Sign in to follow this  
Wavinator

When does your character become YOU?

Recommended Posts

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...)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quote:
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.

Quote:
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.

Quote:
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).

Quote:
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.

Quote:
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.

Quote:
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.

Quote:
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."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Anonymous Poster
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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
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?

Quote:
Original post by superpig
Quote:
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]

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quote:
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]

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quote:
Original post by lucky_monkey
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 mettered so much.


An interesting compromise I've seen games like Tron employ: In the cutscenes, the character speaks and is refered to by a name, and in my mind I have NO identification with them (especially because he's a bit too whiny for me).

But in the game, I'm called "program." When the AI yells out amusing lines like, "Quit running, program!" or "Stop executing illegal escape routine, program!" I know the game is talking to me. The main character's not even on my radar. I can't see Jet, so I'm never Jet, and the name is wrong anyway.

(Can't wait for that phonetic name recognition tech, btw. It would be great here).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quote:
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?

I identify best with a character when I am able to make choices. There are a lot of things that make me feel more like a spectator than the character, but I'll name the two major things that make the biggest difference to me:

1.) "Please stop me from advancing in the game because I didn't pick the answer you wanted to hear." When the user is presented with two choices in lots of RPGs, it's sometimes a generic way of forcing them to pick the "good guy choice". I'm referring to the times when the NPC you're talking to gives you two choices for answers, but if you select choice B, the NPC will either re-ask the question or you will be unable to advance any further in the game until you answer it correctly.

2.) Character statistical customization and the reprocussions of prescripted dialogue of a static character. Whew, a mouthful. One thing that has always annoyed me in some games is when the protagonist is a complete idiot or when his only responses to a question represent a dog's intellect. If I am unable to customize my character's attributes (strength, intelligence, etc.), I don't want to be a pansy [for lack of better term] or a complete moron.

Quote:
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 vary on this topic. If I can see my character, they better look cool/tough or be in full body armor. If they don't look awesome, give me first person point of view.


Quote:
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?"

Not entirely. In most single player RPGs, I usually name the main character after myself. Exceptions to this are RPGs such as Baldur's Gate (when I control and customize 6 characters) and Dungeons & Dragons (pen and paper version). Being called the wrong name annoys me, but it doesn't destroy my immersion.

Quote:
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 usually say, "I died..." when referring to most games where I had control over the character at the time. To me, cutscene deaths == Character's death, non-cutscene deaths == My character's death.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Identifying with a character is easier than becoming one. After all, you can identify with real people, but it's unlikely you would become them.

I am much more likely to say "I died" than "my character died" regardless of which game I'm playing, as the game ended for me too.

To feel that my character and myself are one entity (which is what I think you're really asking about), I personally need the game to be very flexible. The more customisation options there are and the greater the level of control I have over what my character does, the more likely this is to happen.

Being "herded" in a particular direction is more acceptable than having the computer taking control of my character via a cutscene or similar. I can more easily share my character's physical feelings than his/her emotions, so forced romances, cowardice and the like rarely work.

First person perspective helps too, particularly if the view is representative of what I would see if I were really in the game world (arms, hands, legs, feet etc.). Third person perspective increases the distance between the character and myself in more ways than one.

Finally, I find it impossible to think of myself as being an entire party, so I tend to play party based CRPGs as if they were strategy games.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I think the most important element in becoming the character is being able to control the character's destiny through choices. If the character's fate is already predetermined then it doesn't matter if you can dress them up in fancy equipment and customize their attributes, it's still someone else. What really defines a person (or a character) is the choices they make, and so if the player can control his destiny he'll identify with the character a lot more closely.

Of course, one of the requirements is that you actually have complex and interesting choices. Unfortunately, most games tend to simply categorize choices as either generically good or evil. The problem is that this tends to force you to roleplay a stereotype -- you're either a saint or a sinner, but not really much more than that. Not to mention that games like this tend to become a bit preachy in their own way; as it's left to the game designer to dictate morality.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quote:
Original post by The Senshi
Of course, one of the requirements is that you actually have complex and interesting choices. Unfortunately, most games tend to simply categorize choices as either generically good or evil. The problem is that this tends to force you to roleplay a stereotype -- you're either a saint or a sinner, but not really much more than that.


Very good points. One thing about the good / evil split, though, is that it appears to appeal very strongly to a lot of gamers as you being either the savior or leather-jacket-wearing badass.

