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Archive => RPG Theory => Topic started by: Christopher Weeks on September 08, 2003, 09:21:53 AM



Title: Who cares?
Post by: Christopher Weeks on September 08, 2003, 09:21:53 AM
In a current thread:

Quote

Quote
but what I care is secondary to what the character cares


Sorry.  Characters are pencil scribblings on a piece of paper.  No RPG character has ever cared about anything...ever.  They don't exist.  They are figments of the imagination and so can not, ever, exist independently of the person portraying them.


I've seen this stance expressed here several times in the few weeks since Gen Con that I've been reading here.  Has this been seriously discussed?  Does anyone have pointers or search hints for those threads?

Chris


Title: Who cares?
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on September 08, 2003, 09:51:18 AM
This tends to pop up in a thread whenever someone tries to say "the cahracter want this or that." I don't think it's even been discussed on it's own, but what's to discuss? The characters are not real. Plain and simple. What ever reality they have is from the players. If the character wants something, it's because the player wants them to want it. That's it.


Title: Who cares?
Post by: Christopher Weeks on September 08, 2003, 10:12:45 AM
I think that for day to day operation, your stance on this is the most utilitarian and is the one that I, too, stick with as default.

However, there are big unresolved (unresolvable?) philosophical issues revolving around free will, existentialism, The Creator, oversouls, solipsism, etc.  There are real, serious philosophers who believe that our existence can best be explained by the notion that we are running in a sim.  And from my perspective, that's not nearly as silly as most of what we call religion.

I think it's easiest to first consider the notion of computer "game" characters as we approach real AI.  Assuming that at some point, a piece of software will pass the Turing test, and that those utilities continue to gain sophistication, at what point do they count as "real?"

If we decide that at some point these software agents are "real" and can genuinely want something.  What does that mean about other kinds of man-made entities?  The solipsist questions whether you can actually want things just as much as your character (but not himself).

I've gotten the idea that this kind of discussion isn't normally what the Forgies groove on, or maybe it's just off-topic, but I figured it was worth asking for references if there happened to be past discussion that I'm not finding with the search.

Chris


Title: Who cares?
Post by: Marco on September 08, 2003, 10:23:38 AM
Quote from: Christopher

If we decide that at some point these software agents are "real" and can genuinely want something.  What does that mean about other kinds of man-made entities?  The solipsist questions whether you can actually want things just as much as your character (but not himself).

I've gotten the idea that this kind of discussion isn't normally what the Forgies groove on, or maybe it's just off-topic, but I figured it was worth asking for references if there happened to be past discussion that I'm not finding with the search.

Chris


Variations of that do come up here from time to time, actually. I don't think it's especially "off topic" (there's a strong current of thought here that isn't all that interested in what you have to say about your personal preferences on a matter, preferring to work from what observable behavior you make available).

I think characters can "want something their player doesn't" or "not want something their player does"--this often stems from the interpertation of things like Psych Disadvantages or "Alighnment Conflicts."

In this interpertation, what a character wants is seen as being inferred by the systemic definition of the character ("He fights for GOOD!") rather than an in-play statement or imagination of "want."

As such, the Gamist (perhaps) sees character-wants as required drawbacks necessary to purchase effectivness, the Sim player (perhaps) sees character-wants as defintive of the character, and the Nar player sees character-wants as fulcrums on which to hang a premise-exploring conflict.

When the game system's definition/handling of these artifacts is out of touch with the player's at-the-moment preference you get friction.

-Marco


Title: Who cares?
Post by: Valamir on September 08, 2003, 12:03:20 PM
Quote
I think characters can "want something their player doesn't"


True, one can play a character who's a pedophile without being one.

But characters can never want something that their player doesn't want them to want.

As in any creative exercise, there can be those magic epiphany moments where some idea pops seemingly unbidden into ones head.  But whether that idea gets realized in actual play is completely up to the player.  

There is no time at which "my character wants..." has any meaning whatsoever outside of short hand for "I the player decide that my character wants"...philosophical dialogues into the nature of man and free will aside, as interesting as those may be to muse about.


I for one make an effort to draw this distinction whenever opportunity presents itself for a number of reasons:

1) Wide spread assumptions about playing "in character" being the "proper way" to role play are often based on the mistaken distinction between "what my character wants" and "what I as the player wants".  When one accepts the fundamental truth that these are essentially the exact same thing, then one realizes that the distinction between "game" mechanics and "meta-game" mechanics becomes an equally arbitrary and unnecessary one.

2) One of the common criticisms of "meta-game" mechanics is that they serve to break "immersion" (insert "channeling" or word of your choice here).  While there are many potential reasons to critique a mechanic, IMO "breaking immersion" isn't a valid one, because it relies on the same assumption about seperation of character and player that I not above.  Since ALL roleplaying involves what the player wants, a mechanic designed to specifically target what the player wants cannot be any more immersion breaking than any other mechanic.  Now if one wants to argue that *ALL* mechanics serve to break deep immersion, I won't disagree, I will strongly disagree, however, that "meta-game" mechanics do so to a greater degree than non meta-game mechanics do once one discards the false dichotomy.

3) [rant warning] I define deep immersion as a player who seeks to play 100% from an in character first person portrayal of his character, actively and aggressively seeking to minimize any exception to that.  It is a style of play that I believe to be essentially a selfish one, as it deprives all other players at the table from full enjoyment of the character in question.  Only the Immersed player gets to enjoy and appreciate all of the detail nuances of personality and decision making of the character.  Theater has long used monologues and soliliquy in places where straight first person perspective cannot convey adequately to the audience.  TV and movies make ample use of flash backs and cutting to action occuring elsewhere where the protagonist is not involved for the same purpose...conveying important information to the audience in an entertaining manner.  Deep Immersive roleplaying as I defined it above, prohibits the use of such techniques...thereby robbing the audience (the other players) of potential entertainment value in order to maximize the enjoyment of the Immersed player.  This meets my definition of selfish play.

