This post has been sitting in my hopper for a couple of weeks now, and I’m still not entirely sure what I want to say about the topic.Â It’s not revolutionary by any stretch of the imagination.Â In fact, it’s something that I think most of us are remarkably well aware of.Â The topic of character identification
Character identification isn’t a phenomenon restricted to roleplaying.Â In fact, it might well be argued that it’s a necessary element of all fiction worth reading.Â If the audience does not identify, in some way, with the characters of a narrative, then the narrative has no real power.Â However, I do think that roleplaying has a strong tendency to produce extremely high levels of character identification, and interestingly to do so in a very narrow way
Often, when recounting roleplayiing experiences, players speak as if they had taken the actions that fictional characters have taken.Â And we often refer to the actions of other characters by their players.Â ‘I punched him right in the nose, and then he called my mother a whore!’Â Of course this isn’t really a bad thing, it’s probably something of a tacit acknowledgement that we, the players, really are the ones doing things at the table.Â So character identification isn’t a bad thing in and of itself.
But in roleplaying it seems fundamentally different than in other sorts of fiction.Â We tend to identify extremely strongly with a single character (or very small set of characters).Â Even crazy hippie games like Capes and Universalis which permit anyone to take up any character tend to, in my experience of actual play, end up with each player having at least one character that they are primarily responsible for.
Further, I see less character identification with other characters.Â I find that I am more likely to identify more strongly with more characters in non-roleplaying fiction, while in roleplaying fiction I am likely to idenfity very strongly with one character, but think of almost all the other characters as foils.
Thinking back to my old post Play is Chaos, I am beginning to think that a lot of roleplaying actual play can be interpreted as a bunch of single-protagonist stories mashed together into one.Â Where each player has a radically different character-centered interpretation of what the story is about.Â Of course in a functional game the ‘what it’s about’ will mesh across all the stories in some way, but we’re still looking at different interpretations.
But I feel like there’s more here.Â This is a big topic, and not one I’ve seen discussed much.Â Especially not outside of immersion discussions.Â Yet I think this is a topic bigger than immersion.Â Even players who tend to identify as non-immersives seem to do a lot of character identification of this type.Â So, what else have we missed?