MC Backstories?

I was wondering what the general consensus was on having a rooted background for MC’s. Do you find 8t important or filler? Should the MC be a mysterious stranger the rides into town one day or do they need something more?

My opinion is simple on the matter. The more solid a background is the better. I like having roots and understanding a character rather than having ambiguous reasons to drive me forward. Then again that’s my thought on it.

What’s yours?
Is a past important to your MC?
Would you prefer the author left it to you to imagine?

Just more curiosity from yours truly.

I’m somewhere between those two. Give too much background info on the MC; you can’t “build” them to fit your own imagination, ideals or somesuch. Give too little, and the story is going to end up being very shallow (not really sure if this is the best word for it).

I prefer the approach where you only have a short explanation on where and how the MC came to this point, and a little background on what drives them. So you have the base for the character, but are still able to “build” them to your own liking.


There’s room for MCs of both types. These two methods of defining (or not defining) the MC accomplish different things, and so whichever a game maker chooses to follow through with is fine. A few years ago I’d only play games where I could define my own character (specifically I always wanted to play female characters), but for some reason I’m more lenient nowadays. If a game is well-written, I’m willing to become enveloped in a story centering around a solidly defined protagonist.

Baldur’s Gate II is a great example of how classic Bioware games let you make your own character, but the touches of definition they forced, such as the character being a Bhaalspawn raised in Candlekeep alongside Imoen, actually enhanced story immersion. KOTOR I and II also used this formula pretty well.


Personally I like having something to build on, but I also like it when you get to choose what that is. Like with Mass Effect, where you got the choice of Shepard being an ex-street kid, or survivor of the colony attack.


If characters havea solid set background… Normally I just run away from that game. I role-playing so your set character is your set character. That would destroy almost all customized important content, and you end in a railroad tracks where the author filled all with you are feeling this, you want that. … Ejem, it is my playthrough I don’t think you have to hold my hand and take the choices from me. Normally they design goodies two shoes wannabe heroes with no grasp of reality. If you want design and set all just write a book not an interactive fiction story.

As long as that background doesn’t come with preconceived values and feelings, then it’s all good.

Eg. You had the biggest crush on this person in highschool!
You have known this person forever and you’re the best of friendsies!
You and your family were very close!
You hate the awesome army of darkness because they’re jaywalkers and stuff, pfooey!

Roots to some extent. Let me take three examples, all from the last three Fallout games, with the disclaimer that they are open world and allows you to ignore the main quest if you want. Assume you are not doing so here and note that these are my personal feelings.

Also, potential spoiler alert!

Fallout 3. I was the child of a man and grew up in the vault, getting to make a few choices as I did, then ended up in the strange world outside. I felt like I belonged and that it was all right. I had a goal, I had a home (until just a moment ago).

Fallout New Vegas. I was this courier that survived and then went on a revenge mission and ended up mix up in a play for power. I never felt rooted, never knew who I was. I could not care less for that power struggle, but I was forced to.

Fallout 4: I am married and have a son. The End comes and we all run for the Vault. Spouse is killed and son is stolen. I felt obliged to rush after him and not stop to inhale the rust. I felt dragooned from the get go. Don’t like it much.

So yes, roots matter. Too little and I am a leaf, soaring on the wind - only to be impaled at the end of it. On the other hand, into each game some roots much go, but too much, too much has gotten in mine… Uh. I meant to say, too much can kill it for some people, such as myself. I feel caged and end up being unhappy.

1 Like

I think the IF definition is huge. They can go from being very game like to very book like.

Many of my experiments with IF (yeah I’m good at starting them and less good at finishing them for other people to look at) have used “I” instead of “you”.

The MC has a background and a past but the story is written in the first person and a reader can guide that character through the story from that point onwards. The stories are interactive fiction, but they are more about presenting a character and a view point to identify with, and then shaping the story.

There is an element in some fiction of getting readers to take on and appreciate other view points and not just make their favourite character in a different story.

There is a market catering for players that just want to make their favourite character and put them through another story.

There are many subtleties in-between.

The main themes I keep seeing when reading threads for writers asking for advice or ideas are;

  1. You need to enjoy your writing because then you’ll have more chance of finishing it.

  2. If you enjoy it then odds are someone else will too.

  3. You can’t please everyone.

Take Care



Using a set character here and writing from the 1st person perspective. It in no shape or form means you’re rail-roaded or anything like that. Simply with the 1st chapter, less than 50% of the content is experienced. Plus, having a set character, I feel I can write a richer story because I don’t have to worry about catering to different styles with it hopefully being clear the reader isn’t really meant to be the character and they’re simply giving the character a nudge in one direction or the other (from options that the character may take, that fit their personality). Plus, I’m writing more of a story than a game anyway (the choices enrich the experience). That said, with the amount of divergence I’m currently planning, it might not be viable in the long run, but at least I’m trying.