I actively seek to avoid play with such players for the same reason that I avoid play with power gaming munchkins.  Both are selfish play styles which seek to maximize their own enjoyment at the expense of others and IMO only produce functional play if all other members of the group are equally committed to the same style. [/rant]


Title: Who cares?
Post by: Ron Edwards on September 08, 2003, 12:27:21 PM
Hello,

A couple of relatively acrimonious threads which demonstrate different outlooks about this issue include:
Mechanics, emotions, and Amberway II (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=589)
Player-character distinctions (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=6608)
Brief critique of relationship mechanics (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=7812)

In the interest of disclosure, my position is pretty extreme and very much in line with Ralph's statements above.

Best,
Ron


Title: Who cares?
Post by: John Kim on September 08, 2003, 02:15:44 PM
Quote from: Valamir
  As in any creative exercise, there can be those magic epiphany moments where some idea pops seemingly unbidden into ones head.  But whether that idea gets realized in actual play is completely up to the player.  

This may be correct in some gross physical sense, but I think it has some important assumptions.  Your view here is that the player always looks inwardly at his mental model of the character in isolation.  An epiphany may happen in private thinking, but portrayal is a totally separate act from thinking about character.  So any aspect of character can only be a conscious choice on the part of the player.  

In my experience, this isn't true.  Characters will often show aspects which weren't consciously intended by the player.  For example, I might watch someone else's portrayal, and then tell them my observations about the character which they may not have noticed.  i.e. After a game, I might say, "Your character seems to instinctively distrust authority."  "Hmm.  I think you're right.  I hadn't noticed that."  

I suspect that you would label these as mistakes.  Given that you dislike deep immersive play, you would say that any epiphanies showing through are strictly to be avoided -- and if I notice anything not intended by the player, I should ignore it.  In contrast, to me these are valuable insights, and at least as interesting than the conscious choices of the player.  

Quote from: Valamir
  I define deep immersion as a player who seeks to play 100% from an in character first person portrayal of his character, actively and aggressively seeking to minimize any exception to that.  It is a style of play that I believe to be essentially a selfish one, as it deprives all other players at the table from full enjoyment of the character in question.  Only the Immersed player gets to enjoy and appreciate all of the detail nuances of personality and decision making of the character. Theater has long used monologues and soliliquy in places where straight first person perspective cannot convey adequately to the audience.  ...

OK, here you've entirely lost me.  Who the heck are you to tell other people how to play?  If you don't enjoy immersive players, then fine.  Say that you personally don't like it, and don't play with them.  However, that doesn't make their way of playing inherently less valid than yours.  

For example, I might be annoyed by your habit of soliloquizing your character's thoughts.  But I wouldn't say that this makes you a selfish player.  Other people might enjoy your soliloquys.  It just means that you and I enjoy different aspects of play.  

I enjoy watching immersive portrayals.  It is generally more interesting for me to interpret what a PC's actions mean than to have a player talk OOC about what they mean.  For that matter, I also enjoyed Rain Main as a movie even though Dustin Hoffman never stepped forward to say what his character was thinking, and was generally mysterious.  Of course, part of this goes back to the idea that I think a PC can have more nuance than the conscious choices of the player.  Your desire to have soliloquys is just as valid, of course, but it is just a preference.


Title: Who cares?
Post by: Valamir on September 08, 2003, 03:26:09 PM
Quote from: John Kim

In my experience, this isn't true.  Characters will often show aspects which weren't consciously intended by the player.  For example, I might watch someone else's portrayal, and then tell them my observations about the character which they may not have noticed.  i.e. After a game, I might say, "Your character seems to instinctively distrust authority."  "Hmm.  I think you're right.  I hadn't noticed that."  


What you're noticing is simply a pattern that has emerged.  Absolutely possible and not at all contradicting my assertion.  The player may not have noticed he'd fallen into a pattern you did.  Great.  But that in no way shape or form means that the player wasn't the one making the decisions that lead to that pattern.  It in no way indicates that the pattern of behavior comes from some mysterious "my character" entity.  No the decisions came from the player.

Exactly the same as the players decisions about his own behavior.  You could just as easily observe a friend and say "You seem to exhibit an instinctive distrust of authority" (speaking directly of the person himself), to which he may reply "Hmm, I think you're right.  I hadn't noticed that. "  This is not surprising or unexpected.

And hear's the next phase to your example.  What does that player do now that you've pointed out that behavior?  Does he say "no that's not what I wanted to portray" and change his characters decisions.  Does he say "yeah, that's the character image I want to project" and continue to reinforce that pattern?  Does he say "whatever" and go on next time to just play his character without thinking in terms of such things, in which case he may again exhibit the same pattern, or, given a different day and a different set of external stimuli on the player's mood, may exhibit a completely different pattern...equally unintentionally to the first one?

Ultimately it still comes down to what the player wants his character to do.

Quote
OK, here you've entirely lost me.  Who the heck are you to tell other people how to play?


Did I?  I think not.  I simply asserted how that style of play is inherently selfish and that my preference is to avoid playing with such players.

If you're objecting to the use of the term "selfish" to describe this mode of play, then do so.  By that I mean, actually object.  Raise an arguement, make a counter point.  I'm happy to discuss it with you.  I'm entirely disinterested in any "how dare you" protestations.  


 If you don't enjoy immersive players, then fine.  Say that you personally don't like it, and don't play with them.  However, that doesn't make their way of playing inherently less valid than yours.  [/quote]


Quote
For example, I might be annoyed by your habit of soliloquizing your character's thoughts.  [snip]  Your desire to have soliloquys is just as valid, of course, but it is just a preference.


The rest of your post is argueing against a point that I never made.   At no time did I suggest that all first person portrayal was bad, nor that the only valid way of communicating character was OOC.  In fact, I was pretty specific in how I defined Deep Immersion above.


