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Caring ABOUT versus caring FOR a character -- Fascinating critique of gaming principles from "The Last of Us"

overgeeked

B/X Known World
"I wanted to be an author, but I couldn't write a book, so I forced my tabletop group to play through the world and story that I built for my never-to-be-completed novel."
“I kinda like this ancient Roman sculpture, but I really wish it were a Renaissance oil painting.”
 

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A lot of games have simple play loops, where the PCs are simply vehicles for the players to engage in core mechanics: Enter a location. Encounter and overcome challenges. Discover loot and gain abilities. Repeat. No real PC motivation is there, it's entirely the player having fun with the game mechanics.

Other games focus more on character development. Character motivation and psychology are a much larger part of the game.

I think to have more care about a character, there has to be more to the character than a simple vehicle used to engage in mechanics: The game must include motivation and psychology.

If you think about what the players are doing with any realism, the simple mechanics core loop fails. What rational person would subject themselves to the dangers and horrors that lurk in a typical dungeon? Really, who would choose that kind of activity?

Then, how could anyone who was an adventurer not eventually succumb to any number of problems: Insensitivity to violence. Traumatic stress disorders. Extreme phobias. Any adventurer should end up, at best, an atypical person, at worst, a raving lunatic.

To each their own: Some are looking to defeat foes and discover loot. Others want to follow their character's psychological growth, which may be a descent into madness.

TomB
Well there are, as we speak, real live humans voluntarily fighting on modern battlefields many times more dangerous than any imaginary dungeon. Of course the problems you mentioned are very real! I can imagine some taking the risk but they will surely be unusual in some ways.
 

pemerton

Legend
Yes, if that's what you're looking for. It's not going to happen every time, nor should it, really.
I don't know what this "should" rests on.

The rules of the game define the physical aspects of the character. The experiences in the party as they adventure inform the personality.
The first sentence is not true of all RPGs. The second sentence seems to assume that the PCs are adventurers going on adventures. This isn't true of all RPGs either.

Whatever story emerges from an RPG is a combination of 1) the GM's prep, 2) the players' decisions, 3) the game's rules, and 4) the roll of the dice. All of these elements fight against each other and pull in different directions.
I don't think it's universally true that the elements you refer to pull against each other. Some RPGs clearly integrate these elements in various ways.
 

I don't know what this "should" rests on.
Whether or not it is desirable or feasible to have a powerful emotional response to a particular character in a game, every game.
The first sentence is not true of all RPGs. The second sentence seems to assume that the PCs are adventurers going on adventures. This isn't true of all RPGs either.
Yes, I think it is, but I wasn't terribly precise. The rules of the game define "the body" of the character- that which interacts with all other entities in the game. The experiences shared by the players through their characters as they explore whatever conflicts are resolved in the game, "the adventure" if you will, generate the "personality" of the character. The "soul", in a manner not tied to rules.

I know how Jet Carlon, my female werebear fighter, would serve as a guard, whether or not she would take a bribe, what kind of dress she likes, what dances she likes, how she would approach situations of any kind. This is irrespective of the ruleset. There may be rules that codify her personality (Pendragon), but I discovered this through play, and could only through play, and not defined by any rules.
 
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Yes, if that's what you're looking for. It's not going to happen every time, nor should it, really. You're not going to make high art repeatably like in theater. Being able to make choices as a part of a group prevents the fine tuning that a director lends.


Only until you get to know the character. The rules of the game define the physical aspects of the character. The experiences in the party as they adventure inform the personality.

I don't think you can get to that level unless it is something that you want, first of all, and you've been playing the character for a while. This isn't going to happen at a convention game or one-shot unless you have done a number of cold reads. You have to discover the character in play, first. As you play, especially once you become adroit with the system, it fades in the background. On the third adventure or so, once time has been invested in the characters, party, and milieu, then they generate a life of their own. This is when "I'm just doing what my character would do" stops being a shield for jerks and becomes something that doesn't need to be said. Everyone around the table, whether they are shocked, delighted, amused, upset in the moment, knows your character well enough that it makes sense after the fact.

When you take a role in theater your performance is based, ultimately, on three things: the author's words, the director's vision, and the actor's insight. When those blend together harmoniously you have an amazing production. But, that's not what we're doing. We need to develop insight into our characters, but the authorial and directorial responsibilities are shared. You're not writing a story or directing a play. You are in a rules-based process of discovery. As such, you have only partial control over the end.
Honestly I often find it easier to RP in a one-shot game. There's little at stake in terms of investment in the character or game. Just play it, be it, do it.
 

pemerton

Legend
The rules of the game define "the body" of the character- that which interacts with all other entities in the game. The experiences shared by the players through their characters as they explore whatever conflicts are resolved in the game, "the adventure" if you will, generate the "personality" of the character. The "soul", in a manner not tied to rules.

I know how Jet Carlon, my female werebear fighter, would serve as a guard, whether or not she would take a bribe, what kind of dress she likes, what dances she likes, how she would approach situations of any kind. This is irrespective of the ruleset. There may be rules that codify her personality (Pendragon), but I discovered this through play, and could only through play, and not defined by any rules.
So, imagine a game of Burning Wheel. A character is played, and in the course of play it turns out that they are too honest to take a bribe. In the trait vote, they are voted the trait Honest.

I think this is a rule of the game that does not simply define "the body" of the character which interacts will all other entities in the game.
 

So, imagine a game of Burning Wheel. A character is played, and in the course of play it turns out that they are too honest to take a bribe. In the trait vote, they are voted the trait Honest.

