Asking reader about MC's thoughts

I’ve noticed that my WIP has already several scenes where I ask a reader what her MC is thinking about at the moment. What’s your opinion about this kind of scenes? Would you consider keeping them for the sake of a psychological portrait building or would you prefer to have only action-driven scenes?


These kinds of scenes are important for giving the player input on choices they can’t actually make. If the MC has to do X, I at least want an option to say how I feel about it.

That, and it’s also nice in general to check in on how my MC is feeling.


I see nothing wrong with asking the thoughts of an MC. For me, it only deepens the connection that I feel to the MC as an extension of myself.


It depends:

If it’s active, like things ARE happening and we pick the opinion/etc about it, okay.

If it is passive however, as in “this and this happened. You did all these things, how do you feel about that”… dont.
At least not it isnt something like a flashback at the beginning or a quick summary of non-plot stuff


I think it can be helpful to avoid assuming the players thought processes for them. Occasionally I play a game and it informs me that X happens and my character feels Y about it, when Y is totally the opposite of how I’d expected my character to feel.

Or worse, I’ll make a choice and the narration will supply the wrong motivation:

[Spare her]

Narration: “You lower the gun. Killing is wrong, period, and if you do this you’ll be no better than she is.”

Me: Oh. I just thought she might know something useful.


I don’t find anything wrong with it as long as it isn’t constant, doesn’t forsake action, and I’m not being asked redundant questions. If personality stats clearly point to my character being a misanthrope, please don’t ask me how my character feels about a crowd in a coffee shop unless it serves some other function.


I like it from a role-playing perspective because it can provide more depth of personality - but I think it can be tricky to do it well. For instance, I enjoy scenes where my MC is thinking about a situation or a problem that they have to face and exploring how they feel about it, or being able to consider the MC’s mental/emotional state of well-being about a situation - but I don’t like it to feel preachy or to have it impress motivations on my character (similar to what @Malvastor mentioned above).


I like these! And if one of the motivations fits my character well, it goes a long way to build my confidence in the author (I’m more likely to purchase games with these choices, because it means they’ll likely give me the RP experience I want later on). It also adds a bit of replay value, since you can carry out the same actions for a variety of different reasons.

Just please give context. I’ve played a couple of games where I get to decide how I feel about important cultural stuff without knowing how they’d affect my character, or how she’d be raised to feel.


I like them, it’s a good way of making a player feel like the character is their own, and can flesh out their personality. If you have stats representing the PC’s personality, you can also use those questions to boost or decrease the stats, which can have a helpful knock-on effect for writing PC’s speech or references to their personality later. It’s good to avoid slowing down action in a dramatic scene though - best to use them as a breather moment.


I think it can be done in along with choosing the action; it’s something that @JimD incorporated in Zombie Exodus and ZE: Safe Haven. For example the choices are to allow certain characters to join the group and the options will include the reason behind our choices. For example:

  • allow them because you think it’s the right thing to do
  • allow them because you think they can be useful
  • allow them but keep an eye on them because you don’y trust them
  • don’t allow them because you don’t trust them
  • don’t allow them because you have too many people already.

These sort of options allow the player to select the one that is more suitable with their feelings/motives. Personally I think it’s better than simply ‘allow them’ and ‘don’t allow them’ options.


isn’t that how ‘choose your own adventure’ Books did it ? cose they were a big hit…

ZE:SH also had the trick with “Okay, time to make a plan” options: what are your priorities for the day?

They didn’t necessarily align with what you did that day, but it worked well to create a pause in an otherwise frenetic situation while giving your character a more focused set of goals.


Reminds me a bit of Choice of the Vampire, where you can tell a character what sort of people you like to feed on, and what you want to do as a vampire, but both times can clarify if you’re lying and what your actual desires are. I thought it was odd more games didn’t mess with that further- I’ve seen some writers use a similar technique, but one could do a lot with the concept, I think. I could see a pretty interesting game to do with political manipulation at such that focuses more attention on when and how often you lie or mislead people rather than what you actually say.

