Telling Stories: You’re not that girl

Yes, I know, it's a horrible logo. I'm not always good at those.Roleplaying is, in part, the act of getting into your character.  You kind of have to.  Like an actor stepping into a role, you become this character, start understanding how they work and what they want, try to produce a coherent picture of what they’re all about.  You want to get to a point where the character’s actions are as natural to you as your own, when you rarely have to think about what your character would do in a given situation because it’s almost entirely self-evident.  Which makes it just a little strange when you have to also step back and remember that this character is not any part of you.

Perhaps that’s stretching it – you always invest a bit of yourself in your characters, obviously – but you are still separate.  You aren’t the same person.  What happens to the player is not dependent upon what happens to the character, and even just speaking from experience there are a lot of things my characters do that I’d never even consider.  So let’s talk a little bit about creating that space and pushing back against identifying too much.

Sidelong glances.  My old arch-nemesis.

Disregarding any elements of obvious physical distinction, of course.

List your differences

When you play characters long enough, it’s very easy to start identifying all of your points of commonality.  After all, you step inside of the character’s head for a while, keep your thoughts focused on the character, pay astute attention to what they need.  You can easily start to see the reasons why you can identify with this individual.  You have to step back and forcibly remove yourself to remember that however similar you might be, you are not the same person by any means.

It helps when you can identify how your character of choice is kind of pointlessly stupid.  As players, we have the advantage of omniscience, generally being smarter than the characters we play and able to see the ways in which they screw their own lives up.  If nothing else, we can console ourselves by pointing to all of the ways in which we would have made better decisions.  Sometimes we wouldn’t, of course, but no one ever said we have to acknowledge all of our failings at once.  The point is distancing yourself just that much more from the character you play.

Oddly, looking at the ways in which your character is different from you can help you play them more effectively in the long run.  You know what you would do, and you can extrapolate what your characters will do based on their points of differentiation.  It serves a variety of purposes.

Base your decisions on entertainment, not wishes

Your character wants to be happy.  Wealthy, comfortable, safe, respected, all of that.  In other words, they want a boring life, and if you actually earn that you’ll be bored as hell.

I’ve spoken in the past about how you can easily justify a lot of conflict-defusing actions chiefly by making choices that are suitable for your character in the broadest sense.  That goes in the other direction, too.  You can make decisions that you know are dumb because they’ll wind up in a more entertaining place, even though your character might be smart enough to recognize that this is a dumb decision.

Why?  Well, if you’re lining things up just right for your character, it comes across as wish fulfillment.  It’s much easier to ensure that your character has the perfect job and house and so forth in real life, and it’s very tempting when your own life is nowhere near where you want it to be.  But it also winds up being rather boring.  Even if your goal is just to make appropriate decisions in character, it doesn’t come across that way.  Whereas if you’re making decisions that might require bending the character just a little bit, they wind up living a life that they might not be as happy about… but also one that feels a fair bit more natural.

Everything your character does should be judged not on the basis of how entertaining it’ll be to play and watch.  Sometimes you’re wrong, naturally, but the thought process doesn’t change.  Yes, your characters will want out of the spotlight, but that’s because the spotlight isn’t a fun place to be.  You don’t watch shows wherein the protagonists face no problems and just sit around watching television for half an hour.  Don’t give your characters that lifestyle either.

But less of a vacation than you already were taking.

Just take a nice vacation from everything.

Step away from the game (and notice if you can’t)

I’m going to say this rather directly: if the thought of leaving the game and your character alone for a little while makes you get all twitchy, that’s probably a sign you should take a break from roleplaying.  Read a few books, play some single-player games, just step away for a while.  There are times when it’s appropriate to focus on your fantasy life over your real one, but it also means there might be some things in your real life that need addressing.

And let’s face it, if you’re devoting all of your time and energy to roleplaying a character, you’re definitely not putting up a useful barrier between yourself and that character.  You’re intentionally blurring the line and letting yourself focus on your in-game achievements as if they were your own achievements, giving yourself credit for your character’s actions and largely playing that character because this is who you want to be right now.

There are times when it’s useful.  There are points when it makes sense to sort of pull away from yourself until you can deal with what’s going on in the real world.  But it’s also important to maintain that distance between your character and yourself.  When lines start to blur, drama starts to erupt, because even innocent actions between characters wind up seeming far more personal than they are.  You need to remember that you aren’t your character, that other players are not their characters, and if you start to think otherwise… well, maybe you need a break.

Feedback is welcome down below or by mail, like every week.  Next week, I want to talk about the power of episodes when looking back on your character.  The week after that, let’s talk about weapons.

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About expostninja

I've been playing video games and MMOs for years, I read a great deal of design articles, and I work for a news site. This, of course, means that I want to spend more time talking about them. I am not a ninja.

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