Don’t Wipe Your Feet Before Coming In - Doormat MCs and How To Avoid Or Improve Them

I think this needs to be combined with D) Authors, particularly of the novel and script-writing for movies and television kind can underestimate how much extra work it is to make interactivity satisfying and they may have a strongly preferred canon mc in their mind. This is fine in novels or movies, for the most part, you can sometimes even have the character come into their own really late and only realize their true potential in the epilogue or at the start of the sequel or last book in a series after making only small(er) gains previously.

It also closely relates to this I think:

Which I noted is also a bit more prevalent in authors coming from a novel or TV background who often seem reluctant to give us control over the character who should be the actual main character of the story.
Like if the story is obviously strongly focused around mr. awesome, king of the school, why are we stuck playing the generic poor transfer “fish out of water” scholarship student…again.

Tumblr seems to be an echo chamber that often shields or even actively filters out the harsher criticisms and that is very much a double edged sword, imho.

Ooh, would love this one for a change from the often super young protags we get otherwise. And such a character would hopefully merit some respect from the start but they’re also not at their peak anymore and would need help from the young up and comers to pull off feats they could previously easily do solo (or alternatively with their old-well oiled machine of a team), plus while they have vast amounts of experience not all their knowledge may be up to date anymore and it is often guaranteed to set up a fun intergenerational culture/norms clash for the more lighthearted moments with the younger characters. Star Trek Picard did this decently well most of the time, imho.

Let me loop that back to the article I linked above as this is often a case in which one of those awesome OC’s would make a far better protagonist than the actual shoehorned in, bland everyperson, fish out of water, mc we tend to get in many such works.

The greatest danger here that that moment can come too little too late in interactive fiction. In fact that was one of my criticisms of Heroes Rise on this very site back in the day. You slog through 95% of the game disrespected and failing at every turn, only saved by the plot or other more powerful, fun and better developed characters, until you suddenly get those damned infinity powers. Again that kind of thing may have worked better for a tv episode or novel.

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Provided you’re not using “autonomy” as a synonym of “agency” here, I agree.

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Well, I see this as a problem; MCs who exist to be harassed by ROs.

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Told myself I was just gonna offer a suggestion for the title and leave it at that, but as always, I feel the urge to throw my hat into the ring.

While I understand making side characters have their own thoughts, feelings, and abilities and talents, I would caution aspiring IF writers against putting their own characters on a pedestal above the MC. There’s nothing wrong with having characters that are more powerful than the MC, of course, but there’s also nothing interesting about reading about these hypercompetent side characters outdoing the MC at (almost) every given opportunity.

To Hannah’s point about stories that center on the MC gaining power and autonomy, I totally agree that those can be interesting. That being said, I also think that we need to actually be able to see this happen in game, rather than just be told that the MC is becoming stronger/more competent on one page, and then immediately on the next watch one of the side characters do something super cool while the MC bumbles around or is minimally helpful. This also needs to be organic growth that occurs throughout the story, not just some random power the MC acquires right at the end of the game.

I think the biggest thing to remember, perhaps, is that IF isn’t like a traditional novel. While it can be fun to read a regular novel about a character that constantly has to be bailed out of trouble by their friends, only to discover their hidden competence towards the end during the final confrontation, it’s not really fun to play a game like that. I know we refer to ourselves as IF readers a lot on this forum, and that’s certainly true, but we are also IF players. In video games, the world can still be harsh, and companions can still be competent, but never (or, at least, not often) to the detriment of the player. I think it’s important for IF authors to not only ask themselves “would I want to read a story with this main character?” but also “would I want to play a game with this main character?”

Now, on the subject of the MC being a doormat emotionally, I have to say I agree with everyone else for the most part. It’s fine if someone’s gonna be an asshole to the MC, but if that’s the case, then the MC should be allowed to hit back (verbally). What really grinds my gears though, more than the MC not being able to retaliate, is the MC being forced to feel a certain way about how they’re being treated. It absolutely robs the player of all agency when the author forces feelings on the MC that they maybe wouldn’t be feeling (ex: MC would be mad about being treated poorly, or indifferent, but the author describes them as being “heartbroken” or something).

