Interactive Fiction: The Player Character

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There are five ways of determining the player character's identity:

  • Indeterminate;
  • Not stated, but "feels" one way;
  • Fixed;
  • Determined by asking the player directly; and
  • Determined by player actions.

these may be used in a variety of ways.

An indeterminate character is the 'everyman', there are no predefined motivations or backgrounds projected onto him. The player can therefore identify with them as they are, in effect, the player themselves. The downside of this method is that you cannot draw upon the character's background, they do not seem that great a part of the game and their interactions with other characters or NPCs will likely be rather bland.

The seperation of the player from all of the other characters can be used to your advantage in games that cast the player as an outsider, such as a tourist, or in a caste based society with most of the interaction being with other castes. Most games deal with an amorphous player character simply by dropping them in a situation far from home.

Games set in a particular, well-known genre have an advantage in the fact that the player has some idea of the conventions of that genre, and will likely act accordingly. In this manner, interaction can be improved as the player character, whilst still fairly amorphous, is still partially defined by the genre.

Taking this idea on further is the adaptation, where the game is an adaptation of a novel or film. In this, most of the target audience will be familiar with the original work, and therefore have not only the genre, but also some of the characters and situations. Care must be taken not to make it too close to the original, or a simple solution to the game is to do exactly what happened in the original piece.


Although superficially similar, fixed-character PCs created purely for a piece of Interactive Fiction are very different from their more famous adaptation counterparts. When the authors cannot rely on players having background knowledge and expectations built up from exposure to other media, they have to do a lot more work. On the other hand, there are also much greater opportunities for developing the story when the authors have this much control. Without genre-defined preconceptions the instant recognition is lost, but so are the constraints that so often result in cardboard characters going through the motions.

Characters are defined by the games author, with the player having little say in the matter. There are some games that attempt to redress this by letting the player assign points to characteristics in a manner simmilar to a roleplaying game. this has the advantage of customising the character to the player, but the dissadvantage of either putting little emphasis on the characteristics, or of making too many of the puzzles rely on chance.

Given that random, percentage-based ability is not the method best suited to text adventures, an alternative might, perhaps be to give the player choices that are either 'on' or 'off'. For example the character might be either 'Strong' and 'Clumsy' or 'Weak' and 'Nimble'. The strong character could break down a locked door, whereas the nimble character could pick the lock.

This concept could be futher enhanced by making the traits influence the behaviour of other characters, the strong character might be able to intimidate others, but the weak one cannot.

This could also be used as a difficulty setting, players new to IF might be able to choose 'Strong' and 'Nimble', giving them the widest range of options in the game. The average player could choose either 'Strong' and 'Clumsy' or 'Weak' but 'Nimble', for a balance of options. Veteran players could choose 'Weak' and 'Clumsy', making things tricky for themselves.

In reality these definitions are not pigeonholes, rather flagpoles around which and inbetween which are the games.

Mixing character types within one player character is fine, so long as they all fit. For example a character that is mostly fixed, to allow for the written content to take advantage of that, but of indeterminate sex, ethinicity and appearance.

Fixed characters allow for greater depth in the IF side of the adventure.

The game is usually more satisfying for the player if they can understand the characters motivations and reactions, if not actively identify with them.


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