Character, how would you balance protagonist and player?

Choose your own adventure games, and other roleplaying games like them, have the unique issue of balancing the protagonist and the player. The protagonist, as the character the player controls, can have wildly different motives and personality than what the player does in the game.

An example I remember is Arthur Morgan, from Red Dead Redemption 2. A character that strives to do good, protect those he holds close, and can be described as an… overall good bandit. The player that controls Arthur can do some very horrific things, like hogtying people then laying them on train tracks or throwing them into a lake, actions contrary to their character’s personality.

For the choose your own adventure genre, how would you approach that balance between protagonist and player? How much of the protagonist’s personality should shine before it becomes constricting? How little should it be before it becomes bland and without character whatsoever?

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Hello,

From what I understand from your post, you are inquiring how to balance between a self-insert MC (The Warden Commander from DA:O) and a pre-set MC (Commander Shepard from the ME trilogy), is that correct?

There have been numerous threads discussing this topic, or related to this topic, that I encourage you to read through.

What do you want in a protagonist?
Protagonists are unrelatable
How would people feel about well defined protagonists?
Freedom to select MC’s personality

This is one of those topics that people have a lot of different opinions on since there’s no universal - at least, among forum goers - “right way” to go about this. Some people like more defined MC’s and some people like blank slate MCs to allow for self inserts. It depends on the reader.

Obviously, some of it will depend on how well you execute the MC while walking this tightrope which may influence the player’s feelings while they read your story. On the other hand, some people won’t like coffee no matter how much cream, sugar, milk, chocolate, etc. you add into a cup of coffee. The coffee, in this case, being your story and how you decide to walk this particular tightrope.

Best of luck.

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See, the issue with this example is that you’re comparing two entirely different mediums of storytelling. I can’t necessarily speak to RDR2 because I have yet to play it, but in that game’s case, it includes a morality meter that shifts to reflect how you’re playing Arthur, so I wouldn’t necessarily say that he is an overall “good” character. But in the case of most open world RPGs, what the player does outside of scripted quests is non-canonical as far as the story is concerned. If you have that kind of control over the protagonist, the devs can’t really write for every possibility of how you may play them. Like, sure, we may know there are players out there who are going to ignore the main quest in favor of doing things like breaking into the home of every NPC and stealing every cheese wheel in the game, but we can’t realistically…write for every scenario like that.

With IF, however, the player only has the option to do what you write for. If you’re writing a story with a heroic main character, you probably shouldn’t be writing options that let them massacre civilians. But I do see your point in the context of—what if you’re writing an MC who can be heroic OR villainous depending on the player? And my thoughts on that, well, I’d say that’s where stats come in. CoGs/HGs that really shine for me personally are ones that don’t lock you out of playing your character however you want. And that isn’t to say there won’t be consequences for breaking character—like if you have a daring/cautious opposing stat, you could have a scenario in which a player can choose to do a really daring stunt but if they’re cautious-dominant, have the outcome be unsatisfactory. Stats can do a lot of heavy lifting when dealing with how you present the MCs personality.

Of course, you could also just have a story where the player can go hogwild and do whatever they want, at the risk of letting their personality flip flop. As Black Reaper said, it’s really gonna be down to individual preference. And I personally would choose more of a set protagonist then a doll. But, with ChoiceScript, I think it really is possible to write for a happy medium.

(I hope this word vomit offered something relevant. It’s pretty late, and my brain is feeling a little like mush.)

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Fantastic metaphor. That really cuts to the heart of it.

MC customization is designed to get more people to love your game, but some people aren’t gonna love it, regardless of how customizable the MC is. It’s good to find a creative vision and stick to it. When it comes specifically to issues of morality, it’s better IMO to tread lightly and not commit to descriptions of the MC that the player can then violate.

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In my opinion, MC’S are not the player. They are people with their own personality traits, things we disagree on, flaws, etc. Us (as players) are into their minds, we’re reading their story, not ours.
A MC that’s too customizable will be a boring, empty one. Sure, we could all relate to them but, what’s the point of that? There’s a lot of players, every single one of us with different personalities and goals. Unless you’re some sort of god I don’t think you could develop a character appropriately with that many possibilities of personalities, MC would be like plastine: Everyone will try to make it the shape they want but there won’t be a true form, just a character so plain and boring that, if the player didn’t have any interaction with it, would be (like plastiline) amorphous. No shape, no beauty, Mc will just exist and that’ll be the end of it.

That’s why it’s so important to not make our main character the player, I would prefer to hate my MC but understand why they are doing what they’re doing than be happy with each one of my MC’S actions just because I decided all of them.