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Author Topic: Anti-my-guy Syndrome  (Read 14043 times)
John Kim
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« on: December 05, 2003, 04:34:54 PM »

Quote from: xiombarg
 One essay is particularly notable: "But I Vas Chust Follwink Mein Character Concept!" by Greg Stolze.

In it, Greg posits the "Gamer Nuremburg Defense", characterized by the cry: "Not my fault, I was just following my character concept."

Yup, straight-up "My Guy" Syndrome.  

OK, as I mentioned in http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=8892">this thread, in my experience I more often felt annoyed by an opposite, "anti-my-guy" syndrome.  I haven't read the Stolze essay, but the title certainly takes a tone that somehow real evil is perpetrated if a character does something wrong.  

An example:
Six years ago, I played in the Ripper campaign, GMed by Chris Lehrich and Alex Dent-Young, and using variant Call of Cthulhu plus tarot as Whimsy cards.  My first PC was Inspector Benjamin Grimmond, a Victorian police officer who worked in the East End.  He was a bigot, bully, and a brute -- who felt that a large part of his job was keeping the lower classes in order.  As the campaign progressed, most of the PCs started going insane.  Grimmond started to become paranoid about the magical conspiracies, while another PC (Professor Hayward) became delusional about his own magical powers.  At one point this came to a head.  Hayward started trying to invoke magical powers in front of Grimmond, and Grimmond beat him senseless when he refused to stop.  

This absolutely appalled a fellow player -- not just at the character, but that I as a player was doing something wrong by this.  The funny thing was, that Hayward's player was fine with it.  The player who was appalled had a different PC who didn't witness the beating.  Later in that same session, Hayward again followed his delusions of magical power to his death at the hands of something other than Grimmond.  Still, I retired Grimmond as a PC after that and came up with a new one.  It eventually worked out fine, but I was definitely not pleased at that session.  

-----

Here's what I see as insidious about the Nuremberg accusation.  It is based on making certain PC actions into real crimes.  This means that each player has to be careful that his character doesn't do the wrong thing.  In my experience, the result of conceding to these accusations is a bunch of PCs who are well-behaved and who act nicely together as a group.  The game turns out to be about them working together to solve some external mystery or defeat some external threat.  

While that's a valid way to play, I prefer the opposite.  To me, the game is most interesting when you make strong choices for the characters, and you set them loose upon the world and upon each other.  Rather than reigning in PCs for the sake of the story, you should let the PCs loose to find out what the story is.  Players should feel free to make strong, daring choices for their PCs.  And in turn they shouldn't take it personally if someone else's PC does something that they as a player don't like.

Now, obviously there are limits.  Some character concepts are unreasonable.  I generally handle this by some combination group discussion of charaacter concept, and GM review of the character (which should include any secret info).  The other big issue is PC death.  Many if not most players enjoy some sort of safeguard against PC death.  This is a general principle, and should apply equally to NPC and PC-caused death.
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Valamir
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« Reply #1 on: December 05, 2003, 04:57:26 PM »

I actually agree with you John.  But I think I'd take it a step further...in a way you likely agree with yourself but didn't explicitly express.

I think its ok for a player to portray a character behaving immorally...racist, rapist, serial killer...whatever....but it should be done with the full awareness that it is the player decideing to portray that character.  What this means to me is this.

1) in other threads we've discussed the concept of lines and veils.  Players should be aware of where other players lines are and if they choose to push past them (and I'm not saying that its wrong in all cases to push other players past their comfort zone...though it certainly can be) it should be acknowledged that I the player am violating your taboo area and not try to hide behind the character.  One may feel justified going there despite the other player's discomfort (or one may immediately back off as soon as its made known) but in any case its the player doing it...NOT the character.

2)  there are certain areas that I think are interesting and thematically powerful to explore.  I think the some of the best characters are those that are 99% purely respectable, and 1% "oh my got how repulsive" and exploring exactly which acts of immorality are such as to completely bring the character's reputation low despite how "wonderful" they are in every other area, and which acts are forgiveable (or we're willing to look the other way on) because of their other virtues.

