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Immersion: the Player vs the Character

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I have been thinking about a fundamental dilemma in computer role-playing games, but one that rarely gets addressed. The problem is this: In the interests of an immersive game-world, how much control over a character should be given to the player? If we want to provide suspension of disbelief and good storytelling, is it feasible to give the player ultimate control? Here''s a scenario: The player has chosen Beren the just, a paladin type character as his avatar. His first mission is to see the king to recieve an important quest, which he does. Afterwards, however, the player decides to take a stroll around the castle. He opens doors to rooms that aren''t locked, and searches some chests and barrels (as any gameplayer worth their salt would). There is a maiden in one of these rooms, who protests about Beren intruding. The player approaches the maiden and tries a number of game commands on her ("push", "examine", "use"). The player is rewarded with some humourous lines such as "how dare you!" and "you filthy pig!". After a while, the player gets bored and wanders back into the main hall. The guards wont let him leave yet, however (because he has not visited the master of arms and recieved the sword of dragon slaying). The player becomes impatient and attacks the guards for fun. Other guards arrive and the player runs away, leading the guards on a wild goose chase around the main hall, while the king sits unmoving on his throne. IS THIS IN ANY WAY THE BEHAVIOUR OF A PALADIN? No, of course not. But it''s FUN, right? This is the crux of the issue. It''s NOVELTY vs INTERNAL CONSISTENCY. Unfortunately, in single player "role-playing" games the avenues for real roleplay are actually very limited. We are not rewarded for roleplay as we are in Pen-and-Paper or to a lesser extent MMORPG''s. Instead, in it''s place we have novelty. The more detailed and responsive the game world is, the more novelty-seeking behaviour will be encouraged. In this type of environment, the player naturally wants to test the boundaries, and to push them. The first time I played Deus Ex, as I was recieving the first briefing speech I noticed I could pick up a plant. So, while I was supposed to be getting important information, I ended up running around, jumping on desks and pushing and throwing chairs, plants, and ashtrays. The game proceeded with no penalty for this crazy behaviour, and now my mental image of J.C. Denton in an otherwise serious game includes this "episode". Now, If I''m playing a pen-and-paper game, I don''t constantly bombard the GM with statements like "I pick up the barstool and throw it at the barkeep, then I fondle all the barmaids, then a grab a pitcher of ale and go dump it on the head of the captain of the night watch". Well, ok, maybe sometimes, but generally the fun comes from roleplaying your character realistically, or in a manner consistent with the game world. The more imaginative you can be in becoming a character, the more you and those with you will become immersed and enjoy yourselves. This is almost impossible to replicate in a single player CRPG, especially where there is the option of saving/reloading. This entirely removes consequences from actions and encourages experimentation for the sake of it, no matter how inconsistent it may be in terms of the game-world. Slaughter villagers for fun, reload. Jump off a cliff to see what happens, reload. Try and steal from the merchant, reload. Why does this all matter? I would argue that it breaks suspension of disbelief, reduces immersion, and discourages true roleplaying. Please understand that I''m not arguing against good old FUN. What I''m proposing is that in a rich enough game environment, the players options should be tailored to what would be reasonable for the type of character they are playing. The character would actually be partially autonomous, and would simply refuse to do certain things. For example, a Paladin would not attack innocent villagers, or go on a panty raid of a maiden''s room. You as the player would be limited to the actions reasonable to your character. I really believe this would be FOR THE GOOD OF THE EXPERIENCE. I imagine many of you may be up in arms at this point, saying "How dare you take away my freedom, I want to be able to do what I want whenever I want, thats immersion". From a certain point of view yes, I agree with you. I have been using a rigid archetype as my example, a Paladin. You might say "Don''t force me to play a Paladin by the books, I want to add spice, he''s a really a delusional Paladin". Thats fine, let the player take the delusional Paladin then and go with it, roleplaying it for all its worth. Derive your enjoyment from that rather than from trying out everything you can just because you''re bored and you just saved the game and want to see what you can get away with. Also remember that you have to accept all the downfalls of the choice as well, i.e. the character just suddenly cannot revert to perfectly normal because its advantageous to you, the player. (Whew!) Here is my question: How many of you would like a system as described here, given that the game has a rich enough environment and good opportunity for roleplaying? That is, you are limited to playing consistently the type character you choose. As well, throw in a theoretical saving system where your actions are permanent and you have to take responsibility for your actions and their consequences. Want to see what its like to kill the villagers? You have to play an evil soldier then, sent to raze a city. ***This is as opposed to an entirely freeform game, where you can go anywhere engage in any type of behaviour.*** In my opinion, executed correctly you will have a better experience roleplaying a character believably within the game world. As I said earlier, it just seems to make for better story flow and immersion, and I think gives a greater focus for the players actions. The trick is not to make the characters limitations an obstacle to the players expressiveness, causing frustration. What do YOU think?

