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

tomBitonti

Adventurer
An example for purposes of discussion:

---

The player characters are from Town X, which has an esteemed local hero whom is universally known and admired. The hero has particular ties to two of the PCS: One of the characters is the nephew of the hero, with the hero being an accepted role model. Another character went on a successful monster hunt with the hero, during which the hero showed great bravery.

The town mayor hires the characters to investigate and, if possible, stop, a series of horrific cult style murders.

During the investigation, the characters track down and finally uncover the culprits: A group of chaos worshippers led by none other than the local hero. There is a confrontation during the preparations for another sacrifice.

---

Then, how should the confrontation proceed?

In many games, the psychological impact of the confrontation would not adjust the PCs actions based on their relationship with the villain. Roll initiative then fight.

In some games, there will by psychological impacts. Shock and disbelief, or perhaps blind rage. These would become a part of the confrontation, impacting the PCs actions. A badly shocked character might be momentarily stunned. An angry PC might become enraged, forging ahead recklessly. Neither action is ideal for a combat encounter, and many players would object to the players actually taking these actions. Or for the GM to impose the actions. But the actions are psychologically consistent and appropriate.

---

I think that adding psychology, including but not limited to character history, motivations, and personality do constrain the choices available to a character in regards to their PC's action. This seems almost tautological: Added constraints limit choices.

But I don't think that means there are no choices. Having fewer choices doesn't mean having none.

And, adding psychology adds a dimension to the story, and fleshes out the characters. And, in a way, adds additional "actions", in that characters are unconstrained by tight calculations of what is most tactically efficient.

TomB
 

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niklinna

učim hrvatski
An example for purposes of discussion:

---

The player characters are from Town X, which has an esteemed local hero whom is universally known and admired. The hero has particular ties to two of the PCS: One of the characters is the nephew of the hero, with the hero being an accepted role model. Another character went on a successful monster hunt with the hero, during which the hero showed great bravery.

The town mayor hires the characters to investigate and, if possible, stop, a series of horrific cult style murders.

During the investigation, the characters track down and finally uncover the culprits: A group of chaos worshippers led by none other than the local hero. There is a confrontation during the preparations for another sacrifice.
Who is/are the author(s) of all this? It makes a difference whether it was all the GM, especially the part with the ties between the PCs and the hero, or whether the players had some input—and therefore personal investment.

Then, how should the confrontation proceed?
"Should" implies there's a right or proper way for it to proceed. I'd say this is going to depend on what all the participants are looking for in their roleplaying experience.

In many games, the psychological impact of the confrontation would not adjust the PCs actions based on their relationship with the villain. Roll initiative then fight.
For folks looking for fights, a fight (presumably round-by-round and blow-by-blow) would seem appropriate. But importantly, what does "would not adjust the PC's actions" mean? Who is doing this adjusting, and how?

In some games, there will by psychological impacts. Shock and disbelief, or perhaps blind rage. These would become a part of the confrontation, impacting the PCs actions. A badly shocked character might be momentarily stunned. An angry PC might become enraged, forging ahead recklessly. Neither action is ideal for a combat encounter, and many players would object to the players actually taking these actions. Or for the GM to impose the actions. But the actions are psychologically consistent and appropriate.
Players looking primarily for combat might object. Players looking to explore the impacts of betrayal and shock through psychological narrative are more likely to be satisfied. But again, who is declaring these psychological impacts and their game-mechanical effects? Are the effects limited to combat effectiveness? (Which, by the way, presumes participants are looking for combat over other things.) Do the players have means and resources to resist the psychological effects? Do they have means and resources to resolve the situation via something other than combat?

I think that adding psychology, including but not limited to character history, motivations, and personality do constrain the choices available to a character in regards to their PC's action. This seems almost tautological: Added constraints limit choices.
"Adding psychology" implies that psychology isn't the very basis for play. What if it is the very basis for play? There are game systems that make that a priority over combat—a kind of constraint—and choice of system is something that needs to be considered before the very beginning of this example.

But I don't think that means there are no choices. Having fewer choices doesn't mean having none.

And, adding psychology adds a dimension to the story, and fleshes out the characters. And, in a way, adds additional "actions", in that characters are unconstrained by tight calculations of what is most tactically efficient.

TomB
That is indeed a possibility.
 

pemerton

Legend
@innerdude

I don't have any video game experience to draw on to respond to that part of your reply to me. A thought on the other part:

The aesthetic value arises through the individual character choices/playbooks, the GM "fronts" chosen, and the interplay between making moves and success/failure/complication. It's not "predetermined," but more likely, shall we say, "expected to arise" from those components.

Which I think explains why you've always been highly cognizant of how much scene framing plays a part in all of this --- Why are characters framed into this scene, with these stakes? You've consistently beat that drum for years, and the article provides some thoughts on why, I think.
Thanks for saying nice things.

My response is a bit tangential but I hope not totally tangential.

I think that there is a view, among some (maybe many) RPGers that getting aesthetic value is hard, and that the sort of GM control you mentioned in your earlier post is the only way to do it.

My view is that getting aesthetic value on a par with (say) The Ring Cycle or Lawrence of Arabia or Blade Runner is hard, because those are all in their different ways works of genius, among the best of their genres. Most groups playing AW/BW won't get to these levels - but nor will a GM's railroad.

But if we dial down our expectations a bit, and - I think the next bit is very important - if we lean into the distinct value that an aesthetic experience can have for participant creators (like playing music with friends, or mucking about in one's own garden), then I think getting worthwhile aesthetic value is not hard.