I mean, it’s certainly not going to be for everyone (as if anything is :wink: ), but it works fine for the Telltale games as an example, with set characters.

Nice post, Florence. I only noticed it after I’d posted.

Out of curiosity, did you settle on the present tense for your IF experiments? That’s what I’ve gone with anyway, as I figured it’d make more sense rather than choosing the past. Though the past tense could certainly work if the story’s being told after it’s happened.

@DavidGil Thanks :slightly_smiling:

Yes I went with the present tense because it flowed better. I reckon that if you get clever you could come up with story premises that would fit different viewpoints and tenses, but personally I like the idea of moving forward with a current point of view because it makes player decisions feel more important.

I also like what @jeantown is doing with her Guenevere WIP; that’s another path; pick a character with a known archetype and experiment with how that person’s life could turn out if they made different decisions.

Currently aiming to write a short story as part of a collaboration; I’ll be happier once I finish a project and don’t get sidetracked or bogged down. Good luck with yours, I’ll be interested in having a play through when it’s ready.

Take Care

Flo :slight_smile:

I like having a solid background, as long as the author doesn’t presume too much about the personality of my character. Heroes Rise had a pretty set background for the MC, for example, and it’s one of the reasons I love that game. You had a family, a best friend, reasons for doing what you did. Your character had roots and that was great.
Things only fell apart once the MC was forced to express romantic interest in Black Magic - that was where I drew the line on how much control over my character I was willing to give up.

This is absolutely true. Yet if the reader´s views conflict heavily with those of the author’s views, then the discrepancy can be jarring. Especially so if the story claims you enjoy or frown upon something that you as the reader don’t. It’s not always about swaying them over to your side either, and certainly doing it that way is bound to fail in either case.

I don’t really see a difference between “you” and “I”, since the narrator is referring to you, which in my view would be me, the reader. If they used the first name though, that would be slightly different. But as long as I’m the one playing, I want to be in control (within the limitations of the story of course).

Nope. But wouldn’t it be logical to assume though that you would be able to potentially please more people if you give them a choice instead of forcing something on them? I can only speak for myself of course. I think every writer should write the stories they want to write, but when one asks for opinions… Ahrm.

I think I am in agreement with Florence. A background is a way to give motivation as to why someone is starting on their path / journey / adventure etc. I really don’t like the having no background because of lose of memory.

But after you have picked a background the player should make most choices lose from that. Especially regarding to what kind of relation he / she will have with others.

From here on I’m going to get more bias because I’m also writing a game with four set backgrounds and they do have a certain influence in the game.

For instance, right now I’m writing about the MC meeting a merchant. If you have the merchant background you know him from business that you did with him and you will get a better offer. If you have chosen the more violent background he will recognize you as the one who robbed him several months earlier. (you will of course have an option to convince him that it must have been someone else). I think it’s a way to give some additional content besides the regular story progression. One serious downside is that it takes a lot more work to write.

Also, semi related I was somewhat surprised to find out that almost every girl I have forced to try my game has chosen either the criminal or gambler background instead of the two nicer backgrounds. So much for my view of them as innocent.

@blackrising I completely agree romantic options should never be forced upon a MC.

1 Like

Sure. For me the difference is two fold.

  1. “You” is all about telling “you” the reader/player what is going on and what you are doing. It seems to break the 4th wall and talk to the person who is playing / reading directly. I feel it’s more likely to trigger my “I’m being told what I can and can’t do” reaction. There is some kind of invisible narrator telling me what I can and can’t do.

  2. I is more commonly used in novels and stories, usually when the main character is writing a journal of some kind and gives a very close and personal view of a character. I feel it’s more appropriate when you are asking the reader/player to take on the mantle/viewpoint of a character and run with it. It’s more subtle and gentle, there is no invisble narrator. So for me if I was going to put in a backstory for a character and ask the player to explore the future of that character then “I” would be the natural choice.

(I understand that this is a matter of personal taste and probably has more to do with the writer;s experience of reading fiction and playing games.)

It wasn’t my intention to appear to be against giving people choices, so thank you for highlighting that mis-communication.