But it should be done with concious intention by the player in a context where exploring such an issue is appropriate both to the subject matter of the game itself and to the social fabric of the group.  

"frivolous" actions of taboo topics I think should be strongly avoided and any excuse of "my character would" is entirely unappropriate.  By frivolous I mean the guy who after his unit clears the village declares he's raping the women.  If the point is to really examine the issue of how men are willing to inflict inhumane acts on people of other demonized groups that they'd be appalled at even thinking about committing against their own group...then that's a powerful topic to explore.  If its a throwaway line given with a giggle that has no meaning other than the shock value of saying it with the quick "its just my character"...then that holds about as much weight with me as the ubiquitous "no offense" tacked on the end of a statement clearly meant to be offensive.
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #2 on: December 05, 2003, 06:05:57 PM »

I daresay that the opposite is also worth avoiding. Becoming frivilously offended by whatever doesn't work for you for whatever reason is also no good. Or, at least, you don't have to loudly express it every time something happens you don't like and thus put the other players into defensive mode and claim "my guy."

I see it is more a bit of give and take. Learn where the other player's lines are and don't cross them and don't get upset when someone crosses yours. If everyone did the first, there should be less need for the second.
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John Kim
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« Reply #3 on: December 05, 2003, 06:29:43 PM »

Quote from: Valamir
  "frivolous" actions of taboo topics I think should be strongly avoided and any excuse of "my character would" is entirely unappropriate.  By frivolous I mean the guy who after his unit clears the village declares he's raping the women.  If the point is to really examine the issue of how men are willing to inflict inhumane acts on people of other demonized groups that they'd be appalled at even thinking about committing against their own group...then that's a powerful topic to explore.  If its a throwaway line given with a giggle that has no meaning other than the shock value of saying it with the quick "its just my character"...  

Well, here I disagree.  Your statement implies that the topic of the story is previously agreed upon.  i.e. A rape has no meaning other than shock value if it isn't pre-decided as the "point" of the game. That is completely alien to my usual approach to play.  I don't know what the point of my game is until after I play it.  If a heinous crime occurs, then it likely will become the point of the game.  The player doesn't have a choice for her PC to commit rape and make it have no meaning.  By occurring, it inherently has meaning.  

I might seem to be quibbling, but this is a big part of my bad experiences.  The GM or other players will use the lever of "that's not what the point of this game is" -- in order to bring my character in line with what the story should be.  In my preferred style of play, what the characters do by definition is the point of play.

That said, I'd agree that rape is a pretty touchy topic for a lot of people.  I would prefer to deal with it by agreeing on it at character creation (i.e. don't make PCs prone to become rapists) and by GM control (i.e. avoid circumstances which would display it as part of the game).  For example, I made a conscious decision on this at the start of my Vinland game to not have it appear.  It would be a part of the background, but not mentioned in-play.
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Christopher Kubasik
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« Reply #4 on: December 05, 2003, 06:43:29 PM »

Hi John,

For the record, I think your play in the example you gave was fine.  Great actually.

And further, I thought "My Guy" syndrome involved the use of entrenched decisions for the PC based on power struggles among the group members in an RPG, usually between a player and the GM.  Thus, when the player feels that he's really got no option to influence anyting in the game (see: Railroading, for example), he grips his character tight and says, "Well, my guy does this, and there's nothing you can do about it."

I just reveiwed the thread you linked and, yes.  That's pretty much the defintion of "My Guy" syndrome.

It didn't seem like there were any issues with you and the GM, nor power issues with you and the player who complained.  This seems a matter of taste -- which matters -- but might be something else.

In short, perhaps to your surprise, you'll find yourself pretty much agreed with on this one from most parties posting.  (Unless you want to pull it into an arguement somehow.)

Christopher

[Oops.  Cross posted.  Looks like the arguement started already.]
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Christopher Kubasik
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« Reply #5 on: December 05, 2003, 06:50:14 PM »

Oh, and in the hope of perhaps defusing the arguement (who knows, what the hell....)

I think you've misread Ralph's point.  There's nothing there to imply it was a topic "previously agreed upon."  You might be inferring some sort of agreed upon damned Premise, but Ralph didn't write that.