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Couldn''t agree more with you. Roleplaying tabletop and roleplaying computer games are two different worlds.

I''m at the point where I''m accepting that roleplaying and computer won''t go hand in hand for a few more years (decades?).

I really don''t know any good solutions of how to get a player to roleplay... I give up

If there''s ONE setting that MIGHT create some sort of roleplaying experience, I think it would have to be a virtual world where EVERYthing is so completely different from life as we know it that the designer can create the entire world to fit his wishes (in other words: create the world to enforce roleplaying). Think of Tron etc. I still don''t have an idea what form this roleplaying would take, but I think we have to move away from the idea of ever (soon) implementing a roleplay experience into our fantasy worlds.

Woohoo... I''m on day 4 on my C++ in 21 days course. %Another two weeks and I''ll be a master programmer!%

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So what do you guys want? Jiminy bleepin'' Cricket tagging along behind every player going "Oh no no.. good little wooden boys don''t do that.."?

I can tell you have had positive paper-game experience and I wish for everyone''s sake that it was the only way to play, but think of it realistically, from the noun "game" and the adjective "roleplaying".

A Game is not Reality, by definition. Roleplaying is nothing more than acting Not Like You. Maybe you choose Beren the Just because you want to be the sallied paladin fallen from grace?

I mean, if Shrek were real, would he be any less of an Ogre just because he''s NICE? C''mon.

In paper games, the roleplaying also falls to interpersonal courtesy. You generally respect the wishes and decisions of the GM or other players, because if you don''t, they''re gonna throw their snacks at you, being that they are sitting at the same table. Personally my groups that I played with ALWAYS had some damn rules-geek who argued those decisions without fail. I''d swear if the dice didn''t have dots, he''d always roll a 20. Ever play with people like that? you kicked them out, right? Where do you think they went? I''ll tell you, just read on.

In electronic roleplaying, all bets are off. There will at times be players with NO respect for the character class, NO respect for the world or it''s objects, and probably could care about capturing the flag as much as shooting up the cathedral. Your bad boys, your rules geeks, and other generally misanthropic gamers are going to collect where they can have the most FUN, storyline be damned.

You could provide some kind of Guidance Fairy, or Conscience modifier, or Do-Gooder stat, or Deviant attribute. There''s any number of things that you could TRY to do to enforce the roleplaying, but the problem is not the game nor the gaming system. It''s the gamer.

Please don''t misunderstand, I DESPERATELY wish you could do something like this, but realistically who would want to be Pinnochio?

--------------
-WarMage
...r-e-s-p-e-c-t, build it in a game for me! r-e-s-p-e-c-t, keep kids off the street! (sock-it-to-me-sock-it-to-me-sock-it-to-me..)

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Unfortunately, while I like the sentiment, I think this will always be a bad idea.

Here''s why: The interface between player and computer is mostly one way and totally incomplete. Cutting out experimentation and restoring for the sake of internal consistency runs afoul of the fact that the player can''t always interact with the game the same way he can interact with a GM. In a tabletop RPG I can ask the GM, "does my status protect me from this law?" or "does it look like I can take this guy?"

In a cRPG, you often don''t know until you try. If you penalize players by keeping a record even if they save, then you''re going to get either very meek players or very annoyed players. A good example is the first Baldur''s Gate, which made traps harder if you restored after being wounded by them. Not good.