I think that once the game starts you should give the character choices in all major matters. For instance if a character did start the game with a pre-existing romantic attachment, then I would advise giving the player an option where it was no longer valid for them; there are lots of reasons why previous relationships no longer work.

I can’t say I’d never start a story with the MC having a romantic attachment, because sometimes breaking rules of thumb give you great story ideas :smiley:

Take Care

Flo :slight_smile:


I think it’s best if the author provides the skeleton of the background, with basic information, and allow the reader to flesh it out(now I know where this comes from…). In my opinion it strikes a good balance. Allowing the author to influence the character enough to drive the story forward in some direction, while allowing the reader to maybe feel some sort of attachment to their character.

It’s not really always about pleasing as many people as you can, unfortunately. Sometimes you just need to be true to a story and do what’s best for it, even if it means more people will dislike it than like it.

Speaking personally, I’m simply content if a story of mine makes people think or provokes an emotional reaction, even if the story itself isn’t liked. That said, not everyone’s like me and some just simply want to entertain, in which case trying to please everyone might not be so bad. Nothing wrong with either anyway. And I’m sure I will write some stories where I simply seek to entertain. In fact, I do have a few on the back-burner, written from the 2nd person perspective where I would try to be inclusive of as many styles as possible.

Explaining the ‘I’ thing from my perspective, it’s kind of hard, honestly . . . I’ll try though. First of all, due to the set character, the options are more binary than you’d normally find, I guess. Usually . . . 2 options, sometimes 3. They’re tailored towards what that character might do. Not what the player might do. To make it count, however, I don’t make use of fake choices. I write out text for each, include scenes that can be missed, and I use a fair few *if statements, so it’s my hope it feels like the choices matter more despite it being a bigger workload for me (which I may not find viable in the end). I’ll try to give an actual example as well . . . the set character served in the army. His father’s recently died, so the story begins at the funeral. He’s also a recovering drunk, but given that he’s just buried his father and he’s becoming disillusioned with the world, there’s an option to go back to drinking or not to. Both are perfectly in line with the character, and both will obviously impact future events.

As far as I want the reader to feel when they’re reading? It doesn’t really matter as the reader will draw their own conclusions and feel what they want to, but what ‘I want’ them to feel is that they’re in the character’s head, essentially giving them a nudge towards one decision or another. Kind of like acting as their conscience. I don’t want them to feel like they’re ‘the character’, and hopefully it prevents the disconnect that is so prevalent in interactive games/stories, with people claiming ‘I didn’t have the option I wanted here, because it’s what ‘I’ would have done’. By their nature, games/stories are always limited anyway in the options they can give for players/readers, so every possible outcome can’t be accounted for. And what Flo said is correct too, in that I feel that ‘you’ is talking to you, the reader, telling you what you did/do.

Sorry for the long, rambling post, by the way. But I just like discussing game design, stories etc. Particularly because I feel interactive stories can be more affecting than linear ones, because the reader’s an active participant. And I just want to try and get more people open to games/stories that are more story than game, as there’s no set way for how a story has to be told. I feel that something is lost when you’re trying to cater to as many people as you can, rather than the actual main character/characters and the story itself.

A choice to create your own backstory is something that really drinks me in. It hands me the needle and thread to sew my own character together and absolute freedom to do whatever I want with no consequences. I don’t mind fixed backgrounds but some of those feel forced, like I’m obliged to do a certain thing because of my background, like Heroes Rise for example. My parents were arrested for a crime they didn’t commit and their name has been tarnished, I felt like I had no choice but to be a law abiding, justice seeking hero to restore our name. I would feel guilty to commit any wrongdoings.

Starting off with a clean slate or no background can be great too. From Ashes we rise WiP we literally have nothing for our background, providing freedom to what we want without feeling like we owe somebody or have a duty. No background? No worries.

1 Like

Thanks for the well wishes and good luck with your project too. I’m primarily a short story writer myself, actually, but like you, I have problems with finishing things.

It’ll probably be a while before I share it for everyone, though I don’t mind giving the link privately for people to read. I just don’t recommend it, though it’s not like the work is full of spelling errors etc. to my knowledge, just the content that needs polishing/changing/finishing.

I’ve not actually read Guenevere either, though I hear it’s good and I do intend to do so at some point. From what I can make out, it’s the perfect example of having a set character not limiting your options.

Sounds like a cheesy slogan for some advertisement.

Though I have to say that in the end, there has to be some form of “guide” for backgrounds, since it is a story, and not another universe, strictly speaking. (don’t even try “metaphors”)

1 Like