I think this is a rule of the game that does not simply define "the body" of the character which interacts will all other entities in the game.
Thank you for demonstrating my point. It is exactly part of the "body". Although, I have to say, having others vote on the expression of my character sounds strange.

I think I am confusing you with terms of body / personality. Maybe I should say "stuff on the character sheet which interacts with the rules of the game" and "insights I've developed about the identity of the character through the interactions they have had".

My script has what I say on stage. It is how I interact with the area, the lights, the direction. Only through how I say my lines and the chemistry I have with the other actors does it make the audience gasp, laugh, cry.
 
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Thank you for demonstrating my point. It is exactly part of the "body". Although, I have to say, having others vote on the expression of my character sounds strange.

I think I am confusing you with terms of body / personality. Maybe I should say "stuff on the character sheet which interacts with the rules of the game" and "insights I've developed about the identity of the character through the interactions they have had".

My script has what I say on stage. It is how I interact with the area, the lights, the direction. Only through how I say my lines and the chemistry I have with the other actors does it make the audience gasp, laugh, cry.
This is just definition, not analysis. You say there's stuff not on your sheet about the PC's personality, this is obvious, but Pemerton is still correct in saying some things on the sheet ARE personality. Your 'body' is just 'character sheet', I don't see anything significant about that
 

This is just definition, not analysis. You say there's stuff not on your sheet about the PC's personality, this is obvious, but Pemerton is still correct in saying some things on the sheet ARE personality. Your 'body' is just 'character sheet', I don't see anything significant about that
I apologize, I am not communicating. Let me start over.

Does the "gamification" of character through stat blocks, XP/progression, etc., create this same sort of dissonance? That the aesthetic experience must naturally and inherently suffer through the overarching needs of allowing the player to "game the game"?
...

One more fascinating quote, that further brings home why it's so dang hard to produce real emotional character growth / character arcs in RPG play ---

Vulture Article said:
Here, we may rightly speak of interactivity: One may care about a character on television, but one must care for a character in a video game.

And just . . . Oh my goodness, yes! Of course that's why it's so hard! As players it's just so incredibly difficult to make that psychological distinction. The constant tug against just keeping your PC alive to fight another day, versus really delivering what would be viewed as an overwhelming psychological need for the character. To care about the character, you actually have to CARE ABOUT the character. You have to view the character's psychological need as something real, something tangible, to the point that you have to play the character in a way that does not defy those needs.

Otherwise, you're just playing a game.
I believe that this position is correct in that it is an obstacle. If someone is seeking an emotional experience similar to that of a performance, it will be difficult because of the perspective a player has over their character. It is a game piece, cared for in the sense above, where through the rules it interacts with the milieu along with the other player's characters. It can be marginally or highly defined in its physical, mental and emotional values- all appropriately measured and quantified. And, importantly, limited. The definitions of labels and values make it applicable to the use at hand becoming a tool. It is the means by which a person interacts with the game. You don't want your tool to break, thus depriving you of the ability to interact with the milieu. So, you take care of it in order to facilitate your participation.

I contend that through prolonged play a player may come to care about their character, as mentioned in the article. They are able to appreciate subtleties and nuance that make this character different from any other character with similar, or even the same, attributes. The reason that prolonged play is required is that the player must experience through their character a multiplicity of situations and events. These build the personality of the character itself. The player comes to realize that what they may want is at odds with the character's desires. This is not something that can be written on a character sheet with labels and values; prose is required for understanding, at the very least.

A powerful example to me I mentioned previously. My friend playing the character Connor came to realize that the character themselves would not want to adventure any more. Connor would retire, and, interestingly, a loss was felt by the other players and DM. If it was just numbers and attributes, there would not be a feeling of loss, only inconvenience, perhaps. This is not something that would have been felt in the first adventure. I could describe Jet's personality with "Honorable, Courageous (Untested), Loves Elegant Dance", but that won't let you play her the same way I would. Certainly not with the same depth of understanding. You haven't spent the time with her to get to know her. As I write this, I can only think of four of my own characters that I can envision as characters I would care about- seeing them as more than game pieces. They share a characteristic of being played in games over an extended period, but they aren't the only ones in that respect. I've had other characters that I played for several adventures, but the rest never advanced beyond a certain fondness reserved for favored tools.

This is where RPGs can have an artistic quality that is more easily to be obtained than a computer game. It is easier to care about an RPG character due to the broader scope of interactions and extended time of such.
 

To me the lesson is that for a typical ttrpg centered around loot and levels, it's perhaps best to gear the characters (either through plot or character backgrounds) towards having goals that actually require loot and levels to achieve, if you need their character motivations to actually make sense. One benefit of save the world plots have is that they frame everything into terms of needing to become strong enough defeat X enemy, and easily create stakes for every character. The "braving dangers leads to wealth and greater abilities" thing is still a game conceit, but at least character motivation can be framed as "we need to brave dangers to improve our wealth and abilites because of X", rather than doing it because it's just what adventurers do.

I remember when my group completed Waterdeep Dragon Heist and managed to get out with a little over 50,000 gold, and decided to continue the campaign into further homebrew adventures I struggled a little bit with why my bard character would bother. She had gotten into this whole adventurer racket because she was broke and musical fame hadn't quite worked out. Broke and in a bad place is great motivation for a 1st level D&D character, and actually fine to carry her through that entire adventure as we played it. But now she had 13,000 gold stashed away, and co-owned a tavern where she was the star attraction and that produced enough income to cover all ordinary expenses for the foreseeable future. Why brave dangers for loot and levels when you have all the loot and levels you need?

Fortunately her idiot friends squandered their cash and went charging off to further adventure, so peer pressure could explain what rational self-interest could not.
 

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