After ending my last post on the question “Was the correct action for the character as he should or as I would?” in reference to Geralt having sex with Triss Merigold at the end of the tutorial section in The Witcher, I began to think about the separation between becoming a role and playing a role.
In many Western role-playing games such as those produced by Bethesda and BioWare, the player creates the character they are going to play. They have a choice of races, attributes and gender. The player can influence dialogue options and explore various romance options. They create a story for their character as they experience it through the game and the reactions of the virtual people they meet in the process. They can become any one they can dream up to inhabit a world that will respond to them. Even if a persona is assumed, the player is the character. The basis and control comes the player.
However, the traditional definition of a role-playing game — arguably all games — is one in which a player takes over the life of a character for a period of time. They can change the life only in as much as the game allows it. The outcomes of events are either determined by the developer or given over to the player’s limited control. The goal of the game is to get the player to understand the world as the character sees it and take actions accordingly from that viewpoint. The player acts more in the role of an actor playing a role that was written up and as directed by the game. The story cannot continue unless the player does a certain action or says a certain line.
I thought The Witcher fell into the category of me being able to shape Geralt’s life. However, I now believe I’m just playing a role and the game meant for me to have sex with her. In fact, I think it wants me to have sex with any other women in the game who will have me.
Going back to the Fortune and Morality curves of Line Hollis’ post, I could understand my standing in the game (measure of the resistance to my actions) by considering my fortune. Which should, ideally, be a situation with the least punishment. In other words, if the game allows and rewards me for taking an action, I should probably be doing it.
This is exactly what Ari says in the comments:
“Seeing these familiar-looking charts gave me the idea that the character’s behavior is one aspect of the equation, and the most obvious. Slightly less so is the world in which said character exists in: what sort of behaviors does the world itself reward? Where does it sit on the sliding scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism? Harmony between the character’s morality and the morality favored by the world usually results in positive fortune for that character; dissonance, naturally, leads to ill fortune.” (Emphasis added)
If the morality favored by the world (misogyny) is not my own stance, then that creates dissonance. The other characters in the game expect me to act a certain way and, when I do not, it confuses them and me in their responses. Taking from that idea then I should play the role that matches the world. If the world and other character expect me as The Witcher to be having frequent sex with women and to woe with them with gifts towards this end whenever possible, I should be doing it! After all, I get rewarded with cards for this action — the more relations with the same women, the less clothing they wear on the card!
However, what if I don’t want to play like that? What if I played Geralt as celibate or, God forbid, as gay?
I think the developers of this game failed to account for someone playing the game not wanting to have sex with women as a man. Their solution, as far as I can tell, was to either dismiss that story choice (nothing happens) or to arrange events in such a way so that the sex happens anyway (i.e. “comfort” meaning have sex). The reward for not choosing does not seem to exist. If I get something for taking one action but nothing for another, shouldn’t I chose the one that gives the reward, even if I don’t want it?
I’d like to go back to Ari for the answer to that and the ending of the larger quote:
“But I’d argue that it’s in the dissonance where the most interesting stories are found.
In cases like these, also factor in the following: what sort of story do you want to tell? Do you want the readers/players to cheer for the hero, or to jeer? Does the hero change the world? Does the world change the hero? Both? Neither?”
What if I played the role but ignored the way it wanted to reward me to tell a different story? I could also certainly “jeer” “for the hero” by treating the women I come across in the game as objects and see how far the game will let me push the line of thought. (Finding the edge through critical play.) But that does not sit well with me, even in just considering it from a theoretical point. I’m not willing to make the character treat women like whores, even if this world has that opinion.
Instead, I think I will rebel against the mold. After all, I am the one telling the developing narrative to myself as I play. If I do not want to experience a narrative, even one with dissonance as a result, where Geralt has frequent sexual relations (with women only), I should be able to define the character differently. This is my story and my choices are my own. I may not be held responsible for the other characters in the world, but I am responsible for my own choices. So what if the character of Geralt is a misogynist! I’m not and I’m the one with control of him.