Title: Who cares?
Post by: John Kim on September 08, 2003, 04:08:02 PM
Quote from: Valamir
Quote
OK, here you've entirely lost me.  Who the heck are you to tell other people how to play?

I simply asserted how that style of play is inherently selfish and that my preference is to avoid playing with such players.

If you're objecting to the use of the term "selfish" to describe this mode of play, then do so.

OK, I will.  You usage is based on a false projection of your preferences onto everyone.  You interpret immersive play as being selfish because you would prefer to have the player expose their inner thoughts about the character.  Thus, you claim that immersive players are selfishly withholding what you want.  But that's just you imagining that your preferences are universal.  With just as much validity, I could say that someone who soliloquizes her character's thoughts is being selfish -- because she is ruining my enjoyment of the game by playing to just her own preferences to parade her character around.


Title: Who cares?
Post by: Marco on September 08, 2003, 04:47:38 PM
Quote from: Valamir
Quote
I think characters can "want something their player doesn't"


True, one can play a character who's a pedophile without being one.

But characters can never want something that their player doesn't want them to want.
 [/rant]


I don't think so--and I'm surprised that you'd say that.

In order for that to be true, you're gonna have to throw out the game system's role in defining character-wants (which both you and Ron seem weirdly eager to do and which, I think is at odds with SDM).

A randomly rolled psych-limit would *define* a character as wanting something the character doesn't want him to want. That's the trivial case.

The more likely case is the Redemption Game. I have a lawful evil character and I'm gonna make him Lawful good by the end (yes, AD&D may not support this well. No, it doesn't matter for this discussion).

The character is defined as wanting to be Evil.

The character is, by my *portrayal*, defined as wanting/trying to be Good.

I'm rooting for him to be Good.

I arranged for him to want evil (at the start).

Now you can say that I: (deep breath) wanted him to want something I want him to want not to want.

And yeah, that's trivial (unless, as I said, I rolled randomly for alignment).

But it also ignores the extant case where a character's actions (as dictated by the game) are at odds with what the player wants (i.e. the character blows his Virtue check and torches the village that isn't paying it's taxes: the player goes home with a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach).

Not only does/can that happen--it can be a very powerful part of roleplaying (mostly, I guess, for Simulationists--which may be where the disconnect is coming from).

-Marco


Title: Who cares?
Post by: ejh on September 08, 2003, 05:10:43 PM
If I had a nickel for every time I've read some author claiming that their characters took on a life of their own and made decisions independently of the author, well, I'd have a whole lotta nickels.

And many creators talk in terms of "discovering" their creations as much as in terms of "creating" them.  Tolkien used to say that he eventually came to feel as if Middle-Earth existed independently of him, and he was learning about it, not making it up.

That suggests to me that whatever may be the philosophical truth about characters' "reality," at least for some creators, the character's independence has some kind of subjective truth.

However, I see the point that is being made by objecting to that kind of talk, and I think it's a reasonable one.

And I think that all competent creators, while they may have the experience of their fictional worlds or characters having an independence from themselves, have to keep a firm grasp on the fact that they are producing a work, and a lot of decisions have to be made about how that work will come together -- decisions that must be made by them, with skill and judgement.

(Speaking of Inklings, somewhere C. S. Lewis wrote about how critics who never write stories vastly underestimate the number of details of story structure which are simply attempts to elegantly solve problems of constructing a tale.  They'll read psychological or other significance into what the artist knows he did for reasons as sheerly structural as the reasons for putting the struts a certain way when you build a house.  So that's another side of things.)


Title: Who cares?
Post by: Valamir on September 08, 2003, 06:20:52 PM
Quote from: John Kim
OK, I will.  You usage is based on a false projection of your preferences onto everyone.


wrong

I said:

Quote
I define deep immersion as a player who seeks to play 100% from an in character first person portrayal of his character, actively and aggressively seeking to minimize any exception to that.  It is a style of play that I believe to be essentially a selfish one


I could just as easily as said:
Quote
I define XXXXXXX as a player who seeks to do blah blah blah 100% blah blah blah, actively and aggressively seeking to minimize any exception to that.  It is a style of play that I believe to be essentially a selfish on


It would also be equally true.

ANY style of play which holds as one of its tenet "this is the way I prefer to play and I will refuse to make any concessions to any other style of play at the table" is a inherently selfish one.  This is entirely independent of preference.  It is a simple application of the very definition of selfish behavior.  To the extent that the idea of "deep immersion" as I defined it above meets this criteria it is a selfish playstyle.  Regardless of whether or not someone happens to enjoy it.

Whatever value judgements you care to apply to "selfish" being wrong, or "selfish" being human nature (ala "greed is good"), is up to the reader.


Quote
You interpret immersive play as being selfish because you would prefer to have the player expose their inner thoughts about the character.


wrong.  First, please do not try to broaden the scope of my claim.  I specified the term Deep Immersion, and provided a specific definition of my useage.  Second I interpret Deep Immersion as I defined it as being selfish precisely because the player engaged in it does not care what my preferences are.  They will play their character they way they play their character, for better or worse, with utter disregard for other options or other preferences.

As I already stated, this produces functional play IFF all other players at the table share similiar goals.  Just as any other form of essentially selfish play, such as rampant power gaming, can.


Quote
With just as much validity, I could say that someone who soliloquizes her character's thoughts is being selfish -- because she is ruining my enjoyment of the game by playing to just her own preferences to parade her character around.


If I did so in spite of an in total disregard to your desires on the matter...yes.  Let me try another approach to clarify.

Fanatical adherence to a single mode of play to the exclusion of other players interests or preferences is selfish.  Deep Immersion, as I've defined it, is a form of Fanatical play.  Ergo it is selfish.  Just because you can list off a dozen or a thousand other equally selfish forms of Fanatical play, does not invalidate the essential selfishness of Deep Immersion.