A clever thinker about RPGing once put it this way:

"El Dorado" was coined by Paul Czege to indicate the impossibility of a 1:1 Simulationist:Narrativist blend . . . I think some people who claim to desire such a goal in play are simply looking for Narrativism with a very strong Explorative chassis, and that the goal is not elusive at all. Such "Vanilla Narrativism" is very easy and straightforward. The key to finding it is to stop reinforcing Simulationist approaches to play. Many role-players . . . exhaust themselves by seeking El Dorado, racing ever faster and farther, when all they have to do is stop running, turn around, and find Vanilla Narrativism right in their grasp.​

I think many RPGers, if they let go of their "what ifs" (what if a player brings in the wrong sort of PC? declares the wrong sort of action? doesn't follow my hook? wants to change some detail of the game world? what if I can't think of something to say? don't have the NPC's responses already prepared? haven't planned how the adventure is going to turn out?), can easily create aesthetic value through relatively low-prep, relatively low-key play. I've done it in AD&D. I don't think it can be that hard to emulate it in 5e D&D. Obviously I think there are RPG systems that will make it easier than those two, but they're not essential. I think the core is being willing to let those "what ifs" go.
 

pemerton

Legend
In respect of the second quoted paragraph, I would run a mile. Unless it was a one-shot with pregens that was refereed by a very skilled thespian GM. (I've played a few of those. They can be entertaining.)
This has been pretty heavily implicit in most of my trad gaming experience, and very much understood at most of my con games, especially with pregenerated charcters, but also with half-pregenerated characters and with characters created during the session. And I do remember having explicit conversations with people at said con, after the very first game I played there went off the rails due to a player turtling "because it's what his character would do", about what I called "accepting the premise" and just rolling with what the game & GM offered. This was before I'd heard of "participationism" but that's basically what it was. In a one-shot convention game, you have to go with what's being offered or torpedo the whole point for being there.
SNAP! (At least on the point about one-shots/con games.)
 

An example for purposes of discussion:

---

The player characters are from Town X, which has an esteemed local hero whom is universally known and admired. The hero has particular ties to two of the PCS: One of the characters is the nephew of the hero, with the hero being an accepted role model. Another character went on a successful monster hunt with the hero, during which the hero showed great bravery.

The town mayor hires the characters to investigate and, if possible, stop, a series of horrific cult style murders.

During the investigation, the characters track down and finally uncover the culprits: A group of chaos worshippers led by none other than the local hero. There is a confrontation during the preparations for another sacrifice.

---

Then, how should the confrontation proceed?

In many games, the psychological impact of the confrontation would not adjust the PCs actions based on their relationship with the villain. Roll initiative then fight.

In some games, there will by psychological impacts. Shock and disbelief, or perhaps blind rage. These would become a part of the confrontation, impacting the PCs actions. A badly shocked character might be momentarily stunned. An angry PC might become enraged, forging ahead recklessly. Neither action is ideal for a combat encounter, and many players would object to the players actually taking these actions. Or for the GM to impose the actions. But the actions are psychologically consistent and appropriate.

---

I think that adding psychology, including but not limited to character history, motivations, and personality do constrain the choices available to a character in regards to their PC's action. This seems almost tautological: Added constraints limit choices.

But I don't think that means there are no choices. Having fewer choices doesn't mean having none.

And, adding psychology adds a dimension to the story, and fleshes out the characters. And, in a way, adds additional "actions", in that characters are unconstrained by tight calculations of what is most tactically efficient.

TomB
I'd characterize this type of stuff as trad or similar. It's not EXPLORING and developing characters as much as depicting them. So, your process was to say "these circumstances affected the character in a certain way." In, say, Dungeon World you would create bonds with the hero and then choose how to resolve them, and your character's alignment etc. will be tested too. This will give the players choices that will determine what new bonds they get, what dangers will arise next, etc. Is your character horrified? Does he betray his bond? It's more an exploration of character trajectory.
 


MGibster

Legend
It makes me wonder --- is this same tension ever present in RPG play? 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"?
I would emphatically answer yes. Or at the very least it's likely that the experience "suffers" through players' need to game the game. In a Cyberpunk 2020 book, maybe the main one, there was a narrative example of a player character that involved him getting roughed up by some goons the crime boss he owes money to sent to remind him of that debt. If I tried that with my PCs, the encounter likely would have ended up with either the goons or the PC dead. This kind of thing doesn't happen with all games or with all players, but it is extremely common in my experience. (I do have a few players who love it when bad things happen to their characters. They think it makes for a more interesting game.)

Last time I played Star Wars (FFG's version), many of the other players were obsessed with looting corpses so they could afford better gear. Do you remember how Han and Luke looted all the bodies of Stormtroopers after a fight ended? Do you remember how obsessive Luke was about upgrading his lightsaber? Neither do I. But the game provides players with incentives to look for every little bonus they can get so that's what they do.

Otherwise, you're just playing a game.
To be fair, that's exactly what I'm doing. I'm not involved in amateur theater, I'm playing a game. I might be disappointed when my character is killed, honestly I might be elated if it's a particularly good death, but at the end of the day it's not that different from my pawn or knight being taken in a game of chess.
 

Without reading any of the other 4 pages of discussion, I think the article is using the term "ludonarrative dissonance" wrong.

What the term means, as I understand it, is a conflict between story and gameplay. So the example of Portal is not a case of LND at all.

Instead, for a good example of LND I would offer The Last of Us part II as an example. The plot of the game tries to convey a message that violence is bad, while the gameplay glorifies violence. It relishes in enemies with horrid death rattles. And it is hard to make the player feel bad about Ellie killing one character that we barely know, when the player has just been leaving a trail of corpses the last 2 hours. It truly is a massacre, and so gameplay and story are at conflict here: ludonarrative dissonance. It means the two conflict in a way that one or the other, or both, fail to work.
 

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