He wrote, as a counter example to a player having the PC doing sometihing just for shock value "If its a throwaway line given with a giggle..." which, when I read it, implied that the importance of the action was being defined in the moment -- not beforehand.

That doesn't mean a few overly sensative types might not misread it, but Ralph was taking stock of the player's action.  Ralph's example, to my reading at least, suggested it was how it was handled, not if a matter if it was permissible beforehand.

Again, this doesn't seem a matter of My Guy syndrome, per se.  If the players doing it just cause he can, to jerk control of the game back to him, then yes.  It doesn't sound like you're involved in anything like that at all.

Christopher
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #6 on: December 05, 2003, 07:12:57 PM »

John, I think you may be preachin' to the choir here.

The distinction has been made between those who use "my guy" as a means of taking power that is being denied them in play as against those who are trying to play true to a character; the latter is something we all agree is valid, while the former is evidence of dysfunction. (Identifying which is happening can be difficult at times, but that doesn't invalidate the distinction.)

In Multiverser, players put a lot of thought into what their characters would do, because the characters more directly represent themselves--as an I Game, on one level it asks what you would do if this had happened to you. One of our players, a nice guy pretty much liked by everyone, big and strong but generally soft spoken, had begun to emerge as something of a crusader for justice in places where it was lacking. He went through several worlds in which he was part of a small group of righteous outlaws facing the power of the establishment (I remember Blake's 7 and Robin Hood specifically). Then he landed in a modern world, and he just snapped. He killed a guy because he didn't like the answer he got to a question, and then got in a car and led the police on a wild cross-country chase, several times escaping by wit and luck, until finally they caught him and gunned him down. It stunned everyone, I think; but the way he did it seemed so very plausible, the guy who had just had enough of being the underdog striking out against everyone and everything, until he just got tired and let them catch him.

I think that the dysfunctional "my guy" syndrome creeps up mostly in games in which the referee exercises tight control over what the characters do and where they go; we never had too much of that in my groups, so any time anyone turned their attention to what "my guy" would do it was generally realistic and interesting, and not at all disruptive, even if it was completely unexpected by the rest of us.

--M. J. Young
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RaconteurX
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« Reply #7 on: December 05, 2003, 08:06:45 PM »

I agree with John in that the faithful portrayal of a character's personality, even that which leads to morally dubious acts or behaviors on the part of the character, can ultimately be much more rewarding in terms of overall narrative impact than an intentional inconsistency which reinforces black-and-white notions of "heroism". It can be appropriate in some situations, but those frequently have more to do with the expectations built into the setting (like the Star Wars universe) than meta-game concepts of morality.

I also agree with Ralph in that keeping the limits of fellow players in mind when portraying a character is always sound policy. If those limits simply must be pushed, polite sensitivity should be the order of the day. A "fade to black" permits the action to occur off-screen, and leaves the details to the imagination. Even the implication of immoral activity can be too much for some, but that becomes more an issue of Social Contract negotiation than a matter of sensitivity to certain things due to personal experience.

Players whose characters commit atrocities solely for their own personal amusement are rare, in my experience, and luckily the vast majority appear to respond favorably to censure in the form of consequences affecting the character which are consistent within the setting (in Glorantha, for example, a serial rapist will literally transform into a broo over time. In a game based on Lovecraftian horror, a cannibal will similarly metamorphosize into a ghoul eventually). Often these sorts of players enjoy struggling to achieve some manner of redemption for their characters.


EDIT: Cleaned up some clumsy phrasing
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John Kim
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« Reply #8 on: December 05, 2003, 10:51:43 PM »

Quote from: Christopher Kubasik
  I think you've misread Ralph's point.  There's nothing there to imply it was a topic "previously agreed upon."  You might be inferring some sort of agreed upon damned Premise, but Ralph didn't write that.  

He wrote, as a counter example to a player having the PC doing sometihing just for shock value "If its a throwaway line given with a giggle..." which, when I read it, implied that the importance of the action was being defined in the moment -- not beforehand.  

