Player characters and player avatars in roleplaying games

Via Rock, Paper, Shotgun I found this on characters of roleplaying games (RPGs): RPG Style: Analyzing the Structure of RPG Protagonists.

A player character:

For as much as a role-playing game Human Revolution is, it’s difficult to truly play it as a role-playing game. Every bit of dialogue that grates with my ideal is jarring, and snaps me back out of the magical game-world where player and character are the same. I found myself dreading dialogue options: Would choosing this option make Jensen look like some faceless arm of a crime syndicate instead of a person who merely weighs options to find the most logical one? Should I find a bag of puppies for him to oppress?

The problem is that Jensen is not me. He can’t be the character I envision in my head, no matter how much I try. He is his own character, an entity wholly separate from me. I am just the invisible hand telling him which baddies to shoot and what to say in conversation.

as opposed to a player avatar:

I’ve played an uncomfortable amount of Skyrim. My character, a Khajiit shadowmage, was my companion throughout the fifty-so hours of trekking through Skyrim’s frozen tundras. But without me, the character is meaningless. He’s only tangentially related to the plot, and that’s only because the player is the most important person in the game. He can’t exist outside of my influence, he has no personality, no skills besides what I’ve chosen. I am him and he is I. That’s as simple as it gets.

This is the idea of a player avatar.

The player avatar is nothing without the player. Without you, the avatar cannot exist. The avatar works in a narrative sense by allowing you to insert yourself in the story of the game without breaking the flow.

(Links to the articles at Wikipedia added by myself).

The blog post is worth reading in full (provided you are interested in RPGs at all, that is).

15 thoughts on “Player characters and player avatars in roleplaying games”

  1. The last time I paid attention to this stuff was about 30 years ago, and the game was played entirely with paper, pencils, a hexagon map, cardboard counters, and dice. But when you were into it, you really were on an adventure, but it all occurred in the imagination.

  2. Deus Ex is not really an RPG. The series is what I call an RPS, a Role Playing Shooter. Stalker, perhaps the best video game ever made, is an RPS.

    An RPS has no or limited role creation, you play the main character pretty well as he or she exists with minor personal customization at best. You do get to do pretty well what you want in an RPS though as opposed to the very popular online fighting games’, a whole other thing, single player campaigns where you have little choice as to direction and action. The game will accommodate your course of action with an engine that reacts to your input in a useful manner. There are various ways of doing this and the method used to a great extent defines the game.

    An RPG allows character customization to much greater extent. Skyrim is a good example although some people claim it’s too simplified as compared to the old classics. Some things never change. It has 10 races with characteristics from small light and fast to heavy slower and tough. These are two non human type races, a cat people and a lizard people. There are 18 basic skills and three main attributes. You can spend a long time fooling with appearance and you have a wide choice of apparel from very plain to demoniac. It’s a pretty open game.

    In the article it states, wrongly: “The game cannot account for every single one of your actions through speech and dialogue, and the game can’t account for the chaotic nature of people.”

    It can account for every single one of your actions through speech and dialogue … easily. Skyrim counts all your physical actions too and you gain experience points through actions and your character’s interaction with the entire world. You want to level up your heavy armor, go out and use it, getting hit is, apart from paying for training, the only way.

    As for the “chaotic nature of people” … video games do not reward random and erratic input.

  3. Lex:

    The last time I paid attention to this stuff was about 30 years ago, and the game was played entirely with paper, pencils, a hexagon map, cardboard counters, and dice. But when you were into it, you really were on an adventure, but it all occurred in the imagination.

    You are referring to Dungeon and Dragons? I never played the pen-and-paper version, just the Baldur’s Gate games for the PC. I never found a circle of like-mined friends to play with (although I played the cardboard strategy games from Avalon Hill with some avid fans of same; RPGs are descended from those kind of strategy games).

  4. PenGun,

    I’d say that Half Life 1 and 2 are just as much RPS games as Deus Ex and Stalker. Gordon Freeman is kind of bland as a charcter, if you get right down to it.

    I haven’t played Skyrim myself so far, or for that matter Oblivion. From among the Elder Scroll games I only played Morrowind, but that extensively. From what I heard and read, Oblivion is kind of dumbed down by comparison, while Skyrim is at the very least less of a open world / sandbox game than Morrowind. Of course, Morrowind has its faults, too, such as the way the game world levelled up at the same rate as you did. If you leveled up the ability to run faster or jump farther while neglecting strength or fighting ability, the enemies you met would simply crush you. There is a mod to fix that, although I never installed it. Before I play Skyrim, I’ll have to get a faster computer; even then I’ll probably install Morrowind first, and apply the mod I mentioned as well as the one that allows you to play the game with Oblivion’s graphics.

    I haven’t actually responded to your points on actual character development, but I’ll do so tomorrow, for I am out of time.

  5. Ralf I was blessed with a circle of friends to play with. We used a game which was a competitor of D&D called The Fantasy Trip, a/k/a TFT. I also played the hex map military games, though I and my few interested friends played the games from SPI, not from Avalon Hill. Panzergruppe Guderian was a favorite, as was Firefight, which simulated the Soviet blitz into Germany during the Cold War.

  6. There was a snob element to playing SPI games. They liked to say they were “simulations” not games, and that they had a lot more historical accuracy than the Avalon Hill games. SPI was started by James Dunnigan, who went on to run StrategyPage. They had a magazine that had a game in each issue. Sometimes the games in the magazine would use the combat system from preexisting games. Avalon HIll was the clear market leader, however. The only Avalon Hill game I played was Panzer Blitz, and Panzer Leader, which was the same thing except it was Allied rather than Soviet Tanks. Those games were popular in their day.

  7. I played Panzer Blitz mostly in the hex world. A very fine game, the best of that lot I think, although the western version Panzer Leader was pretty good too.

    Anyone ever play Diplomacy? A wicked multiplayer board game which focused on diplomacy at the turn of the 19th century. A game of deceit and betrayal. One of the nastiest games ever made I think. ;)

    The good video games are a whole other world though. You can suspend disbelief quite easily in many of them and the immersion is unparallelled. I have spent enough time playing, even some competitive stuff back in the day, that my chops are completely transparent. I do not have to think at all about movement and combat, just tactics. My daughter is a monster player but that’s another story.

  8. I grew up playing AH games (picked up 1776 during the bicentennial for my 14th birthday, got hooked). My favorite was probably the Civil War (released under Victory Games). There were also some fine games out of Australia (ADG) including World in Flames (WWII) and Empires in Arms (Napoleanic). I generally preferred strategic level games to tactical (PanzerBlitz). Diplomacy was a great game to play by mail, since the map and piece count were small and the combat simple. Still have 30 or so in the basement, but haven’t played seriously in a long time.

    The main problem with the big strategy games is time (we occasionally managed to finish World in Flames in a weekend with a full cast of players, starting on Friday night, and a minimum of sleep). Civil War was great though because it was only 2 players, had a good back and forth play system so you didn’t wait half an hour for you opponent to move all his pieces, and had enough balance that the Southern player could generally string the game out and keep it close until the end.

    It was a great hobby for a game addict and history buff.

  9. I only ever play the games by AH that were kind of small-scale, such as IDF that kind of simulated the Israeli-Arab wars of the 60s and 70s. They were tactical rather than strategic, and you could play in one evening, or sometimes an hour or less.

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