about something that is real and out-of-game and when you are discussing the fantastic story elements within the game itself.


Not to sound harsh or disparraging but: Yeah, so?

That's what OOC (Out of Character) and IC (In Character) responses are all about.  A seperation between game talk and real-life talk.  Been with us since the beginning of the Hobby, don't see the problem(?).

Obviously I am missing something here.


Quote from: Jonathan Walton
2) Further, I've had multiple people lecture me about "characters not being real." Characters, they say, do not have desires and emotions outside of the player that represents them. A character cannot want to do things that their player doesn't want to do, for instance, having no real or independent emotions. This seems basically to be a strain of #1, that the distinction between real player and fictional character has to be drawn clearly.



Wouldn't that largely depend upon the actual game itself?

Some games may set play up in such a way that they are simulating, or trying to at any rate, a environment in which players can only influence the direction that the in-game characters take.  Of corse these would be more abstract game.  Mostly, the traditional FRP game treats PCs as pawns/miniatures that the player is in control of.  As it should be, given the origins of the hobby, and that this is how table-top play works.  Right?


Quote from: Jonathan Walton
Say a player is going through some tough emotional times with family members, but doesn't know how to confront them or resolves the issues. Is it wrong to bring some of those issues into the game, having that player's PC be having similar problems with other characters in the game? No, I don't think so. Obviously, it would be nice to have that player's permission first, to make sure it's not going to upset them further, but there's no reason that roleplaying always has to be escapist and can't confront real issues that people face.


Huh?

Are we talking about playing a game or creating a custom designed psychotherapy session for players to achieve catharsis?

If the latter, then sure, role-playing games can be used to achieve this.  However, in terms of the common everyday *game*, the most that should be done is to cater to the players interest for purposes of entertainment value.  In my opinion.  Leastwise that is how I run my games.

By that I mean knowing what your players like, if that happens to be salacious encounters with Elven Vixen who try to seduce their characters, but turn out to be Zombie Slaves of some evil mastermind out to steal the PCs stuff. . . then that's the sort of thing you provide the players.

But to specifically try to use the session for theraputic purposes?

I dunno, sounds risky.  On many levels.


Quote from: Alan
Real-life concerns _always_ enter play. The player's own psychological landscape resonates with the fantasy landscape of the game. This resonance is what engages the player, whether they want to kill orcs to relieve their anger at their boss, or just to feel more effective than they are in everyday life. In a traditional RPG, the GM places most elements of the fantasy landscape - a good GM would be sensative to what engages their players and bring those elements to the front. A game with more player-empowerment allows players to create or focus their own conflicts - thus relieving the GM of much of the burden.


Very well said.

And I think that's how most games should be run, unless you are clinical psychologist/therapist and happen to be using role-playing as a tool in your daily practice.  IMO.


Quote from: Jonathan Walton
Writers often talk about certain characters "getting away from them" or "writing themselves." Characters seem to take on a life of their own and their previous established personality demands that the writer continue in the same vein, having the character do things that the writer may not necessarily want. This is the kind of distinction I often want to make between player and character desires. Just because a player chooses to make a character act a certain way in one instance doesn't mean that the player wants the character to act similarly in similar instances later on. However, the player may feel that upholding the consistancy of the game (in true Sim fashion) is more important than what they desire at a specific moment. This is when player desires and character desires can diverge.


Sorry, I partly disagree here.  In fact I think this example is a bit confusing.  Why?

Because there are no "character desires" in this.

If I have a Paladin, and it has been established, within the context of the game, that Paladins act a certain way, then this has nothing at all to do with "character desire" it is "characterization".  And that is something that the player, in this instance let's say me, must conform to.

This means that, as a established character archtype I, the player, can not do something outside the bounds of what fits the characterization I have chosen to play.  For Paladins this means no raping, no pillaging, no mass murder, et al.

By the same token I would not prance around on a warhorse in full field  plate if I were playing an Amazon.  It's against character archetype, not necessarily a "character's desire".

Of course if I am playing a game that allows me to build a background for a character, one replete with foibles such as how they might act in a given situation, then this becomes the box in which I, the player, have to work.  But not every game allows for such to be established thus, I think, that when this issue comes up it may be helpful to first find out what games the posters are talking about so that we can better understand the issue involved. . .

