Character Choice vs. Player Choice

I’m an RPG player. Give me twenty minutes and a decent Character Creation set up and I’ll have a full-fledged individual with a detailed and intricate backstory to provide motivations and personality quirks for flavor. This works pretty well with the fact that I’ve an annoyingly prolific imagination and the ability to type; if the game is half-way decent, by its end I’ll have at least a half-dozen fanfictions involving my character and their reactions to the plot or their story before the plot happened or some plot that I thought might be fun to write out. To me, the character isn’t me, I don’t see them as a formless avatar to fill in with myself, but they’re an entirely distinct person that I happen to just share a head-space with. I slip into their mind, their story, and act with them, in accordance to the world they breathe in and the life they’ve led. They aren’t a portal for me to experience the game but a connection, a link, for me to see through another’s perspectives in an alien world.

It’s a weird dynamic to explain, but it’s why I have no problem playing the same game multiple time (I’ve played through Dragon Age Origins nine times, four more play-throughs planned, and then its sequel, Dragon Age 2, six times.). I might know what’s going to happen when I turn that corner and I could easily structure my team so that I never hit a “crisis point” with a companion (a decision that is so abhorrent to that character that they leave, sometimes attacking you, sometimes you have to kill them), but my characters don’t. They have entirely different set of experiences and memories than I do and that, all on its own, gives them a lens to see their world differently than me. So, to keep true to the idea that they are not me, but I am them, I must give way to their lives and their choices.

This gets exciting in cases where the character and I are entirely different people. Like Daylen, my verbose mage who is probably that actual worst hero of them all. He’s pro-him. When faced with a blood-mage slaver who offered up the lives, the power, of his kidnapped slaves, Daylen shrugged and said “sure”, and accepted the meager boost that a dozen deaths gave him. If I met him in real life, we’d hate each other, and I’d probably start a fight that I’d quickly lose. Daylen is not a nice man, he’s indifferent to cruelty which, in some ways, is worse than honest evil. For most of his playthrough, I was cringing as I clicked and whispering apologies to my favorite characters. Gameplay is much easier for me when I make characters who’s motivations align closer to me, but there’s always a few wince-y moments.

Take Neria, my extremely honorable and proud dwarven noble. She believed strongly in doing the right thing and that kindness mattered, not the end result. As such, she made decisions based on that and, sometimes, they were wrong. And I, the omnipotent player who had watched this universe play through so many times, was forced to click, electively helpless, as this little warrior made ill-informed, and bad, decisions in the search for goodness. Through each decision, there was a brief struggle between what she would do and what I wanted, but we always stayed true to who she was.

I’ll refrain from talking about every playthrough I’ve ever done, but my point can be summed up in: I make the decision to subvert my desires in favor of my character’s. Terrible, loving, cruel, indifferent; it is not me, but the character, and our work together. Through this becoming another, becoming my character, each game is really a different world, because they all see different pieces.

So I wanted to ask you all: for those of you who also like RPGs, whose perspective are you taking? Is the character you, just animated and armed, or is it something along the lines of sharing an experience with a character you created?

4 thoughts on “Character Choice vs. Player Choice

  1. I also love RPGS – I love spending ridiculous amounts of time customizing every detail of my character and looking up name etymologies before deciding on one. Usually, my character is some extension of me – regardless of varying races/species, I like to keep them female and petite. There’s something about playing a tiny, bad-ass heroine that makes me happy. I usually don’t stray from my own moral standards. When I first playing DA:O, I was very anxious about the decisions I was making, to the point where I finally consulted the Internet as to what the possible future repercussions could be. A bit spoiler-y, yes, but it set my mind at ease.

    My biggest problem when playing RPGs is making choices that I myself would not make, like you do with your variety of characters. I actually admire your ability to make a character an individual and not just a stand-in for yourself – all of your characters seem to have different personalities and alignments. While I may not always make the most selfless choices, I’m also usually not adventurous enough to try the more villainous or morally dubious ones either.

    I guess my answer to your final question is somewhere in the middle – I like the idea of creating an individual with a distinct personality and character. However, at the same, as the player controlling said character, I can’t fully separate my own values and morals from the character’s. I don’t like hurting NPC’s feelings so I don’t. I like romancing the cutest love interest so I do. I guess my ideal gameplay is something like me as a person but just in cooler clothes, with a really cool profession, and probably a more fun hair color.

  2. I have the same view of RPGs that you do – I /love/ creating characters for them. I basically never play as ‘myself;’ I always end up with character backstories and relationships and my own headcanons for a game. It’s actually easier for me on second or additional playthroughs (though sometimes i’ll wait a while so I don’t get bored of the actual combat) because the first game, I’m worried about missing out on content if my character makes bad decisions, but in future games I have more freedom to let my characters do whatever they want, or whatever makes sense for their own storylines rather than what I’d want to see from the game itself (ex: the more I play Mass Effect, the closer I’ll get to feeling comfortable making a renegade character, which I was wary of because I didn’t want to make a character who would piss off the other squad members during my first playthrough).

  3. Like Steph, I fall somewhere in the middle. Unlike Steph, the middle ground I fall on is not within one character, but spread amongst a few different ones. I also love replaying the same game with different characters. My first character I usually make as me as possible. Skyrim, for example, the first character I made was me right down to the name and attitude. As an Bosmer assassin, I sneaked around every corner and avoided direct confrontation as much as possible. The second character not even slightly me: a warrior orc who is relentless and crushes everything in it’s path.

    Which do I enjoy more? For the most part, it depends on the game. In Skyrim I liked being me, but in games where being me is less fun and overly difficult (like Papers Please) I much rather prefer another option.

  4. (Nerdy rambling inbound)

    Like Steph, I really admire your ability to distance your feelings from your characters and let them run the show. I have a lot of difficulty doing that the first time I play a game; I’m in the camp that likes to start by making somebody like me. I actually had a reall enjoyable time with it in Dragon Age: Inquisition, and part of that occurred as a result of the gaps in knowledge my character would reasonably have. Obviously as a player and fan of the franchise I knew more about the sacrifices of the Grey Wardens than my character did. as I supported them in most decisions (and wore armor of their I’d found for statistical reasons,) I felt I had to justify these decisions in character.

    I came to the conclusion that since my Inquisitor was a preteen during the Blight, he’d grown to idolize the Wardens and wouldn’t dream of acting against them. They were his role models growing up in the Circle; and he’d fantasize about one day joining them and being part of a community that didn’t care about nobility or magical ability, but existed only to get the job done. This rationalization, born of a discrepancy, ended up becoming by far my favorite detail about the character I was playing. For reasons like this, I usually start off my games as a blank slate, and let my decisions inform my opinion of my character as a separate entity from myself.

Leave a Reply