It’s important, I think, for a roleplaying game of any kind to acknowledge that the character has an internal and external life. I’m generally against the idea of fake choices, so I would advise making sure that there is some sort of impact on something (stats, relationships, future options) when these choices are asked, unless perhaps the point is it doesn’t matter what the character thinks. I would be interested in a psychological horror game that keeps prying into my MC’s thought processes and inner life then makes it clear that none of that matters.

I’m sort of losing my point, though, so I’ll sum it up. I think it’s a good thing, if not an important one, to check on why the MC is doing something rather than just what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. It opens up more conceptual space, and in general brings the character to life, especially in a situation where the motive behind a choice matters.


Honestly, unless the choice is going to have an impact on the game in some way, I wouldn’t bother.

If it’s going to affect stats, go for it. Better yet, if it affects the story in some way (even just by flavor text five pages later), definitely go for it.

By this I mean, there is more than just “And it is perfectly reasonable to feel that way!” with no other impact of my choice. I don’t like choices that have 0 consequence. They’re literally pointless.

Personally, I just can’t stand fake choices. There needs to be either a gameplay or storytelling reason for every choice in a game.

My opinion, of course - I don’t represent the end all be all of writing :laughing:


I’m not a fan of directing questions toward the reader. It disturbs the relationship between the reader and the character, and the author and the narrator. If further context is absolutely necessary, I much prefer a subtle lead-in style, inviting the main character to complete a thought about their internal state. E.g. instead of “Why did you kill Jacob?” [answers], “Jacob had to die…” [clarification as to why the MC killed him].

As a reader, I especially like when you combine thought and action. One of my favorite forms of this, is when you are given multiple options, some of which are saying the same thing, but lying. It’s a compact way of combining thoughts and actions. I also especially like this when you first interact with a new character, allowing you to lock in some starting direction to the relationship, combining it with a greeting works well. A little flavor to acknowledge the difference between basically identical choices, such as a change in facial expression, and/or an acknowledgement from another character (as long as they aren’t reading the MCs mind), will help reinforce the idea the reasoning mattered.

Having either of these kind of dialogs change stats is double-edged. It solves the problem of making the choice meaningful, but encourages readers to think of those decisions as stat raising opportunities. This may discourage the reader from thinking about the choices as character development opportunities (that is, investing in the character and/or world), and thus choose options they don’t like, purely for stat reasons.


I like it if it allows you to even further micro manage your personality, since actions can have multiple reasons as to why they were done after all and what not.

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It’s a good idea to avoid a certain issue that regularly pops up in choice based games, and more than regularly in bioware rpgs, where you and the game have different ideas of the “tone” or motivation behind a choice. Like in Mass Effect where you think a choice will come out stern but fair and then Shepard turns full psycho. There can be tons of motivations behind a certain type of action and I think readers deserve the courtesy to have an input on what their specific motivations are. Did you pull a knife on that guy out of self-defence, just to give a short warning, because you are a creepy psycho who enjoys scaring people for no reason, to show that you take no shit, or maybe you did want to bloody murder him? This makes the choices less of a guessing game and gives room for a much more complex character interaction. However a writer should know when choices like these are appropriate and how to balance them with stat/choice dynamics. Pausing an otherwise hectic action scene to do thought-checks like these can disrupt the tone of the scene, so there has to be a smooth way of introducing these choices to the reader.


Don’t ask for no reason. Make it matter, include it in your choices. Never put it in narration, as the writer, you can never fully predict what the player was thinking when they made their decision.


I think they can work well in quiet moments when the pace of the story requires a breather. It can be nice to spend a bit of time really inhabiting a character and you don’t get much more intimate than sharing a skull with them.

That said, I’ve come across one or two choices of this kind during very active scenes which have slowed the pace unnecessarily. My own opinion would be that unless the scene is an intentionally quiet and reflective one, you’re better to offer a choice of actions (a: kick him, b: kill him, c: kiss him) than thoughts (a: I don’t like him, b: I loathe him, c: I love him) wherever possible since the action implies the thought but also moves the narrative along.