Today Gamasutra has an article up by Ben Schneider on building a better player character. He isn’t, of course, talking about stats or min/max.

The focus is on developing a memorable persona, beyond the ability to kill critters, gain “phat lewt”, and save the world. Most games don’t have much more than that, even with a storyline present.

This is something we’ve looked at before, and discussed how role-playing is illusionary in ROLE Playing? and ROLE Playing? Part 2, and the related What’s The Story?.

Many also commented that they don’t actually feel the characters they play are alter egos, and have a somewhat impersonal approach to manipulating those characters through the game.

Schneider is looking at ways of involving the player with the character through story. In fact, a character who already (by way of the designers) has some sort of history in game terms. It needn’t be a totally pre-created character.

He mentions Fallout as a good example, and he’s right. That game presents you with a ready-made background. There’s no mystery about your previous life or where you come from. Yet, once you step outside to find that waterchip, the character is all yours to build.

This is what he calls “the everyman” approach: the ordinary person sucked into an epic saga, “rising to the challenge to become great”. In this way, the character grows and develops.

Then we have the “action hero”, the person who is out there looking for a fight. For that character, the path to development (according to Schneider) is either coming to terms with an opponent you can’t overcome with your skills, or one who is just too over-powered for you.

The question is: does this really work? For one thing, we, as players, know we’re going to be up against something nasty. I sure didn’t feel like an “everyman” (or woman) coming out of Vault 13.

What got me caught up in the game was the story. Same thing with Planescape: Torment. Great story, something I’d have enjoyed more as a novel, though, because I didn’t like Nameless. Or rather, being Nameless.

That’s not to say a character shouldn’t develop along moral or spiritual lines. That can be interesting, if (here we are again) the story is well-written. Memorable? I have my doubts, unless the character comes totally pre-created for you (something I dislike intensely). I think it’s the story we recall as memorable more than the characters we play, for the most part.

Check out the article and see what you think.

Building a Better Player Character on Gamasutra