Why Don’t Characters Have Minds?

Posted: June 15, 2010 by Guy Shalev in Musings, Story
Tags: , ,

Behaviourism as I was taught it in Sociology classes seems a bit different from how Wikipedia puts it. Notably, as I understand and will discuss the issue, people may as well not have thoughts and feelings. All you can judge them by, all you can understand them by, is their behaviour, their utterances, their frowns. The behaviour they exhibit.

Now, while this may sound par the course for those of us who walk around the world, we cannot assume, according to behaviourism that there is a construct such as the “Mind” at work here. We treat “frown” as is not happy, and perhaps even the desire to transmit that idea. We treat laughter as approval, but we do not look at people as if they are having a thought regarding something being funny. There’s nothing beyond the laughter, and perhaps connecting it to what had preceded it. There’s no black box that finds things funny, sad… and if there is, it’s locked to us (and this is how it differs from the definition given by Wikipedia).

Now I’m going to ask you people to forget the above discussion – not literally, but if you have objections to it, then they are most likely not relevant, as I was covering what lead me to the thoughts I’ve had, for the most part.

As I seem to have said so once before regarding emotional connection, to characters, characters in roleplaying games seem devoid of “minds”. All we get to see are their actions, hear what they say, and we get to make up whatever story regarding what goes on inside their minds, or we can even ignore the whole question; what you see is what you get.

I find this quite different from normal human interaction, where we seem to always be attempting to gauge what people are thinking through their reactions. It is the black box which we are attempting to piece.

I think games should have more moments to explore what characters feel and think, even if it were in the form of monologues like soap operas. The closest we’ve got is I think in inSpectres’ confessionals, though those are more akin to the 40-something confessionals or those in Survivor (reality show), and as such are just as suspect as anything else said by the character. I think it’d be interesting to explore, share, and have the game informed by what occurs inside the characters’ heads.

As for “Deep roleplaying”, or immersion, it solves very little, seeing as even if we were to treat those characters as people, we still are not privy to what they think. For something that seeks to emulate stories, this is quite a lacuna.

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Comments
  1. There’s quite a lot more of these characters who doesn’t have minds back in the day. Link (Legend of Zelda), Crono (Chrono Trigger), Samus (Metroid), etc. doesn’t speak at all, even to other characters. Other characters just assumed they said something from their nods and head gestures. I do wish I know what’s happening in their minds as well, especially when they’re told he/she is the only one to deal with the enemies’ army. One vs a thousand… I’d like to know what’s going on in the character’s head when they’re told of this or when they’re facing them. Though in Link’s defense, I have to say he did have a much better interpretation of what’s going on in his mind in Wind Waker due to the more expressive “toony” face.

    • Guy says:

      In the old days? What about Half-Life 2? They at least make it slightly more amusing as other characters refer to how Gordon is “the quiet type”. We don’t hear him say a single thing.

      Seems in RPGs like Dragon Age: Origins they missed out on some options, where you get to give your character a voice, all the speech options are scripted, but you don’t hear your character say anything, and merely gesture. Their other game, Mass Effect, does have your characters say their lines, and if you choose the next option just in time, it even keeps speaking nearly seamlessly. Then again, you only have one male and one female voice there.

      The other option is the super-script, where your character, you know what it thinks, but since you don’t get to affect its choices at all, it’s just a character that you get to control in the action sequences. For instance, all the Final Fantasy games.

      Anyway, this post was more about traditional role-playing games, where people sit around a table and portray characters, and there, all you have is you inputting the character. Sure, you may know what your character thinks, but to the other players around the table, it just doesn’t happen. Which is a shame.

  2. Callan S. says:

    “As I seem to have said so once before regarding emotional connection, to characters, characters in roleplaying games seem devoid of “minds”. All we get to see are their actions, hear what they say, and we get to make up whatever story regarding what goes on inside their minds, or we can even ignore the whole question; what you see is what you get.

    I find this quite different from normal human interaction, where we seem to always be attempting to gauge what people are thinking through their reactions.”

    Hey, if the paladin is slitting the throats of the kobold children, I’m trying to guage what the hell his character is thinking (unless the players totally in play to win, in which case the character is mindless).

    But if the paladin is sitting in a pub choosing beer X rather than beer y, no, I’m not trying to figure out their mind. Though if I was with a real life person I might try and figure it out.

    Characters need to actually be doing something that stands out for people at the gaming table to try and figure them out (or atleast for me to figure them out – don’t other roleplayers try and figure characters?). I really don’t want to hear a monolog about the characters inner thoughts as he chooses his beer. And if he’s slitting the kobold childrens throats, well a monolog doesn’t even necessarily tell you what’s going on in his mind, it just tells you what he’s telling himself. He could lie to himself about why he does it, and as much as he’d lie to himself, the monolog would be BS. So I’m still not particularly interested in monologs, myself. He calls himself good, he slits the throats of children (who out of no choice of their own, were born in the ‘evil’ alignment axis…and since alignment seems to force people to do things, then it’s alignment that’s actually evil, if anything is. But now I’m getting into the example…)

    • Guy says:

      Well, I’ll begin with, why go from one extreme to another? Either behaviorism or monologues at all points?
      “I snarl at him” tells you what the character thinks, probably, or feels. But we always have a black box, I think if the player added something, especially surprising, it might add depth.
      “My character snarls at him, he is offended, not because his father was insulted, but because he had said the same thing to his father before.”

      Now, in real life, we usually go through behaviourism, or ask the other person. In RPGs, asking someone why they did something seems to be much rarer. On the other hand, I’m not comparing roleplaying just to real life, but to how stories are told. Why settle for less?
      As for it possibly being a lie told to oneself:
      1. This could be even more revealing, if we all know the character is lying to itself.
      2. People lie to themselves all the time, and yet they make it true by believing in it. Well, when you think of your “reasons” or “feelings”, it often holds. Even so, it’s still what the character is thinking.

  3. Callan S. says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever asked why someone snarled in real life, certainly not at the very moment.

    “1. This could be even more revealing, if we all know the character is lying to itself.”
    Then it wouldn’t be a character monolog, but the author himself telling you that the character is lying to himself, directly.

    I think some extra detail from the author/player of the character could fill out an action, but I’m really not sure about explaining the entirety of why he snarled – that’s telling everyone what to think on the matter, rather than letting them judge events for themselves and they decide what they think. Assuming they are interested in figuring it out (ie, agenda stuff)

    “2. People lie to themselves all the time, and yet they make it true by believing in it. Well, when you think of your “reasons” or “feelings”, it often holds. Even so, it’s still what the character is thinking.”
    It’ll have to come down to deeds for anything to come true, not just words or thoughts.

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