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Wavinator

When does your character become YOU?

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What makes you identify with the character you play in a game? Is it being able to directly control their actions? Is it being able to customize them? Can you identify with a character when you can't see them, as with an FPS? For instance, did you identify with a story character ("Gordon Freeman" in Half-Life) or "Jet" in Tron, for example) or feel it was "you" and the amnesiac story had just forgotten your name? How vital is story to making you identify with the character? Does being called the wrong name get in the way of the character becoming "you?" Have you ever identified with a character you couldn't finely control, such as the Rogue/Warrior/Mage in Diablo or a Sim that you customized in The Sims? When speaking to others, would you say, "I died..." or "my character died..." I've got a theory: To make a character "you" the character must be visible, customizable, and incapable of embarrassing actions. Your character can pee on himself/herself, as is possible in The Sims; or be immobilized and humiliated, as is possible in Morrowind-- but this can't happen to YOU. So the situations a game can put you in are directly related to the identity you have as either a CHARACTER or your PERSONA. (Could be hocus, just wondering...)

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Since you mentioned Morrowind and I was thinking that when I read the topic..

Morrowind is one of those where I was my Khajiit character. Weak small and progressing on to godlike;
Massives (MMORPGs) are also are normally ‘I am my character’; Interaction with others I suppose is most of it.

Any character that I control directly tends to be a ‘I died’ (Diablo, FPS, etc.); Where as if I control a party it is far more probable to be ‘character died’. Regardless of situation/abilities I think.

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Original post by Wavinator
What makes you identify with the character you play in a game? Is it being able to directly control their actions? Is it being able to customize them?
If you want a character that everyone can identify with, then you only have two choices, as I see it - either make them customisable such that everyone can change the character into someone they identify with; or make the character extremely generic, a 'one-size-fits-all' job. Oh, when I talk about customization, I'm not referring to appearance - behaviour and personality is infinitely important.

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Can you identify with a character when you can't see them, as with an FPS? For instance, did you identify with a story character ("Gordon Freeman" in Half-Life) or "Jet" in Tron, for example) or feel it was "you" and the amnesiac story had just forgotten your name?
I think that - in Half-Life's case particularly, because the game never takes control away from you - that those are examples of the 'one-size-fits-all' character (what I call a null protagonist). The player must identify with the character because there's nothing to prevent them from doing so. Though even then, Freeman's constant silence harms things a bit - the player may want to shout "AARGH I'M NOT GOING TO RAVENHOLM THERE'S ZOMBIES THERE" but they can't. That said, I'd reckon players are ready to accept that that's a limitation of the game technology.

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How vital is story to making you identify with the character?
Depends on the story. I suspect that a first-person shooter with no story at all would cause most people to identify with the avatar, again because there's nothing to prevent them from doing so. Of course, it's impossible to make a first-person shooter with no story at all because the situation provides some story (i.e. a pacifist will never identify with the avatar in an FPS because that avatar is holding a gun and shooting people).

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Does being called the wrong name get in the way of the character becoming "you?"
Now I think we're getting into roleplay.

An assumption I frequently make - even though I know it to be wrong - is that identifying with a character involves no compromise. That's not true. Most players are willing to do a little role-play - to take on a different name, to take on the situation - to meet the character half-way. The pacifist still won't play FPSes because he's not prepared to role-play that killer; the roles each player is prepared to take on, and the extent to which they are prepared to get into those roles, differs from player to player.

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Have you ever identified with a character you couldn't finely control, such as the Rogue/Warrior/Mage in Diablo or a Sim that you customized in The Sims? When speaking to others, would you say, "I died..." or "my character died..."
I would almost never say "my character died" because "character" is a long word [grin] If I'm controlling a group of people - a party in an RPG - then I'm likely to say "My mage died" or "My warrior died", if only to differentiate them. The only other time I'd be likely to say "My character died" is if the death is the result of some loss of control - i.e. a bug that caused my character to keep running off a cliff 10 seconds after I released the move button. In such a situation I blame the game (and the direct token that represents my control, the avatar) rather than myself, thus seperating the two.

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I've got a theory: To make a character "you" the character must be visible, customizable, and incapable of embarrassing actions. Your character can pee on himself/herself, as is possible in The Sims; or be immobilized and humiliated, as is possible in Morrowind-- but this can't happen to YOU.
I disagree with visible, agree with customizable, and disagree with embarassing actions. Embarassing situations will tend to make a character more human; I know I get into embarassing situations every now and again, so I'd expect my character to. I wouldn't pee on myself, so if my character does it breaks the identity, but I might accidentally walk in on someone who is getting changed, so if my character does I can understand it.

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So the situations a game can put you in are directly related to the identity you have as either a CHARACTER or your PERSONA.
I think I agree by that - if by "the identity you have as either a CHARACTER or PERSONA" we can say "the identity that you are prepared to take on and play the role of."

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In order for me to identify closely with a character I have to see the character.
Also if there is a party of characters I tend to not identify too closely with any one - though I do care about my characters. The exception to this party thing is in the case where the main character is customized with a personality as in the Jagged Alliance 2 games. Silent Storm is somewhere in between - there is one main character and you can customize the looks but not the personality.

When I identify closely with a character I say "I died". Other characters in a party are usually identified more with their job rather than their name (i.e. my archer died). This varies a little depending on how customizable the character is but in general the main guy is me and the others are supporting cast with a job.

Not being able to name a character is a hinderance to feeling close to the character.

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It is much easier for me to become the character if the game is done in the first person. When I look through his eyes, I am easily able to say that is me in the game. Looking in a game mirror is sometimes a strange experience.