Players playing in character is partly an individual discipline issue. But interface and welll hidden, integrated limitations can help. Your briefing situation in Deus Ex could be fixed, for example, by freezing the character in place and going 3rd person cinematic like in Voyager: Elite Force or No One Lives Forever.

There are some actions, though, that aren''t that easily fixed. Attacking an NPC team-mate is a good one. Here I''d argue for clever and serious penalties that are known and well understood beforehand! Hostages in Counter-Strike are a perfect example: The penalty for killing them and reward for rescue or non-rescue are mechanics that actually reinforce role-playing of a sort. The result is good guys trying not to hit the poor innocents, and bad guys cowardly using them as human shields.

I''d argue that not restricting freedoms or adding known results beforehand in many cases confuses the player. They think, "well, this action is allowable, let''s see where it goes."




--------------------
Just waiting for the mothership...

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quote:
Original post by WarMage
So what do you guys want? Jiminy bleepin'' Cricket tagging along behind every player going "Oh no no.. good little wooden boys don''t do that.."?



A horribly implemented real example of this can be found in the game Requiem. Your character, a gun toting angel in a futuristic world, constantly says stuff like "I''d better not do that here" if you try to use magick in certain civilized areas. The maddening thing was that it''d kick in before you were sure that you were in civilized space (as they lived in ruins and sewers and stuff). So I''d be walking around hearing this and thinking, "why the hell not?!?!?!?!" Very annoying.




--------------------
Just waiting for the mothership...

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Well, if the character is a pladin, and you really don''t want him to do things as in the example, you can always not let him. If that''s not an option, well, if they do something bad, take away his paladinhood status. If the internal consistancy is really important, then enforce it.

I''m not quite sure what the dilemma is. If someone wants to roleplay, let them, if not not. If you want to try to enforce roleplay, don''t reward for out of character situations.

In the Deus Ex example, what would have been an apropriate penalty or reaction? In actuality, something small, maybe "Hey, pay attention!" Simply a small reaction to your action.

Rather than limit a character''s actions to the set that''s proper to them, maybe a better idea is to have logical consiquences for those actions. A paladin wouldn''t burn villages down under normal circumstances, true, but it''s perfectly in character for a black knight.

So, on to the question, would I enjoy a game where I got to pick one character, and from there on out the responses were tailored to the character. It depends on how well the options and story was set out.

However, is it roleplaying if I don''t get to determine the nature of the interactions? At that point, in my mind, it becomes more of a drama, a play if you will, to see what developments happen around the character that we picked to watch. It''d simply be a matter of if the star is a paladin, or a thief.

I have problems with games offering a false choice. I''d rather have no choice, and play along, rather than a series of meaningless choices. Ie, my paladin reaches the village and can choose from: 1. Save the village 2. Save the village happily 3. Save the village as soon as I''m done saving the princess. In reality it doesn''t really matter what button I hit, as the outcome is allready predetermined.

In the end, it comes down to "What is your game about?"
If the point of your game is to tell a good story with a singular outcome, then stick with a single character type. If it''s about freedom and exploration, then allow the player to build their character type through gameplay.

In my personal opinion though, I don''t see the worth in designing the same situation over multiple times for multiple character types. I think that if you''re trying to tell a consistant story, your actions could be better placed. And if you''re trying to design a game with the freedom to play a large number of different characters, there are better ways to go about it.

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That''s exactly why gameplay needs to be designed to generate player behaviour. In the Deus Ex example, making plants unmoveable would be the easy way out, and generating negative reactions like characters saying "J.C. Denton''s a maniac" and withholding information or other penalties (similar to the reactions you got from characters from being violent or not violent for example.) In extreme characters they could put you in jail or fire you (hence ending the game.)

Anyway, if designers don''t want players to act stupid in their games, they need to have a system that deals with it (usually rewards\punishments work the best in any game.)

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*DashZero roleplays his favorite half-orc*

Mmmmmmmmmm - You ask what me think!!?? Me no think!! Me steal from Raph!!! Heheheheh...

(http://www.legendmud.org/raph/gaming/index.html)

"Koster''s Law (Mike Sellers was actually the one to dub it thus)
The quality of roleplaying is inversely proportional to the number of people playing.

Hyrup''s Counter-observation
The higher the fee, the better the roleplayers. (And of course, the smaller the playerbase.)

