Character and Persona

Started by Roger, September 13, 2010, 08:32:11 PM

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As we all know, the recognized Components of Character are Effectiveness, Resources, and Positioning.  Some recent thinking about traits and aspects in games such as Primetime Adventures and Spirit of the Century has led me to consider there might be another Component.

Rather than reference some Primetime Adventures characters from games that no one else knows about, I'm going to use as examples some characters from actual television shows.  I appreciate that there's some risk in doing so, but I think we can steer clear of the dangers.

Consider a character like Mr. Bean from his eponymous show, or like Cosmo Kramer from Seinfeld.  It would be fair to say that, at least according to their putative audiences and laugh tracks, that these are funny characters.

But perhaps we are too hasty with that characterisation.  After all, it's very unusual for any other character in the show to actually laugh at either Mr. Bean or Kramer.  They might be funny to the audience, but it seems unlikely that any other character would describe them as funny.

One might object at this point that it is not a characteristic of the character at all, but rather a characteristic of the actor.  It is not Mr. Bean who is funny, but rather Rowan Atkinson.  It's not something that belongs on the character sheet but instead entirely to the player.

There's something to that, but I would invite you to imagine some new actor picking up the 'character sheet' for Mr. Bean and playing him as a weird, creepy, unfunny miscreant.  I'd suggest that the audience would claim, with some validity, that the new actor is playing him all wrong.  Indeed, such objections can be found whenever a single character is played by multiple actors -- consider the various Dr. Whos, the James Bonds, and the Sherlock Holmeses.

If, then, we can accept that "funny to the audience" properly belongs to a character, what sort of Character Component is it?  The most tempting answer is Positioning, but I feel this is an abuse of that category.  Positioning relates the various fictional pieces to each other; "funny to the other characters" is a fine bit of Positioning.  But this lies outside of it.

If we were still using the original name for Positioning, "Metagame", this might have been a lot harder to catch.  As apropos as "Metagame" might seem for this new Component, the term has suffered so much abuse as to be unuseable now.  At the moment I'm leaning towards calling it Persona, which might not be any better, but I'm open to suggestions.

Persona helps answer one of the great mysteries of the Primetime Adventure Currency Economy -- just where, exactly, does new fanmail come from?  I think we can now say that it's a Currency exchange from Persona to the Resource of fanmail.

There's a few other obvious bits of Persona on the average character sheet.  Almost all of them have a spot for player name.  The character belongs to a player, and that's a Component of that Character -- specifically, a Persona Component.

Specific again to Primetime Adventures, I would suggest that a character's screen presence is a Persona Component.

To explicitly define it, then:  Persona, being a Character Component:  qualities which relate the character to players and other objects outside the SIS.

One Currency system which exists in many games, but generally in a very underdefined way, is the Currency between Persona and Effectiveness.

It's not hard to see where effectiveness consists of a lot more than Effectiveness.  We can give exactly the same character sheet to two different players, and one of the characters may end up much more effective than the other.

Indeed, this is one of the main points of contention in the great "Old School vs. New School" D&D war.  On the one hand, the Old School revels in the Currency that allows them to convert Persona into Effectiveness.  On the other, the New School seeks to divorce them, with various characters of equal Effectiveness having, by and large, similar realized effectiveness.

I'm still debugging this concept in my mind, so I'd appreciate any feedback.  Examples of Persona, and Currencies involving it, from other games would be greatly appreciated.  I'm also up for a better term if anyone has a suggestion (but if that's your sole contribution, perhaps sending it to me via PM would be best; I'll give full credit to any I use, of course.)



Sounds interesting to me. What other examples, besides comedy, can you think of that my be some part of persona?


It's an interesting question.  In theory, there's no reason why a character couldn't be, for example, meek and lovable in Positioning, but utterly tragic in Persona.

In practice, I can't think of any examples of that off the top of my head.  I'm not sure if that's just the biases of my own preferences at work or what.

I'm intentionally discounting, perhaps unfairly, what might be called accidental Persona -- cases where the intent of the creator has diverged from the perceptions of the audience.  I'm thinking of, as an example, those old government propaganda anti-drug films, where the Positioning is "this guy is tragic", same as the intended Persona, but the average modern audience comes to conclude "Dudes, this guy is totally awesome."

The closest thing I can think of is the situation where a character's Positioning is "This guy is totally insane" with a Persona of "This guy is the only sane person in here."  I'm pretty sure some games specifically operate on that premise, along with various other media examples.

It's probably fair to add "TV Ugly" into this -- the case where a character's Positioning insists "Everyone knows I'm ugly!" while it's obvious to everyone in the audience that the actor is at least an 8 out of 10 in the real world.

An rpg example which might be worth examining further is the evolving role of alignment in the various editions of D&D.  At first blush it would seem to me that it started off as fairly pure Positioning, but has changed over time to become almost pure Persona.  Different opinions on what type of Component it is (or should be) would lead to the sort of protracted battles we all know and love.



I've been pretty lax in getting any actual Actual Play into this thread at all; so here's some (sort of) from (The Pool) Ghosts & guns & bodies :

Quote from: Ron Edwards on September 07, 2010, 05:45:10 AM
I'd written in the essay that I never used Gift dice to try to influence plot outcomes, or because I sympathized with a given character. Apparently I lied, because I did those things at least once each during this session.

So:  what's happening here?

A character has picked up a bit of Persona:  "Viewed with sympathy by the GM".  It might be an ephemeral bit of Persona, similar to an ephemeral bit of Positioning like "I have the high ground by virtue of standing on this chair" or it might be more persistent.  I'm classifying it as Persona because it's a Component of Character that relates the character to someone outside the SIS.

Converting that element of Persona into a Resource like Gift dice is just another Currency system at work.  The parallels between converting an element of Positioning into Resource should be clear.

As I said earlier, there's a long-standing tradition of obscurity regarding Persona Currencies in RPGs, so it wouldn't be unusual to come at the Currency system from a strict "Gift dice Resources should only be procured from Positioning" approach.

By way of clarification, I'm not trying to suggest that every use of Persona is valid or acceptable.  "That character is being played by my wife, so I'd better give her some Gift dice" is a Currency that would be problematic and unacceptable in some groups.