Maybe this is because I’m coming at this from a DnD background, but the way I’ve always approached IF is “the author controls the world, the side characters, and the MCs past, but I get to decide what happens with their present and future”. In my opinion, when the author already has so much control over what happens in the story, the player ought to decide what their character feels and does in the future at the very least. Otherwise, what’s the point of even using this medium? A traditional novel would’ve suited the author’s purposes better.

Poor phrasing on my end. It’s more that I’m willing to mold my character’s past/backstory to fit the world the DM has created. Which is similar to what happens in IF, technically.

I’m not asking for authors to create infinite branching paths or anything like that, and I definitely don’t think they’re obligated to throw anything in there that would completely turn the story on its head (though there have been authors who do this to great success, such as Allen Gies with Tin Star). I just mean if the author is going to assume that my character is moping because their LI insulted them, then yeah, that does make the MC a little bit of a doormat, not because they’re moping, but because they have no choice but to mope. That’s what I’m opposed to.

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Indeed, one of the main flaws of Wayhaven, instead of having cool powers of their own the mc is basically a walking battery pack who can be used to power up the other characters to make them even cooler and more awesome by comparision…yay! I guess. :disappointed: This is most in line with the problem the article I linked in my other post describes of having the mc be less of a character and more the mcguffin or plebonium/unobtanium other characters can use to defeat the final boss or grow their own powers. In which case the mc could have easily been replaced with the “holy nipple-ring of slaying” that contains the power to possibly defeat the villain without all that much changes to the central theme and the actual main characters of the story. :unamused:

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When equipped, grants user exclusive access to the Yaaaaas spell.

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A somewhat tangential issue can be story length. Many stories will involve starting weak/pathetic and improving. This is fine in and of itself. It can be a problem though if the author decides they need 3+ books to tell their story and the readers are left still feeling pathetic at the end of book one or even two (or 3 or 4…) I feel each book should have some definable “step up” to help avoid this.

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Agree with all of this. Well said :clap:

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Coming from the DnD background means you don’t expect to have control over the MCs past? Kinda weird, unless you’re really into playing with pregens.

But more to the point, I’m yet to see any quality IF where things are that simple. You almost always get a measure of control over your MC’s past, which generally implies at least a small bit of control over the world. On the other hand, giving the player full control over the way MC feels is only possible through some mixture of never hinting at the PC’s emotional state and having piles upon piles of mostly meaningless choices about how you’re feeling at any particular moment. It’s not really possible and it’s not something the writer should even attempt because the main character’s emotions are part of the story and will inevitably be limited by it. Like I said in the “disliked tropes” thread, you can’t have your Shepard decide that the Reapers have the right idea, since that either ends the story or makes it too incoherent to bother with.

Of course, that logic generally doesn’t apply to the MC (not) being angry at their shitty LI, but it’s always good to keep in mind that IF stories aren’t just the player’s sandbox even when it comes to seemingly minor stuff like impressions or emotions. Unless the game is a sanbox I guess, but you won’t find many of them around here. ChoiceScript just isn’t made for that.

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Honestly, I don’t think this is a problem with the PC, rather just how often the Mc’s strengths come up. Disregarding stats, the PC in that game does has powers. Powers that make them immune to all psychological supernatural effects. That’s a pretty substantial power. A bit niche at times, say if you’re fighting werewolves or vampires, but can be utilized a lot. Not only that, having super powered blood has so many routes that the story can potentially go down with growing or gaining power, or even the ability to suddenly make your teammates super soldiers, even by supernatural standards, is extremely badass, imo. It’s the buff/debuff caster in a raid boss, essentially.

Now, using that as an example simply because it’s popular and ties into the topic here, every PC has the potential to be a well written character that is part of the team, it’s just a matter of giving them the spotlight.

