Giving a game a bad review for a having a set main character is stupid nonsense, so I can only assume that’s reviewers behaving badly (and entitled). But I don’t touch interactive fiction with set MCs. I’m not totally sure if this describes why, but I prefer that a main character in a text-based choice game feels interchangeable enough for a brand new playthrough as someone else. My dislike of set MCs in IF is also because it also often means a rather set personality. Maybe I’m an outlier, though, because customizable names and pronouns in interactive fiction have spoiled me enough that I’ve lost a lot of interest in even visual novels with set protagonists in recent years.
Is it actually a set MC if the personality isn’t set?
With other types of games, there isn’t an established expectation of a fully customizable character. With ChoiceScript games, there is.
I’m not arguing that there should be such an expectation; I’m the last person you’ll ever see making a case that there’s a “right” way for a game to be. Personally, I would like to see more stories with fixed or limited PCs, since there are stories that can be told that way that can’t be told with fully customizable characters. But with CoG making self-insertablity a cornerstone of their own brand, and most HG authors following suit, there’s a significant portion of the fandom that’s here precisely because they want customizable PCs.
Because in visual games, everything is visually filled in. It just doesn’t make sense allowing for all those appearances to be customised, when the name is set.
Partly because customising a character’s traits (name, appearance, personality) is less resource-intensive than it is for visual mediums. Plus, in visual RPGs or even video games in general, it’s easier to separate yourself from the character you are playing and accept that they’re not customisable.
But given the emphasis on roleplaying (and to a lesser extent, self-inserting) when it comes to interactive fiction, readers expect to be allowed to customise at least some aspects of their character. Without it, the character they are playing doesn’t “feel” like they are theirs to guide or make choices about.
Should’ve set this to reply in general, sorry
I would correct this slightly - with CoG you can play as a variety of genders (with non-binary MCs always available in games published after 2018-ish) but ROs aren’t always romanceable without limitations.
That said, as others have said there is an expectation for ChoiceScript games that there will be some degree of customisation.
I do find that a there’s a lot of variety in what players consider a “set main character” or customisable. If a character’s backstory is set, but their name and personality can be shifted, where are they on the set/customisable spectrum? How much does appearance-setting affect immersion? It varies a lot from person to person.
I notice in threads like Options you want to have more often that there is some desire for MCs with more defined traits. But anecdotally, I also see requests for very detailed appearance or clothing customisation, or requests for MC responses that don’t always make sense for the setting or drive the plot forward - which is something to bear in mind when deciding how defined or not you want your MC to be.
Some very popular games have more strongly author-defined MCs. Others are a lot more “blank-slate”. I’m going to throw in a big bundle of links to threads on the subject for further reading - it’s definitely not a topic on which there is a cut-and-dried answer. On this post there are even more links for your perusal!
I think the problem is deeper than that and it stems from the fact that many players view ChoiceScript games as a genre rather than its own story-telling medium.
When people go to a bookstore or a movie theater, they don’t usually expect every book or movie in it to be the same in terms of storytelling conventions or content, but that distinction isn’t made for ChoiceScript games, unfortunately. Many players have their own distinct expectations of what a ChoiceScript game should offer, regardless of its story, setting, or author, and most probably don’t even know that there is a difference between CoG and HG titles.
I think their rule is that, if romance is possible, it needs to be possible for a character of any gender to romance either a man or a woman.
I’m not sure if I’m reading the sentence right (we may be saying the same thing and I am undercaffeinated today ), but the rule is that there should be romanceable characters available for each gender of MC. So it is fine to, for example, have a romance option who’s only attracted to women, as long as there are also romance options who are attracted to men and/or non-binary people. CoG romance options don’t always have to be bisexual/pansexual/“playersexual”.
What about in the case of appearance AND name being set?
Yes, we’re saying the same thing. The requirement is to be able to romance a man or a woman as any gender, not any man or any woman.
Because of the expectations that have been set by other games. It’s the same reason why, for instance, I Was a Teenage Exocolonist was panned for having many of the romances in it encounter difficulties from both story events and the character’s own personalities, or why the Final Fantasy Remake got flak for having very radical changes to the main plot. A lot of people go into games with a set expectation, and while many are pleasantly surprised when those expectations turn out to be wrong, a lot more end up being turned off of the games that subvert those expectations. Depending on how that subversion is handled, the responses can skew more or less positively.
