Monday, October 28, 2002

GAME WISH #19: HEART CHARACTERS

Ginger's Game WISH #19 asks about what leanings one's roleplaying may display:

Today's question is about your heart character. The heart character rests on the idea that over the course of a gaming career, players would revisit certain themes that were important to them for some reason, and that one or two characters in particular would embody those themes or ideas. Whatever it was about the heart character(s) would draw the player back to those themes.

Do you have a heart character? More than one? If so, what makes that character a heart character? If you don't have one, do you think there are themes you revisit with your characters? Or do you think this entire theory is full of it, and if you do, why?


I don't think the theory is full of it, but I think I would describe it in a different way. Or, rather, I'm going to talk about it in a different framework, but it could very well be that my framework and Ginger's paradigm are homologous. I haven't really examined the question closely enough to say for sure. Maybe after I've written this, I'll know better.

An earlier Game WISH question, which owing to the whimsies of timing I haven't yet gotten around to answering, asks about the process by which one invents a new character. For me, a crucial early step is an exercise in answering the following questions:

1. What parts of you do you like enough to retain? call this column A.
2. What parts of you would you like to change? call this column B.
3. Rummaging through these two lists, what combination of items from both column A and B could lead to fun roleplay?

Creating a new character is a balancing act. On the one hand, I don't want to play myself. I play myself on a daily basis, and sometimes it gets boring. I want to play somebody who differs from myself, hopefully in an interesting way. On the other hand, I don't want to play somebody completely different from myself. I would have trouble getting inside a role that was 180 degrees rotated from my viewpoint. What I like to do is sort of start with myself as a beginning template and then make alterations. The alterations tend to be fairly gross, so I rarely wind up playing, say, Andy in a dress. I change a lot of stuff as a general rule. However, there are always elements of me remaining in the character, such that I still feel like I have something of a handle on how that person operates.

The goal is to come up with interesting variations on what changes and what doesn't. For example: I'm fairly organized in thought but fairly disorganized in environment. I tend to argue things in an anal, logical manner, yet my notetaking skills are atrocious and my office is a pit. So, it might be interesting to see what a character would be like who is organized in every way. Would such a person be more or less effective? more or less persnickety in their reactions to other people? Would such a person drive me crazy? Another example: I'm a pacifist, yet I have a very bad temper. What if I played a pacifist who has no anger? (I've played a non-pacifistic, psychotic me fairly extensively during my teen years, thank you, and I don't think I need to do that any more.) I consider creating a character to be something of a personal exploration, and I'd rather explore stuff that presents interesting challenges in understanding.

Okay, so I keep parts of me and dump other parts. The thing is, I like parts of me. I like some parts quite a lot. I like them enough that I don't really want to dispense with them, even if I have an option to do so. For instance, I would rather plan than not plan. I don't particularly want to play a character who doesn't plan. I think I would be frustrated by a character who just did the first thing that came to mind, and damn the torpedoes. So, invariably, there are certain aspects of me that aren't generally changed when I make a character.

This leads, I think, to something of an intersection with Ginger's conception of a 'heart character'. The set of my characteristics that remains largely constant might be seen as my 'heart character'. Now, are there a set of characteristics that I don't have, yet always are incorporated into my PC's? I don't believe so. I don't think that invalidates the equivalency with the heart character concept, though.

Listing some core concepts of me that I almost always retain in my characters:

A. I make plans. Sometimes the plans are workable. Sometimes the plans are unworkable. Sometimes the plans are so complex that nobody wants to put them into effect, working off the assumption that the fancier a plan is, the easier it will be for sneaky bastard DM's to break it. It doesn't matter whether anybody likes my plans, I make them anyway. I'm always coming up with watch schedules and marching orders. Whenever my group is presented with a challenge, it's a fair bet that I will eventually propose "Can we spoof [x] in order to circumvent this problem entirely?" The actual process of spoofing [x] may be impossible, but I'm thinking about it.

B. I try to have fun. I'm just not a grim person. I like to make jokes and horse around. In real life, when I'm presented with a bad situation, I try to roll with it and see things in a good light. My characters try to do the same.

C. I find a peer group and stick to them. I'm a very introverted person, but I don't always play introverts -- sometimes I play people who can walk up to complete strangers and be talking with them about personal matters in moments, because that's not me and I am curious about how that works. But I always retain the inherent loyalty-to-friends that being an introvert has taught me -- if you aren't good at making new chums, you stick close to the ones you have. I generally play very loyal characters; even when I'm playing in a game where there is an element of intra-party suspicion, my little games are largely intended to be able to react well in the event that *you* go all funny on *me*.

D. I try to correct injustice. I grew up, I must admit, a fairly dishonest person. I had a kind of epiphany while in college, and nowadays I try to live my life as honestly as I can -- especially since I have children now who are watching. I just absolutely can't stand it when people cheat the system and don't get what's coming. My characters always follow along that same path; even the ones who are basically amoral wind up having a 'soft spot' when it comes to people who are getting screwed. On the other hand, the degree to which my characters allow the world to see their morality varies wildly.

So, I guess that's my heart character: a fun-loving, basically do-gooding planner who loves his friends. Which is really me, minus the stuff that I don't like or don't mind dispensing with.