What other sharply defined roles do you think would stick? Do you think ambiguity or subtlety would actually have appeal?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quote:
Original post by Wavinator

Very good points. One thing about the good / evil split, though, is that it appears to appeal very strongly to a lot of gamers as you being either the savior or leather-jacket-wearing badass.

What other sharply defined roles do you think would stick? Do you think ambiguity or subtlety would actually have appeal?


Well, good vs. evil has a lot of advantages, which I'll be the first to admit. One key feature with good versus evil choices is that you tend to get immediate feedback, which is important. Also, the consequences of your actions are usually pretty clear.

I think that more subtle choices would appeal to a lot of gamers, though. For example, one of the things I really liked about Knights of The Old Republic 2 was that often times the other characters would comment on your actions. I remember at one point, one of my party members criticized me for helping out an NPC because, in doing so, I had reduced that person's ability to fend for themselves. I thought that added an interesting twist to playing the light side: suddenly, you had to consider whether you were actually harming them by not letting them take care of their problems on their own. I thought it made things a lot more interesting, personally.

As far as other roles that appeal to gamers, I think a lot of morally ambiguous roles people will still find interesting. I mean, take Sid Meiers pirates, for instance. You aren't really good or evil in that game, but it's still fun as hell to be a pirate ;).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Is it so much a case of being able to indentify though?

I view it as an important point in games as you can relate to the settings and persona's around you (helping you get absobed quicker) but most of the characters that I love in game's purley act like power trip's, as I am becoming somthing that I LIKE being but could NOT realistically become in "this" reality.

I have made myself in wrestling games, yet I always go back to playing as the big muscular superstars-"no I am not a wrestler, and it's not plausable/satisfying to be this".

In the Sim's I wanna be good looking, strong, good job-no, wait...perfect-Games are there to cut you a break and give you a false yet satifying reality to live/fight in. Players are always trying to better themselves in games and generally want to be "cool" characters of either a mythical or military position which they will MORE than likely not be if they are a Hardcore gamer.


I believe it is more important to just BECOME your character-thus you care for him rather than just relate to him-as an obesse kid with glassess is not going to see anything of himself in a SAS swat team recruit-that's more like escapism.

Of course, custom behaviour for characters would be a good option for people who would like to see a little bit of themselves in the game/a different body.



Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Anonymous Poster
For me, the character can become me independent of first person view (Half-Life)and third-person view (GTA3, Blade of Darkness, Chrono Trigger). One important thing for immersion seems to be that the character needs to be silent at all times. GTA VC's character didn't feel so "me" as did the GTA 3 one (I still liked GTA VC much better; Immersion wasn't really my main interest). But purpose is also important. The character should be allowed to do what I, the player, would want to do in that situation. Quake, Quake 2 had pretty much zero immersion because I was just blasting myself through hordes of aliens without any meaning. Same applies to HL2, in which I think the routes given for the player were illogical and not the flow I'd expect. Also HL1's immersion broke when I had to go to Xen. At that point I thought, "I don't want to", but the game gave me no other choice. All of a sudden I was controlling some stupid action hero who wasn't me.

So, these two points I consider most important for immersion:
1) Mute character. I don't want him/her talking about something I don't want them to do, nor make conclusions I haven't done myself.
2) Be able to do what you'd want to do, not what the character wants to do. This does not mean the game needs to allow you to do everything. The game needs to be constructed in such a way that 99% of players only want to do that one/two things the game allows them to do. Like in the beginning of HL1, everyone wants to get out of the lab complex, simply survive.

Also: I hate it in RPGs if they force you to play other characters than the main one. No idea why they add such features to games.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Anonymous Poster
Ok, the character need not be mute if the player is given a sufficiently comprehensive list of choices (which may often be just "yes" and "no").

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Remember the lession Ultima gave us, kids... why ask "What is your job?" when all you need to do is put a subject 'Job' to be clicked? After all... maybe you really wanna ask is "WTF do you do with your life?"

If you notice, the answers the NPCs serve lots of different possible answers...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I don't think anyone mentioned customising the character to imitate their real life appearance. I personally did not mean it that way, and was instead referring to adjusting the name, class, attributes, skills etc. so that the character is as close as possible to the one I want to roleplay.

In games like Diablo, one sorcerer is much like another, whereas in those like Daggerfall, you can adjust almost every aspect so that even if you're playing a character of the same class as someone else, they will not have exactly the same strengths and weaknesses.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

Sign in to follow this