Well, OK, I may have misread.  But I think it's a fine line.  How does a heinous act become defined as non-important?  Giggling?  I don't think that's reasonable.  Humor, particularly black humor about genuine suffering, can be very meaningful.  (I'm tempted to cite "Kill Puppies for Satan" even though I've only read excerpts, since it seems to be centrally about doing things for shock value.)  

I don't really see the issue over meaning.  In my experience, problems with crossing the line are about too much meaning -- not about being meaningless or unimportant.  Another example:  In one campaign that I GMed, a PC married a man she knew little about for the sake of her family.  He was attracted to her and essentially bought her hand in marriage.  After the wedding, there were some bits where he acted jealous of another PC whom she had had an affair with.  After the game, the PC's player told me (the GM) that it was uncomfortable dealing with the jealousy since that touched too close to real-life issues she had had.  

This is an example of line-crossing.  What was going on was extremely relevant and meaningful, which is exactly why it came to the point of being a problem.  If it wasn't meaningful, the player wouldn't have had a problem.  As it was, I adjusted my role-playing so that the husband was still somewhat obsessed, but confidant enough that he wasn't jealous.  This kept his character largely unchanged.  

Anyhow, maybe this is just opposite ways of saying things that are actually similar.  But I would say the problem of shock or crossing lines is too much meaning.  This can be good or bad or both.  I think there are a lot of works of art that are shocking and also very good.  But yes, you have to be careful that all the players are on board.  In starting this thread I was reacting to the seemingly one-sided view of comparing "my guy" with Nazis.
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greyorm
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« Reply #9 on: December 06, 2003, 09:38:59 AM »

John,

It occurs to me, after a thorough re-read of the thread defining "My Guy" syndrome that you aren't even talking about My Guy syndrome, let alone a polar opposite of such. You're talking about Abused Player Syndrome -- of which the behaviors detailed by My Guy Syndrome is one reaction to.

Additionally, you seem to be labelling "My Guy" as a term implied to mean any and all play of character for character's sake (Immersive Actor Stance), when it does not apply to the whole gamut, only a dysfunctional portion thereof.

The issue you're complaining about above -- limiting player behavior by using game concept -- is GM Control of concept, and that all depends on the game being run. Ron pointed out this discussion GM control of player character concept across G/N/S in the other thread, but I've referenced it again because it's quite relevant to what you're defining with "Anti-My Guy."

Finally, that seems a strange term, more a reaction to the perceived limitations of labelling My Guy play as dysfunctional, rather than discussing this actual problem on its own terms. At least, that is how it is coming across to me.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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John Kim
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« Reply #10 on: December 06, 2003, 11:31:30 AM »

Quote from: greyorm
  Additionally, you seem to be labelling "My Guy" as a term implied to mean any and all play of character for character's sake (Immersive Actor Stance), when it does not apply to the whole gamut, only a dysfunctional portion thereof.  

Well, I was looking at a particular case of behavior... where one participant complains about another player's PC behavior, and that player replies with "well, that's what my character would do".  Now, the complaining player probably views this as dysfunctional.  He thinks that the transgressing player is following character beyond the bounds of reasonable limits -- like beating another PC senseless.  However, the trangressing player thinks that the complainer is at fault for wanting to overly limit the game.  

As I label it, the complainer perceives the transgressor as exemplifying "my guy" syndrome.  Conversely, the transgressor perceives the complainer as exemplifying "anti-my-guy" syndrome.  I guess my point is that I don't think that either of them are necessarily objectively dysfunctional.  But they are a difference of style, and I fall closer to preferring "my guy" syndrome.  

Quote from: greyorm
  The issue you're complaining about above -- limiting player behavior by using game concept -- is GM Control of concept, and that all depends on the game being run. Ron pointed out this discussion GM control of player character concept across G/N/S in the other thread, but I've referenced it again because it's quite relevant to what you're defining with "Anti-My Guy."  

Finally, that seems a strange term, more a reaction to the perceived limitations of labelling My Guy play as dysfunctional, rather than discussing this actual problem on its own terms. At least, that is how it is coming across to me.

