NPC Names

I’m in the middle of writing/coding and at a point where the story asks about the players ethnic background. Whether they’re of Asian or European descent for example.

This choice is not just for character customization, but to also set the names for the players family. If you picked that you were of African descent, the names of your family members would be African for example.

It’s a pet peeve of mine when I input a name from a certain ethnicity, just to have my parents and siblings be named Tim and Jane. I was wondering, is this the same for other players and readers? (I want to stress that I am aware you can have a name that isn’t of your ethnicity, it’s just a personal thing)

The problem with setting up the code this way, however, is that it won’t leave room for specifics. Take for example you indicate you’re Asian. Ok, Chinese or Indian? If I set your family names to Indian and you’re actually Chinese, the problem really isn’t resolved.

So really it comes down to if you’d rather have a family name that’s in the very least from your continent or a really random family name. Is this an issue for anyone else? Would you prefer to pick the names of your family or like does it not matter at all to you?

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What exactly is an “African” name? African isn’t a language.

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A name from the African continent which is really large and that’s part of my point.

I have a west African name, what if a player has a northern African name or an eastern one? Hell even in my own country they’re tons of tribes with different names, therein lies the problem of specifics.

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If you were to set specific family names based on user inputted ethnic background, you would honestly have to account for a looooot of options if you want to make sure people got a family name from the culture they had in mind. And like a name from your chosen continent doesn’t really do much at all, every continent on earth covers hugely diverse cultures.

I would honestly suggest that in the case you have described, it’s much better to simply let the user choose their family name!

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Yeah, I agree. Which is why it doesn’t make any sense to aim for any degree of specifics, since it will be woefully inadequate in any case. It’s better to just let the player choose.

I’m planning to but now I feel like it would bog down the game too much and mess up the flow of the story if a player has to type in a name for every single family member they meet lol.

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What a lot of writers do is offer a menu of names that represent a variety of possible ethnic and cultural backgrounds, without trying to account for every possibility, and also allow you to enter your own. For example:

My surname is …

  • Abdullah
  • Cervantes
  • Chang
  • Deschamps
  • Goldberg
  • Nguyen
  • Okafor
  • Pavlov
  • Richardson
  • Singh
  • Steiner
  • Watanabe
  • Actually, my surname is …

A lot of readers - I’d say the vast majority - will be able to find a name on the list suitable to the background they have in mind for their character, and those who can’t still don’t have to feel excluded, since it’s obvious you didn’t mean the PC to be seen as White By Default (and no one could reasonably expect you to include every possibility).

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If you’re planning to use an ethnicity selection to set a surname, be very specific. Get it down to a specific language at the very least, instead of generalising to a whole continent: do “Cantonese” instead of “Asian”. This will definitely limit how many varieties you can put in there, but on the balance, you can also create deeper characterisation or unique scenes. Unless there’s a reason for it though (does it really matter in-universe?), I think it’s unnecessary to tie surnames to an ethnicity in character selection.

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Would have loved to do that but canonically your last name is Washington, which is why it is so important for me that the player has some sort of customization for their family. Great solution though but unfortunately it won’t work in this regard.

That was just an example. The same thing could be done with first names.

Your mother’s given name is …

  • Ayotunde
  • Consuelo
  • Fatima
  • Latoya
  • Ling
  • Michelle
  • Parvati
  • Rivka
  • Sakura
  • Siobhan
  • Actually, her name is …
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Yeah like I earlier mentioned I might be taking that route, I’m just hesitant to slow down the game that way.

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GOD Same. Very much peeved when this happens, and I wanted to make sure that the player’s choice of ethnicity affects the culture of the family scenes too. I ran into the same problems with specification. What I thought of was to add as much as I can for the most common ones, and let people request an addition if they’re willing to be involved in trying to make it accurate.

For easier solutions, there are games that let the player input the parents’ names and I think that’s a fine solution.

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I’d recommend ditching the continents and just offering very specific ethnic backgrounds from the outset.

Like:
#I was the eldest child of a wealthy family in Lagos, Nigeria.
#I was the only child of a middle-class family in Helsinki, Finland.
#I was the middle child of a poor family in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
#I was the third of five children in an upper-middle-class family in Dallas, Texas, USA.
#I was raised by my grandparents in Lima, Peru. I don’t know if I have any siblings.

And what-have-you, to reduce ambiguity and stereotyping.

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I am offering a choice of ethnic ancestry, that isn’t an issue. The issue is giving not just the Mc, but their family, names that reflect that ethnic ancestry.

Your solution wouldn’t work in this context because sure their background is set, but if they’re given random names it doesn’t matter.

