There’s an interview with Ken “Bioshock” Levine over at Next-Gen. In one part of it, he talks about “motivation”, the idea that people don’t wake up in the morning and decide to be heroic.

Well, that’s the real world. In fantasy worlds, it may be a little different. For one thing, most RPGs (and shooters, for that matter) are designed around the premise that the hero is going to save the world, again.

Even when a game allows one to be “evil”, we still end up knocking off Foozle at the finale. Once in awhile, there’s a change of pace. Might & Magic VII, for example, allowed one to “go darkside” and obtain a different ending where the “bad guys” win.

Usually, though, good, evil, or neutral, we follow along and perform our heroic duty. The particular reason why is typically left up to us, the individual players.

Oh sure, sometimes we have “The Fiendish Hordes Of Ancient Evil Foozle wiped out your family, nay, your entire village!”, so we’re supposed to be motivated by the revenge motif. Ho hum.

Actually, though, by purchasing the game, we signify our acceptance of the heroic role. In that sense, we do wake up one morning and decide to be heroic.

Yet, Ken’s remarks are not without merit. Yesterday, in We Need People In RPGs, I discussed the plethora of cardboad NPCs in most games, and how dull interaction with them usually is.

The other side of that is the character we’re playing, which typically has little or no emotional involvement with anyone in the game. Stories, as I wrote, are about people struggling with difficult situations, and those aren’t “how do I get past this nasty boss?” or “how do I solve this lever puzzle?”.

It’s those interpersonal relationships that matter. And in that regard, the PC usually isn’t much better than the NPCs. In our heads, maybe, we have our own ideas, but those don’t come through in the game. There is no mechanism for it.

So if we need more believable NPCs, we also need, in a way, a more believable character of our own. Not one with a pre-genned “motive”, because that rarely works. Few of us like having such things stuffed down out throats.

And yet…I wonder. I’m sure that’s feasible, but would it really work? Or have too many of us been too well-trained in the “kill, loot, level” approach that such relationships would be viewed as boring? As getting in the way of the “gameplay”? Yes, I wonder about that…

Ken Levine Interview on Next-Gen