I 100% base my writing from my D&D background in the sense that, I want the entire cast to feel cool and valid and good at things, and most importantly, to give each of them their moment to shine. As far as I am aware, that succeeds on fixing 50% of the problem with ‘doormat MC’s’. The point of not giving them the ability to stand up for themselves, well… I went over that before in a different post. Disliked Elements, Mechanics, and Tropes - #4048 by ViIsBae

tl;dr - Giving the PC autonomy is a lot more work than having them along for the ride, and I don’t think a lot of people realize or appreciate just how much extra work it is. Because writing a thing, thinking to yourself, “There are about six different ways I can see someone reacting to this.” Then writing six completely different scenarios for that choice, which all might have extra individual branches of their own, with the knowledge that most people will only ever see one of those choices/paths is a big mental barrier to get over. Speaking from experience of writing 50k word updates and having the average word count per playthrough only go up by 8-10k, it can get absolutely exhausting.

So, while some people do this as a hobby and want to create those types of epic divergences, others do this as a hobby and just wanna write stuff that they have ideas about. Personally, I think they’re just two different kinds of IF’s. Granted, I do think that both total word count and average word count per playthrough should be expressed in descriptions of games for this reason, so people have a better idea of what kind of IF they’re purchasing, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Granted, I don’t find PC’s that take abuse being hurdled at them from every angle fun either, so again, I don’t think RO’s treating PC’s like garbage is a good trend either. BUT I think comparing IF’s to one another in situations like this is usually unhelpful as well. And by that I mean saying things like, “This one story did it so much better than this other story!” Because the reality most likely is, they did it differently. I would never compare (I haven’t read it myself only read about it) I:TFO’s PC agency to Wayhaven’s, because they’re just completely separate games. It’s like trying to compare the mechanics of Gears of War and The Last of Us because they both happen to fall under the umbrella of third person shooters. It’s just not really helpful at that point. I only bring this up because I feel like, unfortunately, it’s a trap I see a lot of people fall into when talking about this subject.

I think the best way to talk about stuff like this is as it was said before; isolating the causes and reasons for how author’s fall into this trap and expand outward from there in a focused manner.

Not that anyone has done the opposite in this thread so far, I just thought I’d bring up the cautionary point since it happens to peek it’s head out most of the time with this stuff.

Those are my thoughts on it, though. Very… very long, thoughts…

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Problem is compared to the mc the others are already super soldiers, the power-up just makes that imbalance even worse and the mc even more pathetic by comparison.

I stopped playing after the second book, but in my experience the mc’s strengths almost never come up and if they do there is always someone around who is even better at them anyways. Made worse by the mc being a small town police detective but the author hates guns, so apart from book 1 the mc never really gets to use them again and certainly not with any skill. This could have been mitigated by the mc taking at least a small step up at the end of every book to close the gap bit by bit as suggested on this thread.

Except that the mc never really gains or grows in their power level or competence, they’re always the designated damsel in distress.

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Are doormat MCs that common nowadays? Granted, I don’t think I have played that many recent CoG titles, but usually, the main flaw of a lot of MCs is being bland (usually due to a mixture of a limiting format and the fact that some writers might try too hard to allow players to insert themselves in the character - which only works if the character is kind of empty), and I have less experience with the MC being a doormat.

I think someone mentioned Arcadie, but I remember the game allowing you to be pretty confrontational with your sibling should you choose to go that route. As for Wayhaven, it’s been a while (I think I only played the first game?), but I remember having roleplayed a pretty temperamental MC, without feeling that the game forced me to mellow out - though it is true that due to power imbalance, their bark was harsher than their bite.

Nonentheless, if it has become commonplace, yeah, I could see it getting old pretty fast.

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Ones not like this are most definitely around. If you’re going mainly for the teenage drama/RO type games then yes there are more that fit that description. They seem to be really popular so people keep making them.

I agree to a point. The blanker a MC is, the more easily it can be a self insert. The downside is it becomes harder to give the MC agency because you can’t be sure how each individual will see their character acting. The more set a MC’s character is, the easier it is to give them a meaningful story arc in many styles of games but it will come at the cost of freedom to character create/act so it’s a bit of a balancing act. I don’t think its the only reason there are many MCs which fit this type but I do think its a contributing factor. There are definitely stories deliberately geared towards the MC being low power in the story (thats also a MC preset). It is a bit of a trend the same as many genres rising and falling in popularity. They can be done well or less well same as anything.

