Rants tag

Rants, ruminations, and rambling remarks from my mad, muddled, meandering mind.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Mistaken Identities: Roleplaying vs Puppeteering in MMOs

Syp brought up an interesting topic this week that I have touched upon myself on occasion. The question of how separated is he from his characters in games.
The first is that my characters are merely a digital extension of the human me. . . The second is that my characters are a fictional collaboration between the assets and story of the developers and my own imagination.
~Syp, Who Am I? An Existential Crisis in MMOs
Though this may be part of what he intended in his second position, I think there is a third option: That the character is essentially a creation of the developers, and I am merely following it through the world. That third option may be more valid in certain single player games than in MMOs. I know that Bhagpuss has expressed this point of view about his characters, as has Tyler Edwards.

Echoing what Ettesiun wrote in commentary on Syp's post, I think that, without a backstory, an MMO character is literally just an avatar of the player, regardless of the appearance or gender of the character. Even when the player does something through the avatar that the player would not do in real life, it's still the player making the decision. Oftimes, the themeparks gives little choice beyond taking or refusing to take a given quest. Other, more sandboxy MMOs, may have so little story to them that the players must either create the fictions or simply play as themselves.

I tend to develop, at the very least, vague backstories for my characters, and they end up making decision I would not necessarily make. On the other hand, they tend to be amplified versions of me, again, regardless of their gender. Like Syp, I have a propensity for playing females.

SWTOR offers some variation in the manner of accomplishing a quest, but in the end, they feel even more on rails in many ways, because my characters often say things that don't quite match up with what I interpreted the dialogue choices to mean. Every once in a while, I back out of a conversation and start over because the dialogue is so egregiously out of character.

TSW gives my character no opportunity for dialogue at all during the cut scenes. (Then again, neither did WoW when I played, or many others.) But it is precisely those games that I do the most character development in. Dr. Samantha "Lonestarbelle" Hawthorn has an extensive background. Achillea Sunsage, my Trooper in SWTOR, has virtually no background at all.

So, in the end, I tend toward the second option Syp gave. I develop my characters within the framework of the game world. They have personalities of their own, but there is a lot of overlap with mine. How consistent am I in that? I'm not sure, But I am not as concerned about it as Syp apparently is.

How about you? What is your relationship to the characters you play in MMOs?
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  1. Love this! I think I'll write an answer in the form of a blog post if it's all the same to you. It might just take a bit because I have a lot lined up. I'm so bad at this be-in-time-for-actuality thing... :$

    1. No worries, I have two lined up myself, including the pics of my new ride.

  2. The smorgasbord of views and analyses concerning video game roleplaying deserves a whole book to itself. But apart from the "extension of myself vs fully independent creation" dichotomy, I feel it's important, at least, that we distinguish between reacting to the script the game serves us, from interacting with other people's avatars within the world the game serves us.

    Whether the former or the latter, I treat all my characters as fully independent creations, with their own backstories, motivations, and personalities. So unless there happens to be some overlap that serves story purposes, I never play extensions of myself to any degree. I echo Tyler Edwards' comment: the novelty of being boring in-game when you're boring in real life doesn't last very long. Maybe it's a remnant of my childhood love of acting.

    The latter interests me far more, which is why I was kind of disappointed when a question on it I posed to a roleplaying notable recently got misinterpreted as being about the former. More here: http://bit.ly/1RPt87b

    1. Ooo I'll have to catch up on that. Like you, I dabbled in acting as a youth, and I still love the theater. I don't think anyone consciously wants to be boring in game, but I know a lot of people that fully see their PC as an extension of themselves. Sadly, many tend to express views on "relatability" to their avatar's form that come across as some form of -ism.

    2. "I have given you my soul, LEAVE ME MY NAME!"
      – every roleplayer on the business end of a forced name change.

      Not sure I got that last part. You mean they transpose their personal views onto their characters' during roleplay? Or is it something about the way they regard the connection between them and themselves?

    3. More about the way they regard the connection between them and their avatar. "I wouldn't play a female because I wouldn't be able to relate to that, even though I've made him a green-skinned, axe-wielding brute—or a self-willed magic wielding zombie." Personally, because I don't necessarily see my characters as pure avatars, I have no problem playing all sorts of races and genders online.

      Now, I would say my actual online roleplaying in any MMO is minimal. I don't type fast enough nor well enough to keep up.

  3. That's... oh well, different folks, different strokes. I myself have trouble playing 'cutesie' races like halflings or gnomes, so I probably have some sort of -ism myself.

    Typing fast or well enough to keep up is, I think, only an issue if the roleplay in question is largely static and conversational - like tavern RP. Things tend to get more terse on the road or when a combat situation looms.

    And thank you for the Twitter shout-out. I did not expect Stephen Hood himself to chime in on my post!

    1. Hey, no problem. I try to publicize posts as I read them. I didn't expect him to respond either. LOL