Quote from: Marco

In order for that to be true, you're gonna have to throw out the game system's role in defining character-wants (which both you and Ron seem weirdly eager to do and which, I think is at odds with SDM).

A randomly rolled psych-limit would *define* a character as wanting something the character doesn't want him to want. That's the trivial case.


This is covered by the basic Lumpley principle.  Since rules have no credibility on their own, and all ultimate credibility resides with the players, the decision to portray a character according to the determinates of a random roll, is still the player deciding what he the player wants for the character.  In such a case the player has decided that he wants to obey the die roll.  Surely you can't claim that some entity known as "my character" chose to have its actions defined by a random roll.


Title: Who cares?
Post by: MachMoth on September 08, 2003, 07:00:58 PM
While a character needs its creator in order to want, that does not mean the character does not have motives.  When I play a character, I play by his motives.  I've found myself, from time to time, not picking a choice I'm comfortable with, because it's what the character "would" want.  

Truely, my wants are secondary to my characters wants, defining wants as an expression of the character's motives.  That's probably the key right there, motives.  Yes, the character doesn't exist.  But throwing that around is like saying "It's just a game."  It has little meaning, other than to upset those trying to take their character seriously.

I've only seen character immersion to be a problem, when it is used as an out.  It's one thing to seriously play a character, and another thing to use a character's motives when it is useful (eg. the "that's what my character would do" person.)  

As for selfish, well yeah, I guess I am.  I don't want to play in a game where my character is just writing on paper, or a jumble of stats.  If there isn't some sort of personality, some kind of emotion to work with, then I'm going to get really bored, really fast.  As a GM, I'm plot oriented.  As a player, I'm character oriented, and a narrativist through and through.  That's how I view roleplaying.  It's wrong, I know, but that's why I play, so that's how I play.  And if I'm selfish for wanting to enjoy myself, then I'll assume that's a good thing.  After all, "It's just a game."


Title: Who cares?
Post by: Valamir on September 08, 2003, 07:11:15 PM
Quote from: MachMoth
While a character needs its creator in order to want, that does not mean the character does not have motives.  When I play a character, I play by his motives.  I've found myself, from time to time, not picking a choice I'm comfortable with, because it's what the character "would" want.  


Your missing the point entirely Moth.  The issue is not "playing in character" vs. not playing in character.  You as a player are identifying what your character wants.  You as a player are choosing to portray that in the game.  You as a player may not want what your character wants, but you do want him to want those things.  You choosing to portray your characters motives, is exactly what I'm saying.  You as a player are choosing to do that.  The character isn't choosing that, you are.  That's the point.


Title: Who cares?
Post by: Marco on September 08, 2003, 07:11:15 PM
I'm not claming there's an entity known as "my character"--I'm saying that "wants" as dictated by the game system can conflict with "wants" from a player.

I.e. that in the context I'm describing a character can "want" (as "want" is defined by system) something that a player would rather not him "want."

In your example, that's a case of me having a roll I don't like--but having to abide by it.

In your example it would mean that if you rolled to hit and missed you "wanted" to miss, right?

The real meat of the question is: can a character's dictated endeavors, aims, or goals, be in opposition to what a player would have them be if the player had complete directoral/godlike power to rearrange or redefine the system as wanted.

The answer clearly seems to be 'yes'--if there is another meaningful interpertation of the question, I don't see it (is there an entity known as 'my character'? No--few of us actually believe that's the case).

-Marco


Title: Who cares?
Post by: kalyptein on September 08, 2003, 07:24:28 PM
I tend to think of my character by way of a computer analogy.  I've got this virtual machine inside my head where I run a model of my character.  I feed it all the data I have on the game and it tells me what it would do based on that.  Whether any of its "desired" actions ever makes it into the game depends on whether I decide to vocalize them to the group.  I might see something I'd rather have happen and do that instead.

So on the one hand the character has no literal existance, its not like it can overrule me.  On the other hand, I went to the trouble of detailing it so that I could use it as a guide.  Often I have no particular notion of what I want to do.  Left door or right door?  Kill him or let him go?  Either one could lead to a fun outcome.  If I have no metagame agenda to pursue, I use what the character wants to do to make choices.  In that sense his wants are important because they are going to inform my playing some of the time.  I guess you could say the character *does* exist: as an algorithm intended to select from an array of choices.  Sure I'm "wanting" (or at least willing) to act on its suggestions, but I only want to because I can't think of anything I actually want.

I could flip a coin to make decissions.  The coin doesn't want anything, but you'd understand what I meant if I said "the coin says to go right".  It seems that talking about "what a character wants" can be useful as long as you understand what that means.

Alex


Title: Who cares?
Post by: Mike Holmes on September 08, 2003, 07:35:14 PM
That's a circular argument, Ralph. Yes, if Deep Immersion has as part of it's definition as being uncaring about other player's preferences, then it's bad. But I could say that Narrativism is about doing NArrativist things despite what other players think. That is, if there's an "Immersionist" at the table, then any attempt to play in the Narrativist mode is just as bad an idea.

So, all you've said is that incoherence can exist, which we already knew. You then make this even more clear by pointing to the case where Immersion can work, which is when everyone is on the same sheet of music. GNS again. So, it's not the mode, it's coherence or incoherence.

Mike


Title: Who cares?
Post by: MachMoth on September 08, 2003, 07:46:23 PM
Okay, if the discussion is if the character exists, then no.  Characters don't exist, because we made them up, and pretend to think like them.  If that's the discussion, I think we have way to many posts, and way to long of posts.  

