Archive for the ‘Story’ Category

Why Don’t Characters Have Minds?

Posted: June 15, 2010 by Guy Shalev in Musings, Story
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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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In a way, I am not entirely happy about what I am discussing, but this might be because of my position on mechanics, and the ability to carry settings rather more easily than other things.

Settings sell, and the colour of games sell. The opposite also holds true, because we use the game’s setting and colour to decide if we are to buy the game, quite often. As I’ve told elsewhere, I was initially not sold on Tony Lower-Basch’s capes, because I shy away from superhero games, and it was billed as a superhero game. I purchased it once I’ve been convinced I could take from it what I wanted without dabbling in supers.

There is obviously the movement within story games to tie colour, or at least theme, to the mechanics, so you should be able to pick a setting and find mechanics that support it, or pick a set of mechanics and find a setting that encourages them and the kind of story you wish to tell. But you can see how much it is not so with how many hacks many games receive, and even if the games retain their theme, the colour (sci-fi as opposed to a WW2 story) can often be quite painlessly switched.

I wonder if a part of the issue comes from when many games were more or less identical, and the only thing to separate them, and even their themes, were settings. Even if the mechanics are the same, it’s not always the same kind of story. Heck, why go to “similar systems” when we can remain within the same one? Ravenloft and Forgotten Realms give rise, or enable different stories. Different World of Darkness games give rise to different themes, even if their mechanics are often similar enough (or let’s look at games of Technocracy and Traditions, Kindred of the East and Vampire: the Dark Ages if we’re going to be sticklers). Settings are what we had to differentiate games, so we chose by settings.

But I don’t think it’s that simple. While the metaplot in the oWoD was quite good at polarizing the player-base, if you liked it, then there was nothing like it to suck you in. It sucked me in. Even if the system was not always to my liking, I’d really enjoy thinking of the world that had been created.

And if the system was not to my liking, it’s not like I couldn’t just replace the system. For you see, there wasn’t a place as much as in the oWoD where people told me they played the game while without blinking an eye told me they didn’t roll dice, at all. For the setting is considered the game.

If you’re not a system-geek, and even if you are, settings and colour are really important at whether you’ll buy a game or not. This is the allure of licensed settings, this is why generic systems create several setting worlds.

It works. It sells.

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