“Forcing” MC’s to Believe Something

This is almost an ethical question I was pondering about interactive fiction (it’s possible someone else has discussed this, and I apologize for wasting time if so): Would it be interesting/wrong/boring/etc. to assign an MC a certain amount of malleability or critical thinking based on a stat, thus excluding them from making certain choices expressing doubt/conviction in a belief?

To give a summary of what I mean, I was thinking about a post-apocalyptic sort of setting where the MC is a traveler who encounters a variety of religious practices and other belief systems and a major theme of the story would be how humanity (especially in desperate times) has to really struggle with what to stand by as the truth. And I wanted to also reflect how particularly manipulative and charismatic individuals can warp the truth to create incredibly loyal followers, and I thought an interesting way of showing how people with those skills of coercion survive in such a harsh world would be having the MC potentially being incapable of resisting their charm and clever (if dishonest) arguments. The best way I thought of reflecting this is something like a willpower stat, which in addition to being responsible for the MC’s own mental endurance would also reflect how easily swayed they are. A low willpower MC would be unable to fully resist the trickery of manipulative characters, and would be more gullible, whereas high willpower characters would be capable to make more skeptical arguments and choose to resist coercive tactics.

The only problem I have with this is I don’t want to railroad players into having to believe in things they don’t want to. For one, that can feel kind of gross, like the writer is manipulating the player rather than a character manipulating the MC. I don’t want to take away autonomy from anyone, because that obviously is the exact opposite of the point of interactive fiction. Still, I worry that without a stat like that the next the whole aspect of duplicitous and charismatic antagonists is easily ignored with the player just always choosing to be skeptical of them- especially because unlike the comparatively uneducated MC (an apocalypse does a number on the school system) the player will have a bunch of out of character reasons rob auspect a cult leader is lying.

I hope I’m getting my point across- essentially, I’m interested in designing a system that allows an MC to fall for something/be convinced of something without the player having to feel like they’ve made the wrong choice.

Side Note: I’ve also considered something that benefits a character having a low willpower, but I’m not sure what- maybe less personal doubt as they are very confident in their beliefs and causes?

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Nice topic. I think this is a question of understanding what audience you want to cater to. If you want to try and adjust for as many people as possible, then I’d suggest having an option at the beginning of the game to turn what you’re describing on or off.

Let’s call “not being able to resist because of … reasons” hardmode.
Then all you have to do when you create your choice trees is something like:

*choice
 #Decide to do that.
  *goto yes
 *selectable_if (hardmode = 0) #Decide not to do that.
  *goto no

This is far from a perfect working example, but you get the point I hope.

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Ah, that’s a good point, I hadn’t thought of making a full range of free will a choice.

Which is ironic, thinking of it.

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I get manipulated in games all the time take Assassin’s Creed Oddysey. Random people will be like "Bandits stole my papyrus I need Drachmae. " And I pay. Why? Because I kill so many people that pay so we’ll 50 Drachmae here or there is pittance. But if I was in their shoes I’d have to pass a charisma check so when ever a character in a game convinces me to do a sidequeet or join them I figure they have a higher charisma stat than me.

Say you’re writing a game Billy Daniels wants you to pick up Jenna Danvers for robbing him. You accept because a jobs a job but when you meet Jenna she tells you how she worked for Billy but Billy began trying to force her to sleep with him so she robbed him and fled
Right then and there it’s Fictional Character’s charisma vs Player’s willpower.

you could also have options to ‘walk away’ and ‘Kill said person’ .

Generally I’m fine with a broad range of results so long as I think they relate to my stats in a coherent way. However, it’d annoy me to get a choice to believe or not believe someone, take the second, and then get told I believe them. I’d most prefer to have the choices shown but the latter greyed out; that directly tells me the MC believes them due to not being sufficently good at spotting deceit to catch it.

One thing you could also do is to have different text depending on how naive the mc is. If they would believe someone, they are presented as believable and trustworthy, and if they would see through it, have them catch signs that the person in question is full of crap. The naive stat should prolly be hidden tho…

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That would be narratively interesting, but if the MC is obligated to believe them and the player still sees through the naive text and it’s not a displayed stat the player is going to be annoyed and feel railroaded; making it a visible stat tells the player this is the fallout of their prior decisions.