I thought the whole start of the matter was whether the fact that your character "not existing" was point enough to throw against someone claiming their character's motives count more than their own.  Obviously, its a matter of reading either too deep, or not deep enough into the statement.  Saying your character has wants, does not automatically imply he exists.  It implies that the wants you have given him exist, in the context of the game.  It really shouldn't have to be spelled out.  If someone here thinks that a fictional character they created out of the blue, and play in a roleplaying game exists (eg. has living flesh, desires, and kills mosters outside your door at night), please step forward, and we will find you a shrink.  Otherwise, I'm still missing the point.


Title: Who cares?
Post by: Marco on September 08, 2003, 08:11:17 PM
Quote from: MachMoth
It really shouldn't have to be spelled out.  If someone here thinks that a fictional character they created out of the blue, and play in a roleplaying game exists (eg. has living flesh, desires, and kills mosters outside your door at night), please step forward, and we will find you a shrink.  Otherwise, I'm still missing the point.


Well ... there are the "play yourself" games ...

Hey! Hey! What!? Baker ACT!? Get yer hands off me!!

-Marco


Title: Who cares?
Post by: Christopher Weeks on September 08, 2003, 08:26:07 PM
Quote from: kalyptein
I've got this virtual machine inside my head where I run a model of my character.  I feed it all the data I have on the game and it tells me what it would do based on that.


If we imagine that this is more correct than merely an analogy, is the character still just as equally ficticious?  Still just a part of you?  What if this is how multiple personality disorder works -- just to a larger and clearly harmful extent?  Are the multiple personalities likewise ficticious artifacts of whichever personality is the "real" one?

Why are we so sure that a single brain (meat computer) can't run more than one person simultaneously?  Or, if a part of your mind/brain figures stuff out about your character's motivations and you are completely unaware of that process, is it still just you "choosing to portray that in the game?"

I realize that this is a stretch beyond RPG theory, but it interests (at least, and hopefully not only) me.

Quote from: MachMoth
Characters don't exist, because we made them up, and pretend to think like them.


That is certainly how the majority of what we're doing feels.  But is it the only thing going on?  I'm playing with the notion that characters in some sense to occupy a position of at least limited autonomy.  And I don't think it's safe to disregard it as obviously foolish.  You suggest that the only way that a character could "exist" is to have "living flesh, desires," etc.  But while it's obvious that they don't have living flesh, I don't think it's as clear that they don't have desires.

It's funny, if this had started from any other position, I'd be arguing that characters are simply our creations.  It's just that the more I consider it, the more I find niche arguments that leave room for doubt.  Anyway, thanks for the writing everyone.

Chris


Title: Who cares?
Post by: M. J. Young on September 08, 2003, 08:28:48 PM
I've got a feeling that everyone is right here, and everyone is talking past each other and not getting anyone else's point, and that we've been through this before.

In the previously referenced Player-Character Distinctions thread
Quote from: I
On the characters, put me down as an author who has had characters refuse do to things. That's ridiculous, I hear. How can a fictional character you created refuse do to something you want him to do? Just write that he does it. It's not so absurd as it sounds, though. I can't just write that he does it. I can, if I wish, destroy who he is and create a new character with the same name, snap the disbelief suspenders of every reader, and derail the intended focus of my story with this jarring shift, but I can't make a character do anything that serves my plot merely because I want him to do it. Sure, characters do things that surprise readers; but you have to build to those, and they become major points of character development. A character has to struggle with that kind of decision for some time before making it, and the reader has to see him struggling. Otherwise, it's nonsense.

Certainly every character I create is drawn from somewhere inside me. On the other hand (as shown in a thread not long ago about Myers-Briggs types) I can take tests as different characters and get different results. Several are extroverted (I'm introverted). I'm intuitive, but most of my characters are sensing. Nearly all my characters are, like me, thinking--but one is feeling. Also, most of my characters match me as perceiving, but one (and not the one who is feeling) is judging. Once I'm in my character's head (written or role played), I know what that character would do, and it's not always what I would do, or what I would want done for the purposes of the story or the game.

I find the fact that I can put myself in the mindset of the character to the point that I score differently on psych evals fascinating; but I've never thought of myself as someone who is "deeply immersed" in my character--rather as someone who understands "how my character thinks" and can thus answer questions for him.

That brings something new to my mind; but first, to continue the thought I started,
Quote from: Later on that same thread I
First, I wish to concede to Kester's excellent distinction between characterization and what I might call in a word personality. I think this clarifies the issue very nicely. Of course my characters don't really have "personality", desires, goals, concerns, or issues--they only appear to do so because I have drawn these aspects within them. I have goals for them on two levels--those which I attribute as their goals and those which are strictly my goals for them of which I do not consider them as recognizing. That is, in one story currently in editing, the character has been transformed into a sprite. I have a goal for him which he has, to deliver the sprites from the oppression of the humans; I have another goal for him, to have the ability to transform between human and sprite forms in future adventures, but he has no knowledge of this goal, and as close as he comes to it is wondering whether he will ever be human again. So saying that the character has desires or any of these other aspects of "personality" is only a shorthand way of distinguishing my goals attributed to him from my goals externally for him. He has no personality; he is characterized as having aspects thereof, and seen as having such aspects by the reader, to the degree that I am able to convey this.
Characters are not real; Ralph is right.

Yet (this is the new bit, perhaps) they are in some sense objectified. Let me try to explain that.

I can imagine sitting down to a Myers-Briggs test and trying to answer all the questions the way my wife would answer them. I've done this on quizzes before, trying to figure what answers she would give (and she's done the same to me). No, we never get them perfectly right--but we do know each other pretty well, and we get close most of the time.

My wife is a real person; when I answer the quiz on her behalf, I'm asking what would my wife say or do here?

My characters are not real people. Yet at the moment I sit down to take a quiz on their behalf, I have objectified them--they are in every relevant sense as real at this moment as my wife is, in relation to the quiz. I am asking what this person is like, and providing the answer I believe this person would give.

So in that sense, the characters are real. They are objectified constructs of people within my mind, not less real than anyone I know who is not me. In some ways they are more real in those circumstances, because I actually do know some of those characters better than I know my wife (of almost twenty-seven years).