Well, ok, so I can at least be less confused.  ;)

Thus I guess what I am saying is that there is a difference; Characterization vs. Character Desire, where is the line drawn?  And how do we identify the difference?


Kind Regards,

Kester Pelagius
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"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis." -Dante Alighieri
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #10 on: May 25, 2003, 11:40:04 AM »

I'm mostly reiterating,but...

Issue #1 is not about worrying about players needing psychiatric help. It's about simply understanding that the player has different needs than the character. They may coincide, but they may not. So when designing, and most importantly when writing, it's important to be clear about who's being catered to by what. Not doing so has the theoretical advantage of engendering an immersion response in the reader, but I think that's of marginal value. I don't think that the reading transfers to play (if the players read at all, which they rarely do in my games).

The down side to conflating th eplayer and character is the potential confusion that occurs. And that is truely problematic.

Issue #2, nobody says that the character doesn't exist as a construct of the player, or as a fiction. Obviously they do. The point is that one can still address both ends of the construct effectively with the player-character split (and again the other side is problematic). When people say they're not real, they're simply saying that their motives are not independent of the player, and cannot be. They do not exist without the player.

Mike
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Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #11 on: May 25, 2003, 12:01:26 PM »

Hmm... and now I get to try to pull together this jumbled discussion.  Sorry I wasn't clearer in the beginning, guys.  Here's the main points I was wanting to discuss (which have be greatly clarified by your comments):

1. The Don't-Get-Carried-Away-With-Actor-Stance Attitude

Quote from: Reprisal
"Remember, your character is ultimately controlled not by himself, but by you. Regardless of what 'he' might want, you are the final arbiter of his actions."


Repraisal's right that he's exemplifying this type of attitude, but he's also 100% correct about the risks of full-on Actor Stance in traditional gaming formats.  Luckily, though, we have other options open to us that might support this kind of thing better.

First of all, if you're talking about the type of set up where the players create their characters mostly independently, without any collaborative brainstorming with the rest of the players or GM, Thespians (those who get lost in Actor Stance) are going to be in trouble.  The characters created might not be a compatible group.  They might not go along with whatever the GM's planned.  They might even be antagonistic towards each other.  In a traditional game, if all the players are Thespians, it will likely lead to a complete breakdown in the parts of the social contract that are taken for granted: aka the "play along" rules, that require charcaters to stay in a group and follow the GM's lead.

However, if you're playing in a completely different style, where the charcaters were all crafted together in a collaborative process, and/or if they're in the kind of situation that mandates that they stay together (families of powers in Nobilis, corners in Continuum, etc.), their seems little danger in Thespians wrecking your game.  As long as the GM is willing to fly by the seat of their pants, not having much planned, rollign with the punches, and willing to go where the characters lead, I don't think Thespianism (?) is a real danger to positive roleplaying.

I think this is what I was trying to get at originally, when I said that character desires are "real too."  I was imgining a playing style where the player's desires were subsumed by the charcater, where Author and Pawn stance were not utilized at all, only Actor Stance.  I was imagining a playing style that made it "safe" for you to cut loose and "be the character," without worrying about OOC issues so much (even though it would be impossible to ignore them totally).

I'd be interested to hear what the rest of you think about this possibility.  It would basically involve trying to prove Reprisal's quoted statement to be false in some situations, where the game and social contract was set up to support Thespianism.

2.  The Check-Your-Life-At-The-Door Attitude

Quote from: Alan
I think these rules are a general part of our social contract with friends, so why not in an RPG?


I totally agree with Alan.  This is what I was trying to get at.  Not roleplaying as some sort of amateur therapy, but roleplaying about real issues that face the players.  These could be religious issues, potiical issues, moral issues, whatever.  And they wouldn't necessarily have to be problems.  I'm talking about roleplaying that isn't purely escapist but explorative and almost like a discussion.  Lately, I've been working on a few games that involve the players playing avatars of themselves or themselves+ (such as themselves with superpowers or themselves in a world gone crazy, etc.).  This gets at some of what I'm talking about but not really.

Alan's right that any such system would work best if the players and not the GM were the one to incorperate elements from "real life."  But some things are almost fair play, simply because of their ubiquitous presence in modern society.  For instance, in any of the modern games that you've run, would you feel comfortable dealing with things like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?  Or 9-11?  Or any of the other issues facing America and the world?  I would hope so.  I would hope that players don't have to check their lives at the door.