Well, that GM control thread is mostly talking about character creation -- which I don't think is relevant to what I was talking about.  The case I have in mind is that everyone has agreed to a set of characters without complaint, and play goes on a bit -- but then someone's PC does something major, and another player (or perhaps the GM) complains that it is following the character too far.  

There are preferences pulling in opposite ways here, whatever you want to call them.  My labels of "my guy" and "anti my guy" weren't intended as permanent, official terminology.  I think both labels suck, really.
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epweissengruber
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« Reply #11 on: December 09, 2003, 09:56:23 AM »

A pretty funny essay by Stafford was cited in a lead in to criticizing those who take a "my guy" approach, which in turn lead to a counter-post criticizing those who insist on total identification of player and character and who are also are repulsed by any distancing of player from character.

Quote
OK, as I mentioned in this thread, in my experience I more often felt annoyed by an opposite, "anti-my-guy" syndrome. I haven't read the Stolze essay, but the title certainly takes a tone that somehow real evil is perpetrated if a character does something wrong.


I had a chance to participate in a HeroQuest game with Stafford.  It was peppered with questions like "what does your guy do?" and "who is your guy related to?"  The players were in a similar mode -- "My guy worships Niskis, so he's good at fast talking ladies" and "I dunno, my guy wouldn't do that, he's a pretty conservative old thane."  Despite this mode of speaking, we ended up playing a pretty tricky scenario that had a pretty fine narrative resoltion wherein a character discovered that he was not being cursed, but rather his true magical nature was making itself apparent and that he had to deal with the attendant social complications.

Stafford has a pretty canny understanding of how stories work and how challenging gaming and good story creation are not at odds with each other.  But getting finicky about never saying "my guy" ain't the way of going about it.
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xiombarg
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« Reply #12 on: December 09, 2003, 10:12:49 AM »

Quote from: epweissengruber
Stafford has a pretty canny understanding of how stories work and how challenging gaming and good story creation are not at odds with each other.  But getting finicky about never saying "my guy" ain't the way of going about it.

Um, is anyone seriously proposing this?

"My guy" syndrome, as I understand it, amounts to acting in a way that is deterimental to others enjoying the game -- and, in the most extreme cases, the enjoyment of the acting player as well -- and justifying it with the battle cry: "But that's what my character would do!"

No one is claiming that immersion is bad. But "My Guy" syndrome is justifying social dysfunction with character motivation, and being unwilling to admit that you control the character and that the character can change over time.

Now, I think the situation John refers to is dysfunctional on all sides. Issues like if it's okay for PCs to murder each other should have been discussed before play. It's not a matter of one side being wrong or right -- a "my guy" situation doesn't mean the person crying out to immersion is wrong, it means that there is a bump in the social contract that needs to be smoothed out.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #13 on: December 09, 2003, 10:25:14 AM »

Hello,

Ep, I suggest that your anecdote supports the point being made about the My Guy syndrome, rather than refuting it. I see Stafford encouraging Narrativist play, specifically by pumping Author Stance at key points, through the Explorative medium. Pretty straightforward, and not at all related to the dysfunctional syndrome which has gained the "My Guy" label strictly as a point of reference.

Best,
Ron
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #14 on: December 09, 2003, 02:36:46 PM »

I'm going to get shot for this. How isn't this simple incoherence?

"My Guy" is, by definition, problematic because the player is doing things specifically to annoy other players (thanks Kirt). When immersion is the form of play selected, and it's being used correctly, there's no reason why it should be problematic, neccessarily. So John is citing one of two things here. Either the player in question is being dishonest realizing that immersion is OK, and just wants their way (Social Contract issue). Or the player is being annoyed by the players not playing in the CA that they want, namely something with a bit more Author stance or something like that.

How is the problem not solved by having the player agree to the play priority that includes immersion?

John, I, Ralph, Stolze, et al, I believe are not railing against immersive play (which seems to be your point in coming after this following on the other conversation). We're against players who use the idea that characters are sacrosanct to play badly.

Now, what consitutes bad play, and what's just player prerogative? Well, that is a fine line, I suppose. But you can't say that no player ever used My Guy stance. And we'd never say that players don't make the mistakes that you cite. So there's no difference of opinion here.

Mike
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