I think I can be wrong about what such a character would do or say or think; I probably have been wrong, and have been called on the carpet by an editor who recognized that I was out of character. Those imaginary characters have an objectified reality to which they remain true, even as they grow and change. They exist.

Ralph is right that they only exist as what I created them to be. John is right that such characters have characteristics of which we are often not immediately aware, because they have real personalities which although initiated by us often reveal unexpected facets even to their creators.

I think, therefore I am. I don't know about you. All I know about you is an objectified image in my mind of who I believe you are. That's all I know about my characters, too. I'm not so crazy as to think either that you don't all exist in bodily form somewhere, or that my characters do; but as far as personalities go, to me theirs are as real as yours. If they surprise me less often, it may be because I know them better.

--M. J. Young
Who has obviously gotten tired of both sides of this argument and would like to see everyone admit that either side is nonsense.


Title: Who cares?
Post by: contracycle on September 09, 2003, 12:45:38 AM
While I hesitate to say that "this is how multiple pewrsonality disorder works" but I do think this whole business of constructing fictional personalities is an interesting one.

Of course we inherently have some capacity to construct models of other peoples minds, as MJ pointed out.  Predators need to at least some extent to be able to poredict their pray; social beings who negotiate systems need to at least be able to make an educated guess about the state of mind of another person with whom they are negotiating.

I don't particularly find it contradictory that a character with a non-objective existance can suggest/impose actions and behaviours that do not appear[/] to arise from the "normal" mind of thw "host" - and nevertheless remain non-existant.  The character is serving as an alternative channel to self expression and in a capacity of self-exploration, too, I think.  The character is a mask for the self, and allows the player to experience reactions and inputs from others (based on, reacting to, the mask) which they would otherwise not have recieved.  Again, this makes it unsurprising to me that "new" ideas occur - the person has engaged in a non-standard dialoge with others.

But I donlt think it is particularly meaningfiul to discuss such characters as if they had a truly independant existance - they do not.  Every single time the character acts, it is becuase the player directed it to act - with all the ambiguity of cause and effect that follows any action, even without such masks.  There are no circumstances in which I will accept that the CHARACTER compelled the PLAYER to do anything; it is the player that compelled the character, even if this is not consciously known to the player.  Even if the reasons and raionale are not known to the player.  Even if it was a snap decision.  Even if the player is surprised by their own behaviour.


Title: Who cares?
Post by: Gordon C. Landis on September 09, 2003, 01:23:15 AM
I may have said something similar to this before somewhere (it seems familiar), but a search hasn't turned up anything, so . . .

What is important (in my mind, and I suspect in the minds of Ralph and Ron) about "there is no character" is that the responsibility for what happens during play always falls upon the real human beings who are playing.  The character should never be seen as a valid reciepient of blame, praise, excuses, explanations, or complaints - those honors fall upon the players alone.

"My character" is always shorthand for "I as my character."  Now, I'd certainly agree that ther must be something powerful in that I-as-my-character thing (as opposed to simply I-as-author or I-as-game-player), otherwise we wouldn't be all, like, passionate 'n stuff about this hobby that has (exceptions like Universalis aside) playing a role as one of its' core features.

Maybe that just adds up to "what M.J. said."  Plus a little of "what Christopher said" (via Plato, in another thread).  If so, I consider myself in good company . . .

Gordon


Title: Who cares?
Post by: jdagna on September 09, 2003, 02:00:03 AM
Arguing this topic is a little like arguing whether or not a virus is alive.  A virus has everything we associate with life except to the ability to reproduce by itself.  For that, it needs a host.  It provides instructions to the host and lets the host make copies of the virus.

Players are hosts to their characters in the same way.  They give the character life.  But the character (and game system) provide instructions to the player about how to do this, and these instructions are external to the player in most game systems.  

I'm going to continue using verbage like "my character wants" when I encounter instructions that make it clear how I should portray that character.  One reason I'll stick to this terminology is that I imagine my character as a real person, not just a sheet full of numbers, and this imaginary person has all the real qualities of any other person I know - much like M.J.'s example.


Title: Who cares?
Post by: erithromycin on September 09, 2003, 02:16:57 AM
It may just be the groups that I play with, but I only encounter "my character" when people are objecting to things. I wonder if "my character wouldn't" is more common that "my character would" in other people's experience?

Some of it seems connected to the whole "my guy" thing, where this kind of thought about characters seems to be intimately connected to a player's defence of their prefered means of interaction with the game. Now, admittedly, running a big LARP which more or less has a PBEM tacked into the middle to run downtime between sessions, the whole 'my character' thing comes up quite a lot - when a player says "I convince X to do Y" and I can't get in touch with them, I have to interpret, according to my understanding of their character - sometimes "my character wouldn't" is about making it clear how people should assume it would behave, and sometimes it's just pissiness masquerading as deep artistic schtick. I agree that character's aren't, you know, real, being made up and all, but that's not to say that people can't have relationships with them - it has to be remembered that suspension of disbelief must not only apply to the game but to the participants.

I suspect that "My character" has at least a couple of identifiable/infered functions, the first of which is defence of suspension of disbelief -

My character does this because that's how he has to behave to maintain integrity [in the sense of being a cohesive entity within imagination and/or faithfulness to the tropes/themes/ideas/powers that are associated with them]. I encounter this in a lot of the games I play, and I'm not sure if that's connected to the whole WoD/Vampire frustrated narrativism chockful of bennies for munchkins thing, and also the "not rollplaying" mentality that seems connected - it seems, sometimes, like some primal cousin from which GNS and other models could [nay, did] spawn, and do wonder what would develop from those that I don't point towards The Forge or rec.games.frp.advocacy, but I digress.