Essentially, the reason why the disdain is there is because of the culture surrounding CoG as a company, the expectation of what a Hosted game should be (an expectation that’s unreasonable, honestly, because the Hosted Games label is specifically for games that don’t fit CoG’s standard format), and a backlash against games that don’t fit that culture.
In that case, it will be clear cut. I will just accept that the character belongs to the author and not me, then treat the character like any other on a PlayStation.
The core issues have been discussed from the audience’s point of view above, but I also think the success of “set main characters” is dependent on the writer as well.
Writing a set MC in interactive fiction is a harder endeavor than it is in other types of fiction. The audience you are writing for has different expectations as discussed above, but the very nature of the split between self-insert readers and role play readers presents additional challenges for the writer.
“AAA” RPG games in computer/mobile gaming were influenced by existing tabletop IPs and rulesets from the very beginning, and so they had set mechanics, rules and world building already in existence.
This influence and legacy is still a massive deal that game makers are dealing with constantly. For example, the bruh-hah-hah about licensing D&D is all over gaming news even today.
Text-based games historically have always been about pushing the limits of agency. So the expectation is that they constantly try to be more inclusive and accepting of their audience’s desires.
Giving as much agency as you can as a writer is a double-edged sword.
Give too little and your readers will feel like they are reading someone else’s story, regardless if they are a role player or a self insert reader.
Yet, if an author gives too much agency, then they might lose the ability to tell the story they want.
I give less weight to reviews than others do. I have found that hyper-focusing on them will often lead a writer or developer away from what they should be doing to make the story or game they as a writer/developer set out to do in the first place.
Love your profile pic, The life and suffering of Sir Brant was an amazing read but the stress the game caused nearly made me go grey.
I had a discussion in a personal server, and I’ve actually realized something.
Most Choice of Games protagonists are fairly set characters.
To take two main-label games as examples: Kendrickstone and the PonPara games.
In Kendrickstone, you can choose your gender, your name, what stats you exceed in, etc, but you will always be:
- someone in the prime of their youth
- who has no home they can return to
- who is born in the Concordat
- who decides to become an adventurer
- and who decides to go to the city of Kendrickstone to start their career
In PonPara, you can choose your name, your gender, what nationality and occupations your parents had before they had you, what skills you cultivated growing up, your personality, even what clothes you wear, but you will always be:
- a young person from a fairly sheltered upbringing
- whose parents were world famous heroes
- who is born in the Forest Kingdoms
- who will, always, end up meeting with other adventurers and forming a group dedicated to the world not ending
- who ends up being driven from their home by the incident with the trolls
- and ends up in conflict with the Stormraiders
- and who also has the childhood nickname of PonPara thanks to their parents
I’ll throw in Night Road, as well.
The MC of Night Road is always:
- a vampire from a clan associated with the Camarilla
- who works as a courier
- who (almost always) has a sire who plays a role in the city’s politics
- who goes through a period of estrangement that leads them into independent work
- which leads them to essentially being an outsider to the Camarilla
- which also leads them to working with Julian Sims
- which also leads to them committing diablerie, against a specific person.
Not sure how the reception is for Pon Para and Kendrickstone, but I’ve seen Night Road get near universal praise, and a lot of who your character is is out of your hands if you honestly sit down and think about it. That’s because a game giving you the framework for how you’re supposed to interact with it is honestly the default. Lashing out because that framework is a bit more restrictive than normal is honestly… eh. I don’t get it.
I think its less how much choice the player actually has and more how much the author makes them feel like they have. Like yes Night Road has a fairly straightforward character but with the massive array of possible stats makes it feel like you have options. Funnily enough, two of your examples are by Kyle Marquis who I feel does the perfect amount of choice in most of their games, enough that it doesn’t feel restrictive, but not so much that its hard to direct the story.
Let’s say it in a simple way: Different expectations.
Video games in general, especially AAA games like FF and TLOU you mentioned mostly have a set protagonist. And people used to that.
But IFs are opposite, most games let you customize your protagonist. And people also used to that.
So when you take out the choice of customization, people play video games won’t mind that while people play IFs are not-so-okay with that since they always expect IFs to have a custom PC for them.
Action adventure is one thing, but I frankly do get annoyed at AAA videogames if I can’t create my own MC in a RPG. Well, unless it is an established character I actually happen to like.
This sums up my thoughts on the matter perfectly, and while i don’t have a disdain for set mc’s
if i had the choice between that or being able to customize my character i would almost always choose the customize option.