Enforcing roleplaying
A roleplay-mandated world is essentially going to have to be a fascist state. Whether or not this accords with your goals in making such a world is a decision you yourself will have to make."

*DashZero steps Out Of Character (OOC)*

There is no such thing as a CRPG. Not in any true sense like you are hoping for. Secondly, limiting what the player can do will get you bad reviews. You let the player do whatever they want. If all they want to do is rearrange the flowers in the mission assignment room, look ''em square in the eye and say, "Thank you for buying my game".

Dash Zero
Credits: Fast Attack - Software Sorcery - Published by Sierra 1996

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Taking the Requiem ''angel'' idea one step further (hopefull a good step)...

What if, depending on your actions, different ''angels'' will accompany you? IF you choose to do the ''right'' thing the entire time, your angel will be a righteous one, if you choose to do the ''bad'' thing, you''ll have an evil little angel on your side, complimenting your every kill etc.

What if different angels can grant you different powers?

Back to the paladin idea...

To encourage consistent roleplaying (to me, roleplaying is all about consistency, even though it''s hard to transfer roleplaying to the computer, you can at least try to make the player make consistent actions), the paladin could have an entity living inside of him that enpowers him. When the entity doesn''t agree with the actions of the paladin, the entity will leave him. Another entity might join the paladin (depending on his actions).

Example:

Paladin helps out the poor and weak (saves villages from monsters, gives money to the poor) and a nice entity enters his body, aiding him some defensive powers. The longer the player stays ''in character'' (that is, the longer he keeps playing the nice paladin), the longer the entity will be with him and the more defensive power it might give. But, if the paladin starts to roam castles, disturbing people in their rooms, maybe even touching fair maidens against their will, the entity would leave, leaving the paladin weakened (without the defensive powers he''s learned to depend on).

If Rowen the Rogue keeps finding his way into locked houses, a mischievous entity might join him on his adventures, aiding him the power of improved stealth. But if one day, during a break-in, the rogue has to kill the innocent victim (who awoke to a disturbance), the entity might decide that the fun of the adventures is offset by the feeling of guilt from the murder and leave.

If Goran the Fighter is always brave in battle, fighting off enemies without any regard for his own life, an entity might join him that aids him power in his arms. But if Goran turns and runs at the sight of 3 puny goblins, the entity might decide that Goran is not worth his stay and leave.

The entities would provide the player with somewhat of a motivation to make his character perform consistent actions. But, it wouldn''t keep players from just doing as they please (you can get by without the entities).

Just another silly idea.

Woohoo... I''m on day 4 on my C++ in 21 days course. %Another two weeks and I''ll be a master programmer!%

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WOW! Silvermyst that was a great idéa!!

I was just going to at something to this discussion. I don''t understad why your complaining at the "unreality" of Baldurs Gate. I think it''s great in the way of balancing good and evil!

For example the paladin, whenever you create a character i BG you can chose from a 6 or 8 (don''t remember exactly) scale from The Devils son to the right hand of God (actually the scale in BG says something like "Pure Good" "medium Good" "Pure Evil" blabla). But the paladin can only choose the 3 highest "Good", not neutral or any "Evil" in the scale. BUT! During the course of the game you _can_ commit "evil" acts and your scale will tip. To the point where you are transformed to "Fallen Paladin". If I''m not mistaking your power change too. Not to mention the reaction from the townsfolk!

I think BG did good in solving your problem! You can play the nice Paladin and everyone will praise you. Or you can go amok, and people will fear you!

It''s the player that is the paladin, not the other way around. So if the player wants to become a Fallen Paladin, who are you too argue? I know people that would like to join the Dark Forces in Star Wars, wheres I find it impossible NOT to join the Rebels! It''s a matter of character, and who are you to judge?

OK, I understand that you want a more linear story... But exploration shouldn''t be punished! If you _really_ want to limit things the character could go "no, I prefer not to do that to the poor maiden" on the first try, on the second try "Hmmm... no, I can''t!". If the player insists on a third try "well... it HAS been a long time... come here little girl! *hihi*". Maybe 3 tries are to much, but whatever you get the picture!

}+TITANIUM+{

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