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Remember too that people identify with characters in movies, even though they have their own dialogue and take their own actions. A movie isn't interactive at all, yet we still put ourselves in the shoes of our movie heroes. We certainly don't talk about a movie in the first person, but we still become emotionally involved with them. We can get scared when they're in a scary place, even though we're just watching.

So for me, I get the most involved in a game character when the same sorts of elements are present: Good story, good characters, etc.

I can put myself into Gordon's place, but I actually felt more distant than if he were to have some dialogue. If he could say a few of the things I, and almost any other player, were thinking, then I could identify with him even better. As it was, Gordon had no personality, and so I couldn't really identify with him. In a very real sense, Gordon as a character doesn't even exist. When we play, we just get to take on his name.

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I think sorting out when a person becomes the character, as opposed to associate with him is a delicate matter. Superpig seems to make some pretty good points on it with this ideologies of the Null Protagnoist. I think players become their avatars when the personality and skill of the player is allowed to engage with the game environment.

In the case of Gordon Freeman, there's nothing preventing the players skill and personality from engaging with the gameworld, so the player obviously refers to himself, not Gordon. In RPG games this isn't neccessarily the case, since player skill is replaced with Statistics, so the player can swing his axe 10,000 times at that very large bloated rat and miss every single time, the player is then less inclined to associate with the character because his own skills aren't being allowed to interact with the game environment. Even with games that border on interactive movies, players can still associate their own personalities with either the main character and/or characters within the game, but this may backfire and isolate the player from the game environment if the personality of the Character doesn't relate to the player himself.

There are games that work their way gently along those lines, like Deus Ex and System Shock 2, both have stats, but they don't block the player from using his personal skill and personality from interacting with the game environment. In Diablo, its the same way, with a generic character with skills the player can customize to his particular preference and personality. In the case of controlling a party, it is possible for the player to identify with one of those characters as "himself", customizing it to his skill preference and personality, but he may also make the other characters or a group of characters modeled after different aspects of his skills or personality, so he can associate with them more directly and intimiately as a part of himself.

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I'd say that the only way things such as the control mechanism of the game can prevent identifying with the player character is when they hinder gameplay so much that you actually need to focus on the controls (or whatever) in order to prevail. Good controls certainly can help.

Identifying with the character is about being able to immerse oneself in the game world and/or pre-written plot and then being able to focus on that, from the mental perspective of the character. Bad controls, bad story, or bad what have you can break that immersion and focus. Most importantly, it's about wanting to identify with a character. Encouraging the player to do this is not easy, and some people play just for the sake of gameplay no matter what.

Direct control can help you to identify with the player character, as then you don't get the feeling that the character is a mere subordinate, but this is not to say you couldn't identify with a subordinate or even a peasant in a real-time strategy game. Similarily, being able to customize your can help, as you can put more of yourself into the character. Such issues are not vital, but rather a matter of lowering the threshold of making the player want to throw reality into the oblivion for a while and accept the character as his alter ego.

Or maybe I'm just confusing identification with roleplaying. For me it's more or less the same, at least as long as we are talking about games. Roleplaying needs some form of identification as the player is not the character — they exist in different planes of existence. The link between the player and the character is the identification and roleplaying grows on that link. Or something like that. Then again, I'd say "becoming the character" implies roleplaying rather than identification. Now, identifying with someone doesn't require you to roleplay, but when I identify with a character in a game, I don't want to restrict my imagination and avoid the (quasi-)roleplaying aspect of the situation. [rolleyes]

But what's the difference then? To me "identification" connotes an empathical link with the other entity and "roleplaying" connotes actually believing (provisionally) that you are that entity. Or am I just raving maniacally here again?

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Original post by superpig
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Original post by Wavinator
[...] Your character can pee on himself/herself, as is possible in The Sims; [...]
[...] I wouldn't pee on myself, so if my character does it breaks the identity [...]


How about in Postal 2, where you can catch fire? The painless way to survive is to unzip, look straight up and let it flow... [grin]

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Meh....

Being called a name other than what *I* named my character detracts from my suspension of disbelief.

However, when I was in the 5th grade with my gameboy, games such as metroid II on gameboy had my heart RACING when I was down to 30 health, no extra energy tanks, no missles, and newly hatched gamma about to kick my arse for falling (like an idiot) into his den. Super metroid had the same ties. But the new ones lost it do to the extreme amounts of story being thrown around.

My point is, the more you have to tell the player about his character - the more the player isn't going to *feel* like the character. It's always more fun to have survived those experiences yourself, and be quite "upto date" on the details.

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Original post by zarthrag
Meh....

Being called a name other than what *I* named my character detracts from my suspension of disbelief.

However, when I was in the 5th grade with my gameboy, games such as metroid II on gameboy had my heart RACING when I was down to 30 health, no extra energy tanks, no missles, and newly hatched gamma about to kick my arse for falling (like an idiot) into his den. Super metroid had the same ties. But the new ones lost it do to the extreme amounts of story being thrown around.

My point is, the more you have to tell the player about his character - the more the player isn't going to *feel* like the character. It's always more fun to have survived those experiences yourself, and be quite "upto date" on the details.
I agree in general, but not about the name thing. I used to like to name my characters myself, but in the last couple of years it hasn't mattered so much. I went and played some (a lot [smile]) of those old console RPGs -- with the default names -- and felt just as attached to the characters (in the good ones) as if I had named the character myself.

edit: spelling mistake...

[Edited by - lucky_monkey on February 16, 2005 11:20:14 PM]

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