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@malinryden I do like that as a design choice (that is, to show different choice trees altogether depending on stats) and I think it would require more work but I also believe the payoff would be worth it.

You speak to the cloaked woman. She offers to sell you a vial full of a gold colored liquid which she claims will restore your health.

*if naive < npc1
 It looks legit. And you sure could use a healing potion!
 *choice
  #Buy it for 50 gold.
   *goto buythis
  #Come back later.
   *goto comebacklater
*elseif naive >= npc1
 You notice something odd about the potion.
 *choice
  #Ask why the potion doesn't have a rainbow hue to accompany the gold color.
   *goto question
  #Offer to buy the potion for 10 gold (40 gold cheaper than what she's asking)
   *goto haggle
  #Attack the fake potion peddler.
   *goto forscience
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A way to do this is using the means of object/magic. Usually mind control.

As you said, railroading players to believe in things is sucks, especially when they know they don’t want to. But if you give them the glittering potion, no one should complain. I hope.

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As long as i have the option to bullet that person.

I will bullet the medieval merchant selling fake elixer. Ak 47 vs merchant’s robes and swords no contest.

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I always carry a AK-47 on me it was a gift from god himself.

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Even in the 1300s?

Oh yes i have been alive for a long long time.

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Can’t tell if coast guard “Semper Paratus” or a juggalo from the song “I want my shit”

Willpower is a tricky stat, because I don’t think any player enjoys playing a weak-willed person. Plenty of readers are ok with having low strength or not being quick or not being very smooth with their words. But willpower is something inherent in all main characters. They’re the character that has to overcome the most difficulties in your story. Usually, your MC ends the story with more willpower than they started with.

That’s a wise concern to have! People absolutely hate being manipulated–the only thing they’d hate more is being forced to be manipulated against their will. In third-person narration you could get away with this, but in second you just can’t. “You were tricked! Teeheehee!”

I think you may be looking for an opposed pair stat, something like: “Stubborn <-> Open-Minded”. While there are many benefits to high openness (like being insightful and having an imagination), you’re more vulnerable to new ideas and manipulation. Here’s a good summary on openness.

Whatever approach you take, I think it helps players when you write the relevant stat on top of the paragraph were the MC gets manipulated/bamboozled/hoodwinked. That way they can understand why the MC is acting how they’re acting. Players are more willing to accept negative consequences when they can see the reason why.

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Very interesting, i am looking forward to this… MultipleChoice already said what i was going to say and then some, so i totally agree!

I definitely think whatever is done has to be transparent. Certain characters can be manipulative and deceitful, but I should be honest. I don’t get upset in a game when my character can’t sneak past a guy because he’s decked out in heavy armor- I knew that risk going in. And I’d either gray out the decision or just not show it, I don’t like false options either.

I also like the idea of having having a skepticism stat or such revealing text that isn’t normally present indicating something is suspicious, but I worry that doesn’t quite indicate that someone trying to indoctrinate a person is actually manipulative and not a devoted follower of their ideals.

I was thinking of modeling it as a relationship stat for certain ideals, like say perhaps “Belief in Ancestral Spirits”, “Devotion to Tribe”, “Trust in Science”, etc. (All place holder names for various faiths and groups within the wasteland) and have it instead be measured as conviction rather than mutual fondness. So if you build up a strong amount of conviction in a certain ideology you can be manipulated by those espousing it and deaf to the claims of its opponents, whereas if your convictions are weak you can be more open-minded and skeptical, capable of considering more options and being able to see through lies or identitfy a person’s motives. However, a lower conviction would also make it difficult to be confident in certain ideals, and thus make it harder to be a leader for them.

Not sure if that’s good idea or not, to be honest.

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@Regulus

How about mitigating the potentially damaging effects of being weak vs a certain faction or belief system with some sort of internal dialogue?

If you, in a conversation with yourself, reason out why this is good, just ok, or not so good, you can either reinforce, be neutral towards, or try to reject the idea being presented.

You can use this setup to give the player more agency and help them control their gameplay experience.