This is also connected a bit to the first issue above.  If you're going to create a safe space for players to get lost in their characters, wouldn't it be possible for those characters to end up in situations that reflect the players own lives?  I would imagine that this kind of thing would be very likely, because the players' own issues and personality quirks would very likely show up in their characters as well, whether they tried exhibit them or not.

I think if you set up #1 you almost have to be prepared for #2.  Perhaps two players, both showing heavy Thespianism, have their characters get into a conflict or argument where emotion is running high.  If both players are lost in Actor Stance, you have to be able to deal with this energy and emotion (all of which is legitimate and not "fake," even though it may be generated by imagined circumstances) in a way that is constructive and not destructive to the game or social contract.

This is what I was getting at earlier.  Though the characters and their desires are fictional, the situations that characters are in create real desires among the players.  Expecting players to constantly step back and look at things from an OOC perspective would seem to harm the experience to a certain extent.  After all, perhaps one goal of roleplaying is to feel these "fictional" emtions and desires.  Is is possible to set up a situation that facilitates this kind of play?
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #12 on: May 25, 2003, 01:44:28 PM »

First, I wish to concede to Kester's excellent distinction between characterization and what I might call in a word personality. I think this clarifies the issue very nicely. Of course my characters don't really have "personality", desires, goals, concerns, or issues--they only appear to do so because I have drawn these aspects within them. I have goals for them on two levels--those which I attribute as their goals and those which are strictly my goals for them of which I do not consider them as recognizing. That is, in one story currently in editing, the character has been transformed into a sprite. I have a goal for him which he has, to deliver the sprites from the oppression of the humans; I have another goal for him, to have the ability to transform between human and sprite forms in future adventures, but he has no knowledge of this goal, and as close as he comes to it is wondering whether he will ever be human again. So saying that the character has desires or any of these other aspects of "personality" is only a shorthand way of distinguishing my goals attributed to him from my goals externally for him. He has no personality; he is characterized as having aspects thereof, and seen as having such aspects by the reader, to the degree that I am able to convey this.

I think Reprisal (has anyone asked you your real name yet? oh, welcome to the Forge) attempts to distinguish authoring characters from playing them on a basis which for me at least is too pragmatic: how will it affect game flow. I think Jonathan has dealt with this pretty well. Rep, you're playing the wrong games for your group. You need something that lets them play characters who aren't joined at the hip--something like Sorcerer, in which they're tied by drivers that are going to bring them into conflict with each other, or Alyria, where they're all part of the story before it begins because they're connected to the core issue; or (dare I say) Multiverser, where they only matter to each other insofar that they want to matter to each other, and are otherwise quite free to do whatever they wish. Your players are looking to get out of the box, and your games are trying to keep them in it. Get a new box.

As far as Jonathan's refocused issue, we've been doing personal issue games in Multiverser probably longer than it's been published. We've got worlds that deal with the morality of competition, with racial tensions and prejudices, slavery and oppression, prejudices, the morality of magic, and probably other matters that aren't coming to mind at the moment. We don't do hot issues all the time--and certainly in the main when I run an issue world I let the players decide whether to go for the issue, and to what degree. The first time I ran Orc Rising, the player did no more about slavery than buy one slave and treat him well, telling him that he should consider himself a friend and a free man, although recommending that they stay together so there wouldn't be any questions raised about this. I've had others go for the jugular there, incensed that seemingly good people would enslave anyone. I create worlds in which the exploration of issues is possible, and let players take it from there.

I'm not against doing it with more personal issues, but as Alan observes, you don't want to go after someone if they aren't ready for that. That was my point earlier about including rape in a game: don't do it unless you know the players are able to handle it. That applies to all issues that have the potential to be intensely personal.

--M. J. Young
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Kester Pelagius
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Posts: 508


« Reply #13 on: May 25, 2003, 05:12:47 PM »

Giddy and Jovial Greetings,


*quirks eye brow at Mike's reaction*

Too informal?


Quote from: Mike Holmes
I'm mostly reiterating,but...


Whatever you do in the privacy of your own home is your buisness.  ;)



Quote from: Mike Holmes
Issue #1 is not about worrying about players needing psychiatric help. It's about simply understanding that the player has different needs than the character. They may coincide, but they may not. So when designing, and most importantly when writing, it's important to be clear about who's being catered to by what.


I agree.  Though a bit off the mark of what I was inquiring after, perhaps, very well said.