My character does this because it's an object, and thinking about it like an object enables me to manipulate it for my own ends. Can you objectify and object? I think you can, though with this suggestion I'm trying to suggest that "my character" may be a deeper symptom, probably of a difference of opinion about roleplaying between the player in question and the rest of the group, or, indeed, between the players desires - it can be hard to get across, hard to grep too, that you can enjoy Narrativist games and the like and also enjoy leveling up and getting a +N weapon of deity.

My character does this because that is how he has been constrained by the choices that I have already made for him [which I'd imagine would be consistency, so that might be harking back to that first one]. This one crops up a lot, and I think it's connected to media sources that have central characters who don't develop. The Terminator does, Conan does [to pick two], hell, even the Lone Wolf and his Cub change a bit, but in the continuing campaign there's often this feeling that character's should only gain power, but not "change" change - this sort of thinking seems intimately connected with why comics got bad in about 1975, but that's a whole other discussion, probably for somewhere else too.

Anyway, that's what I think. Can you tell I make it up as I go along?
--
Drew


Title: Who cares?
Post by: pete_darby on September 09, 2003, 04:20:53 AM
Okay, to paraphrase what I said in the Plato thread, and all these are higly personal opinions:

1) We are not responsible for the contents of our minds.
2) We are responsible for the expression of the contents of our minds.

In building a mental model of a character, we're making something in our minds that we're not entirely responsible for, if only because it's sitting in our heads along with everything our parents said, every TV show we ever read, and neurons fired by passing cosmic radiation, etc. We can't control the input completely, so we can't control the system.

When we set our models running, they interact with other players models, the game mechanics, our internalised models, and all the detritus in our heads. It's a little beyond me to think I have complete control over that process, even for the parts of it that are going on inside my head. Sometimes, what that model throws out as the words, thoughts and deeds of the character won't be what I would have conciously chosen them to be. Sometimes, what I consider to be the optimal course of action for the character will "feel wrong" when applied to the character. I'd go as far as to say, what feels wrong can tell you about GNS choices you make, but that's another thread.

But.

Unless I'm feeling particularly catatonic, at some point words are going to have to come from my mouth representing the intended actions, words, whatever of my character. And, in the absence of neurological disorders, I'd like to think I've got a pretty good handle on what I say. And even if the model is returning results loud and clear that, in this situation, this character would do this, I can subject it to an Internal Lumpley Principle; that response is unsatisfactory for me, get me another one.

If you find you're doing this a lot, it's probably a sign that you should change the character, either in the details or wholesale for a new one. No biggy.

Internally, characters may have a level of "independence", but since rpg's are a social past time, that independence is filtered through the conscious interpretation of the player.

To put it through another anecdote; while rehearsing the role of Polonius in Hamlet, the director put me through an in character interview. I'd decided to play Polonius as a kind of renaissance Henry Kissinger, totally deidicated to serving his King's policies by any means necessary. Bearing in mind how Hamlet treats Polonius' daughter ("get thee to a nunnery!"), the questioning moved to where that line between his daughter and his king lay...

Director:   But what if, say, you were spying on them together and he attempted to rape her, would you reveal yourself and stop him, or would you watch and use the information later to improve your king's position?

Polonius:   Well, I certainly wouldn't watch...

The session was terminated there, while me and the director collapsed into fits of laughter screaming "Jeez, what a scumbag!" I know I hadn't thought of the answer, and I was in an environment where any spontaneous answer was "right," making it quite different form most role playing campaigns. Now, I can't claim that Polonius is my creation, nor does the character that answers that way arise inevitably form Shakespeare's text, so the responsibility for that mental model of Polonius can't rest entirely with either me or Shakespeare. If I were playing Polonius in an rpg, I'd have to consider the sensibilities of the other players, the development of the game, etc. before answering. That's just polite. But that would also make it a different character as far as anyone else knows.

I feel another definition coming on:

The character is the mental model of a person under the nominal control of a player, as expressed through play.

I think that has the advantage, in the final clause, of shutting down the relevance of the internal character and whether they are beyond the control of the player, and focuses on what the player chooses to portray in the game, hence GNS choices and all that funky grooviness.

And the usual corrolaries that the sheet is not the character, but the represntation of how the character engages with the system, etc etc.


Title: Who cares?
Post by: Marco on September 09, 2003, 04:42:00 AM
Quote from: M. J. Young
I've got a feeling that everyone is right here, and everyone is talking past each other and not getting anyone else's point, and that we've been through this before.

In theI think, therefore I am. I don't know about you. All I know about you is an objectified image in my mind of who I believe you are. That's all I know about my characters, too. I'm not so crazy as to think either that you don't all exist in bodily form somewhere, or that my characters do; but as far as personalities go, to me theirs are as real as yours. If they surprise me less often, it may be because I know them better.

--M. J. Young
Who has obviously gotten tired of both sides of this argument and would like to see everyone admit that either side is nonsense.


I've thought this from the begining--but as I think the point about how a character's wants are interperted is *illustrative* of different aspects of GNS, I think it's worthy of *some* discussion--that is, the definition of a "character's want" is different from G to N to S.

cognitio cognito ergo congnito cognito sum.

-Marco


Title: Who cares?
Post by: Jason Lee on September 09, 2003, 07:04:08 AM
I was all worked up about this thread. Ready to voice my impassioned opinion about how characters do exist. Now, someone has said most everything I was going to say, so I'll just add a little.

First, my hat goes off to MJ for the whole talking past each other bit, and my hat also goes off to kalyptein for using the same analogy I was going to.

*****

Ok, we've got a statement a player makes: "It's what my guy would do."

1) I've seen this statement used by players to rationalize behavior they know the group won't approve of; the most irritating 'My Guy!' defense.

2) I've also seen this statement used to illustrate the guidelines for internal consistency of a character.

Same damn statement with two meanings. A person may mean the second, but be attributed with meaning the first unjustly. Saying the statement itself is the problem (the implication that the character controls the player) is blaming the symptom.