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Mind Blind is literally about you being extra-sucky and the story works great, and nobody accuses the MC of being a doormat even though their mind can literally be hijacked at any point, because the author has given us the option to be pissed about it.

Also, when is that thing coming ouuuuutttttttt? :weary:

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My running theory is some of these Authors played CHOICES, or wrote stories on Episodes. Now they’re a bit older and think they’re too old for those apps and moved here.

Now I’m a bit biased. This is from someone I know who did this, but IF ain’t exactly a popular medium. Can’t really check how many others did the same.

I’ve already said my piece about the whole flirt system Wayhaven and a lot of these Doormat MC stories have in some other thread. But I think these stories get bogged down thinking about the exact words the MC says rather than what the reader wants to convey.

Like, with The Great Tournament. Most pages are written in a “you do this, he does that, you say ‘x’” kinda way. Then the choices you’re given are simple, easy to understand and without emotion or they have a very obvious emotion behind it.

So say you were out drinking with your friend and your mum catches you. When your friend knocks on the door the next morning your choices are…

  • Say you can’t hang any more and shut the door in his face
  • “How are you not hungover yet?”

Pretty simple choices, there’s no massive dialogue pages of dialogue in response. No purple proses, thank god.

In Breach: The Archangel Job you spend time with characters in between missions. What you do doesn’t affect the main story, so your chats with RO’s can’t push that further. Instead they have their own little contained sidestories and how you do in those affect your relationship stat, which might affect what happens in the mission.

So in those two, you start at Point A, spend time with [D] and then go to Point B

Meanwhile in Wayhaven you start at Point A, then ride [D] like they’re a damn bus all the way to Point B
– because the ROs are written as integral pieces to the main story and at the same time the conversations with the MC are so detailed some readers might not understand what a choice does and then a Telltale happens where they just wanted to push a character and the MC breaks their leg.

So the Author might overemphasise how the MC talks in those choice boxes so that doesn’t happen, but then we get the [porky pig stutter vs restraining order creep] choices. BUT THEN the author writes those overemphasised, cartoony sentences into the actual conversation. And now your MC is saying those cartoony lines. And now your MC is talking like an anime character on steroids.

Didn’t really explain that well. Sorta rambled, forgot the point I was tryina say. But yeah.

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It’s certainly growing, I can tell you that for sure. The fact that there’s conversation centered around it tells me that it’s an issue of steadily increasing concern.

To expand on this, looking at the code for the demo of book 3 was horrific.

So, say you have four options, right? Well, you also have four romances or a No-Romance. And every. Single. One of them. Gets calculated into all four choices. And if you are engaged in any of the romances, those get entire paragraphs dedicated to how you and your chosen RO interact at that moment, again, in all four choices.

I’m sure you can work out the rest of the math yourself - a single choice in the game can potentially have so many variables and additional paragraphs that you have to read a novel just to figure out if that’s the choice you want to make or not.

But that’s not what we’re here to talk about, so I’ll just let this point be.

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Ok, but that’s not the problem we’re discussing. The problem isn’t that Wayhaven’s MC’s pushback is written in florid language and purple prose, it’s that they (nearly always) don’t have the option to pushback at all.

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Yep, that was the point I forgot. Meant to tie everything back into suggesting that Authors being more concerned with long dialogue stops them from writing a wider array of choices. So they settle for writing two or three responses they think will be the most popular with readers.

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That’s kinda Wayhaven’s MO though? And it’s wildly successful here so I’m not surprised if there are some games by fans of it trying to style after this kind of game.

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One easy fix is to give weak/doormat mcs something they’re good at and not useless or always a damsel in distress gushing about how cool or heroic a side character is. Mind blind mc’s mind is probably the weakest in the world but they aren’t useless that’s how you make a good weak character, they have something they’re good at and don’t feel like a background or side character in their own story

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