Over at pj’s attic (Man Bytes Blog), they run a monthly roundtable on some aspect of gaming. Various bloggers take the topic and write about it, including links to the other participants. This month the subject is “character flaws”.

Seamus Young of twenty-sided has an interesting post on this in regard to Jade Empire (note: heavy spoilers; if you haven’t played JE, and expect to, don’t read the article).

The point there, which actually stretches back to the 8-bit days, is the mindset we acquire from playing so many CRPGs. We’re so used to how these games are designed, we tend go through them by rote, without considering the circumstances or possible results.

I recall from one of the D&D games (can’t recall the title), the party was out in the wilderness and came across a kid who lost his dog. The “kid” turned out to be a demon, and the pooch was actually a hellhound.

That had no real impact on the game. The demon didn’t attack us, it had nothing to do with the main line. It was just an odd little encounter, thrown in, no doubt, as a change of pace. And there wasn’t, if I remember rightly, any way of knowing the boy was something else.

But we’re so used to doing these errands that we take them for granted, take them at face value, and never stop to think about them. Like, what’s this kid doing out here all alone in a monster-infested wilderness? We just see: another little job to be done for experience points.

There was something similar the first time I played Avernum 5. We arrived at Highground, and they wanted me to find Muck’s cache. I then broke my own rule of “no exploring ’til later”, found the cache, cleared it out, and got my reward. It wasn’t until the party reached Muck that I learned the place wasn’t as described by Highground, and that – in my view – I’d helped the wrong side.

That incident had no special impact, either. But it stung that I’d fallen into the trap, especially so late in the game when I should have known better and stuck to my “no exploring” rule.

So in one respect, all the characters we play are flawed, because we bring our own flaws, our own mindsets, with us into the game. Of course, there is also playing a deliberately-flawed character.

We could call this the “Vagabond approach”. Regular readers know Vag has stated more than once he prefers to run “interesting” characters, at least so far as the game permits. His most recent examples are mentioned in his comments on Are We What We Play?.

That style can be satisfying on a personal level, but what effect, if any, will that have in the game? Because we always come back to the story, and the matter of role-playing a character.

Flawed characters in fiction are said to be more interesting because they seem more “human” than “the perfect hero”. However, the flaws are integral to the story, part of which is seeing how the character overcomes those flaws to achieve victory (or success) at the end (except in film noir, where no one wins).

Trying to pull this off in a computer game is extraordinarily difficult. No designer can tell how any particular player may choose to RP his or her character, and there is no way to accomodate everyone. That’s if the designers even consider someone might want to play this way (exception: the occasional “sand-box style” game, such as we have in the Elder Scrolls series; story, however, is not their strong point).

To get around that, we have instead “moral choices” – usually of the good/neutral/evil type – which is the closest substitute possible for playing a flawed character. Presuming, of course, we want to play one.

Do we? I already bring enough flaws of my own (more than mentioned above) into any character. And as I wrote in I Gotta Be Me, all characters I play must have something of me in them, as regards their actions in a game. For me, that’s plenty.