*****

A character (or setting element, or whatever) is an imaginary construct (or mental model if you prefer that phrasing). One thing that seems to be missing thus far in the discussion is that his imaginary contract exists not only in the player's imaginary space, but also in the shared imaginary space once it has been integrated. By integrated I mean the process wherein imaginary contracts from a player's personal space are proposed into the shared space, their procedures (input and output rules; how a contract behaves) altered by group consensus, and are then stored in the shared imaginary space. Certain procedures become less open to edits once integrated into the shared space; with the group ultimately deciding the value of an individual procedure; often with the player who owns the particularly construct having the most say. Meaning, an imaginary construct exists beyond simply the player because some of its procedures are stored within the shared imaginary space.

Wow, that was dense. Sorry.

Point being, a character is about as real as Microsoft Word is. Though, the basic logic system is different, the medium which stores the data obeys different rules, and the procedures are more open to alteration.


Title: Who cares?
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on September 09, 2003, 07:58:45 AM
Quote from: contracycle
While I hesitate to say that "this is how multiple pewrsonality disorder works" but I do think this whole business of constructing fictional personalities is an interesting one.

Heh. The interesting thing is how often it happens. Jack Spencer Jr as he behaves and acts her on this forum acts differently on other forums he posts to or chats he's participated in. He acts differently work than he does at how. He behaves differently with friedns than he does with family. We like to believe there is a core individual regardless of our circumstances but this tends to overlook just how much of ourselves changes with circumstances. I used to joke "I have multiple personalities, unfortunately they are all just me." It's true.

THe character is an extension of this.


Title: Who cares?
Post by: MachMoth on September 09, 2003, 10:02:35 AM
Quote

I've got a feeling that everyone is right here, and everyone is talking past each other and not getting anyone else's point, and that we've been through this before.

This is what I've been trying to say from the start.  Admittedly, I'm not that good with my wording most of the time.  Comes from studying too many languages.  Makes it so you can't express anything in any of them.

I kind of have to agree with kalyptein and Jack's analogy of the computer programs.  Programs/Data exist as nothing more than pulses on a round disk.  Yet, when interpretted properly, they have a very real appearance, and can even seem to act on their own.  However, the data does not act without the processor, and vv.  Similar, the character can not act without the brain, and the brain can not act out without some sort of character data.  Much like we act differently in different company, we are acting the part of a different character in a game.  In that respect, the character exists, because we are that character, if for only a moment.  As part of that character's existance, the paradigms change.  Actions become narrations.

In different settings, most people have different personalities.  These could be seen as different characters, sharing many of the same elements.  At one party you could be drinking tea, and talking about the stock market, and in another you get drunk and try to get laid (sadly, this character doesn't have much experience).  The personality used is effected by the rules of the environment.  In a game, the rules are far different.  The world exists as narration, thus the character does too.  The three dimensions are broken down into a single audible world, and you act accordingly.  That is much the point of roleplaying, you are the character, just in a very different environment.  

If you think of the character as a seperate entity, then it only exists as paper and pencil.  But, a character you play, exists as you, expressed in paper and voice, instead of actions.

I'm sorry if this makes absolutely no sense.  Like I said, I'm not very good at explaining things, especially in the literal world of GNS, so if I need to reword something, please let me know.


Title: Who cares?
Post by: lumpley on September 09, 2003, 10:49:53 AM
I think that this of Pete's:
Quote
The character is the mental model of a person under the nominal control of a player, as expressed through play.
is groovy goodness.

When we talk about "the character" we miss the fact that the character exists in our own personal heads, in the heads of our fellow players, and in the actual narrative, all in different forms.  There's not a "the" character.

I contend that the sense of real live honest-to-goodness living breathing life we get from our characters sometimes, where they surprise us by doing the absolute yet unexpected right thing -- I contend that it comes at least partly out of collaboration.  Our characters in play aren't our own, they're co-owned.  That's what happens when we bring them to actual play, inevitably.  (And incidentally that's what "my guy" statements are a reaction to.)

In other words, even though Acanthus is "my character," Emily Care and Meguey both have enormous input into who he is and what he does.  I'm not talking about Universalis-level character sharing, or some weird way me and Meg and Em play, I'm talking about the subtle emotional feedback they give me when I play him.  Same as your friends give you when you play your character.  The feedback of our fellow players, even if it's unspoken and not consciously noticed, influences our thinking about and portrayals of our characters.

It's not surprising that it seems like our characters have life and personality beyond our own - they do.  It emerges from the attention of our fellow players.

I think Marco was moving toward this when he talked about System too.

-Vincent


Title: Who cares?
Post by: MachMoth on September 09, 2003, 11:27:03 AM
Quote from: lumpley
I'm talking about the subtle emotional feedback they give me when I play him.  Same as your friends give you when you play your character.  The feedback of our fellow players, even if it's unspoken and not consciously noticed, influences our thinking about and portrayals of our characters.-Vincent


This is kind of relates to what I was saying.  Our "character" changes as the environment/rules change.  Just as you wouldn't jump on the table and pull down your pants at a tea party (otherwise, I want to see your tea parties), because of the feedback from those around you, you play your character differently in different company.  The company you spend is just as important an influence on your "character" as the rules of the environment, and could even be considered part of them.  I suppose there is a term for this, but it's lost on me.  

Ron, I believe that's your cue to insert some baseline, GNS compatable, wisdom into my otherwise jumbled mess of incoherent babbling.


Title: Who cares?
Post by: Ron Edwards on September 09, 2003, 12:57:27 PM
Hello hello,

Pretty much all I'm saying about this topic can be found in the new thread And now, Plato (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=7905).

I suggest that it's time that any further discussion proceed to new threads; for instance, Vincent's post about the social and dynamic context for playing one's character really is a new topic.

Best,
Ron