And the Mc’s last name is canonically Washington, the only area to the provide this cultural customization would be in first names and I’m fundamentally against being so specific because I feel there’s no point of going the lengths to be that precise if it excludes other people in the process.

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Well, first, I was assuming you’d then tunnel down to pick your name from a group of Nigerian, or Finnish, or Sri Lankan names.

But, with a last name like Washington, it sounds like you’re talking about basically setting a game in the US or Canada with a character that can be part of different ethnic communities. That actually gets a lot trickier as the US is especially diverse, with people often taking part in several ethnic backgrounds and communities at once, with different levels of integration and degrees of separation from an immigrant past. Some people grow up speaking 3+ languages to different family members and have names that don’t fit in English nomenclature, some people might have non-white ethnicities but still have names like Susan and Jim Washington and only speak English.

So, if you want the player to choose an ethnicity, I’d still recommend being highly specific, or explicitly ethnicity-locking in a time and place and let the MC explore what it means to them.

So, either something like:
-I come from a proud African American family in Atlanta.
-My father is Caucasian and my mother is Punjabi.
-My mom and dad emigrated from Korea 20 years ago.

And then tunnel down to different names within those communities.

Or, something like “This is a game about living in Koreatown, LA in 1989. Your character can come from several different kinds of families with unique perspectives on the struggles and changes in the community.”

Or, avoid mentioning ethnicity at all if you can’t speak to it and it’s not relevant to the story, and just include a big list of ethnically diverse names and let people fill in their own ethnic story with their imaginations, like:
(male)
#Tom.
#Jamal.
#Lars.
#Umesh.
etc.

(neutral)
#Robin.
#Dhriti.
#Jaime.
#Aoki.
etc.

(female)
#Sarah.
#Galena.
#Aditi.
#Binh.
etc.

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I’m sorry but I don’t think I can stress this enough. Giving the player character a choice of names and ethnicities isn’t the issue. And even then I think it’s wiser to give general options like “I have European ancestry” instead of “I have French-German ancestry” and risk excluding people in a quest to be inclusive.

This is the issue. Making sure the names of the NPCs match the players chosen ethnicity.

For me it would be weird if I chose the name Ayomide, the text said we had Nigerian ancestry, but my siblings were named Joe and Amy and my parents were named Jane and Tim. Meanwhile, the text specifies we’re of X background but the pc is the only person who’s name suggests that.

And like others have suggested, it might be better off letting the player pick the names of their siblings and the names of their parents.

I believe this is a pick your battles scenario.

As a developer, you want to be as inclusive as you can in each phase of your development focus. That is a given, and by providing choice for the reader on such a micro-level as ensuring that familial names match the reader’s choices, it is a commendable goal.

There are a few roadblocks to executing the perfect solution, and so you, as a developer, must figure out at what point your ideal system becomes the acceptable solution.

Currently, the “best available” implementation of such naming systems that I’ve seen so far, is a straight-up system of asking up front what the reader wants.

In many successful games, such a system is usually done before even starting the game. Things like content warnings, gender selection of romanceable options and even, if you wished, familial names are done in a block formatting situation.

Common micro problems at this stage, include:

  • addressing the fact that some players will not want to spend the five or ten minutes that are needed to give specific names to your cast of characters

  • that by providing such a micro-focused system you will push the goodwill of your fans that are actually repeating your story-content. Many will not want to go through the system every single time they roleplay a character.

  • that by requiring such a micro-focus, your readers will come away with a first impression that your systems are so granular that their time investment for reward ratio is not worth continuing the game.

You and others in the thread have been discussing solutions to the first common issue. The only thing I would add is: make sure your chosen approach fits your story/narrative.

I have no clue what your game’s narrative is about, but if it is involving something specific like the Salem Witch Trials, you’ll want to carefully craft your solution to keep your readers in that narrative.

The second common issue is usually addressed by implementing save systems that are persistent and can be used from one game to the next. The problem here is that the Choicescript engine has no easy way to accomplish this.

I know you are aware of the “slowing the game down too much” concern, but I am not too sure if you thought about “ease of replayability.”

You have already indicated an awareness of the third issue, which I think is great! Many authors are unaware of such concerns and do not address it in their game development.

The talk in the thread seems a good starting point to make sure you do not trip your readers up with “slowness;” there is one other thing I would suggest:

Giving people a few different pre-made families to select from. In addition to having the fill-in the blank selection, have three or four different existing families that will allow a fast customization that will not take them out of the narrative.

It will be interesting to see your choices once your demo is released in a WiP thread.

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Ah, gotcha.