Quote from: Mike Holmes
The down side to conflating th eplayer and character is the potential confusion that occurs. And that is truely problematic.


Yes, confusion is always a problem.  

*Kester nods sagely then quickly moves on*


Quote from: Mike Holmes
Issue #2, nobody says that the character doesn't exist as a construct of the player, or as a fiction. Obviously they do. The point is that one can still address both ends of the construct effectively with the player-character split (and again the other side is problematic). When people say they're not real, they're simply saying that their motives are not independent of the player, and cannot be. They do not exist without the player.


Of course, but then again there can exist PCs that do have motivations and goals.  I know, in one of my campaigns an old PC that had become part of the backdrop became a pseudo-NPC (the player moved on to VtM, among other things) that had a folder all of it's own.  Did that make it real?  Not really.  But within that folder was a background history that fully detailed the character down to how he acted in certain given situations. . .  Of course much of the personality of that character just wasn't their when played by others.  Yet the basic motivations and goals that made the PC what they were remained intact.

But then this is largely a distinction between pregen PCs and non pregen PCs.  Something that can't be done without clear distinctions.   So "how real" a character can seem would still largely depend upon their write up as applied within the actual game environment.

Caveat:  A character's motives can be independant of those of a player's.  But only if they are written that way or the system allows for such motivations to be generated for the character.  Like, say, in a system of applied advantages and disadvantages.


Kind Regards,

Kester Pelagius
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"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis." -Dante Alighieri
Kester Pelagius
Member

Posts: 508


« Reply #14 on: May 25, 2003, 05:24:28 PM »

Greetings Jonathan,

Quote from: Jonathan Walton
Hmm... and now I get to try to pull together this jumbled discussion.  Sorry I wasn't clearer in the beginning, guys.  Here's the main points I was wanting to discuss (which have be greatly clarified by your comments):

1. The Don't-Get-Carried-Away-With-Actor-Stance Attitude

(snip)

I think this is what I was trying to get at originally, when I said that character desires are "real too."  I was imgining a playing style where the player's desires were subsumed by the charcater, where Author and Pawn stance were not utilized at all, only Actor Stance.  I was imagining a playing style that made it "safe" for you to cut loose and "be the character," without worrying about OOC issues so much (even though it would be impossible to ignore them totally).

I'd be interested to hear what the rest of you think about this possibility.  It would basically involve trying to prove Reprisal's quoted statement to be false in some situations, where the game and social contract was set up to support Thespianism.


How about examples from real games to seek clarity. . .

Once Upong a Time, in the Long Ago, I ran a swashbucking adventures on the Spanish Main Pirate game.  I had this player who got so into character that the line between objective game-reality blurred to the point I once actually found myself staring at the dice in my hand, realizing that the reason the "flow" of events stopped was I had to actually roll dice for something.

It was much fun.

That the sort of gaming experiance you mean?


Quote from: Jonathan Walton
2.  The Check-Your-Life-At-The-Door Attitude

Quote from: Alan
I think these rules are a general part of our social contract with friends, so why not in an RPG?


I totally agree with Alan.  This is what I was trying to get at.  Not roleplaying as some sort of amateur therapy, but roleplaying about real issues that face the players.  These could be religious issues, potiical issues, moral issues, whatever.  And they wouldn't necessarily have to be problems.  I'm talking about roleplaying that isn't purely escapist but explorative and almost like a discussion.  Lately, I've been working on a few games that involve the players playing avatars of themselves or themselves+ (such as themselves with superpowers or themselves in a world gone crazy, etc.).  This gets at some of what I'm talking about but not really.

Alan's right that any such system would work best if the players and not the GM were the one to incorperate elements from "real life."  But some things are almost fair play, simply because of their ubiquitous presence in modern society.  For instance, in any of the modern games that you've run, would you feel comfortable dealing with things like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?  Or 9-11?  Or any of the other issues facing America and the world?  I would hope so.  I would hope that players don't have to check their lives at the door.


Ah, I thinks I sees.

Played in a espionage game, once upon a time, that incorporated real-life situations into the background.  What's more, our devious GM, decided that certain of the players would actually be playing themselves 'in-game', and yes they ended up being the hostage type we ended up having to go after kinda thing.

This, I assume, is the sort of thing you meant.  Yes?


Kind Regards,

Kester Pelagius
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"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis." -Dante Alighieri
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