Playstyles: Director vs Actor; a valuable distinction?

In many of the discussions about playstyles, particular COGs and HGs and about COGs and HGs in general, the difference between people who tend to self-insert and those who get into and stay in character, are often brough up. While I understand that it can also be considered as a continuum or spectrum where it’s possible you might not be fully one of the types, but tend more towards one than the other, I’ve always find it hard to relate to either of those “types” for most of the COGs and HGs I’ve tried. Yes there are a few COGs and HGs, most notably Jolly Good-Cakes and ale, where I’ve really gone into character and made MCs that are really different from me and tried to make the decisions in that COG or HG from their perspectives and in line with what I consider to be their personalities. But for most COG and HG, I don’t do it that way. Though my decisions then are often at least somewhat influenced by what I think I would have done in that particular situation, they certainly don’t feel like a carbon copy of those decisions, with me often either going for decisions that are more idealised, whether being kinder or more social/extrovert than the ones I would actually choose in real life or “smarter”, in the sense that I think it will lead to better outcomes for my characters. And, though I for most COGs and HGs like when there’s some similarities between me and my MC, I certainly don’t mind making characters who are at least somewhat different from me, and in certain ways I guess they always will be, not least because I haven’t yet seen any COGs and HGs where the MC can be an Aspie or have Non-verbal learning difficulties like me or other important things that plays an important role in who I am.

More importantly, I don’t immerse myself so fully in the MCs as some of the other forum members seem to do. Although I care about them and want good things for them I don’t usually feel like I’m fully entering them like some actor where I’m either playing myself or some other person who is clearly significantly different from. Rather, I consider myself to be more of a director who tries to: Make interesting things happen to my MCs by exploring different outcomes throughout the story, making good things happen to MCs by choosing options that will make their lives better, (usually)making the world that my characters live in at least a somewhat better by finding and choosing options that will allow them to make the world an at least somewhat better places and, finally choosing options that will help create storylines I like to see more often in fiction in general, not least when it comes to romances. As you can probably tell from all this, I like to feel like a co-creator of the story on some level and, as a result I tend to enjoy cogs and hgs with many different paths and outcomes, particulary those that make a significant difference to the story, depending on your character’s choices, much more than those with few paths and outcomes and/or outcomes and paths with cosmetic significance

The MC is important, too, but I always like to be able to shape them into whatever “shape” I found most interesting or relatable and according to how it fits in with the storylines I want to explore and also to be able to explore different kind of “shapes” instead of one largely pre-set such. And I guess for the MCs it is also a question of casting, where I can choose between different actors depending on what I want to focus on. This director perspective also means that I, unlike many others, don’t really have any problems with looking at the stat screen from time to time in order to find out what stats would be the best to use and such and am okay with a certain amount of metagaming, since my perspective is already a bit meta compared to those who fully immerse themselves in their MCs. In moderation and within reason, of course, if a decision is extremely out of character for or ,on the surface of it, doesn’t seem to make to make sense for my MC, I probably wouldn’t use a metagame perspective to make that decision, but I won’t be overly strict about which decisions are in character and such for my MCs either. I also really enjoy the sense of “building” a character, with making them powerful in certain skills, abilities and/or attributes while not making them perfect and good at everything and sometimes, like in Jolly Good-Cakes and ale, making characters, with a combination of attributes that above all are…interesting, when put together

So I’m wondering if, in addition to the divide between the players/readers who like to self-insert and those who like to get into character, so to speak, there isn’t also a divide between the players/readers who are actors and the players/readers who are directors. Actors like to fully immerse themselves in the MCs and their perspectives, whether that perspective is your own real-life perspective or a perspective that you’ve taken on, and dislike anything that takes them out of that immersion. Directors have a more meta perspective and focus more on experimenting with the story to see what outcomes they can get or paths they can explore depending on their choices and/or finding ways to get the kind of outcomes and/or storylines that are available and they want to experience. While, just like there are movie directors who make really faithful adaptions of their scripts, there may also be directors who are not that interested in bending the story into different and more unusual shapes but just read it almost like a regular book readers, I think that most other directors will be at least somewhat like me and most real-life movie directors, with them liking to feel like co-creators on some level, like by being able to choose between different storylines and having the opportunity to make many different decisions that can all affect the story in different ways.

I suspect, like with self-inserters and those who like to get into characters, there’s a continuum with only a minority of people belonging purely in one groups, although most people will lean towards one of those groups. Like with the distinction between self-inserters and those who get into characters, it still feels like a useful distinction, because I think it tells us quite a bit about the different playstyles or at least playstyle tendencies that people can have.

So I’m wondering what you people are thinking of my proposed distinction about the director and actor playstyle? Do you think it’s a valid and important distinction or do you disagree that it’s important and/or valid?


Well, completely using actors and directors is not something that is done all the time for some of us. For example, despite applying immersion on my part as an actor, then there are stories that make me give a director’s mentality to test the ramifications of a story. I guess it depends a lot on the person to dig into the ramifications of the game.

In my case at least Balance of Superpower, Choice of Robots and VtM Night Road, they are the only ones that I remember digging into all of their offshoots to test the possibilities because I liked them, but most of the time I didn’t explore them because I have no incentive to try again or because I feel that those decisions would not correspond to me like being a villain in Hero or Villain: Genesis (I was the bad guy in the three stories I mentioned because he likes robots, the characters to meet are interesting and because the world of World of Darkness is very dark and with so many possibilities being a vampire)

So from my point of view I think it is a valid signal but that does not mean that other users’ style of play is denigrated, it is simply a way to explore the history of our liking and where we can discuss it in our diverse forum

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Yes, like I said, I think it’s a continuum anyway and that only a minority of people will always go for one playstyle in all ways. I don’t think I’m a 100 % “pure” director either, although that tends to be my preferred playstyle. Jolly Good-Cakes and ale is one of the exceptions to me being a director, in that COG I get much more into character and make a lot of the decisions according to what would be natural for my character to do, although I don’t go “full” actor there either, since I do metagame a bit and also sometimes make decisions according to the story I want to tell and explore. But then again, that may also have something to do with it being one of the COGs and HGs I’ve replayed the most

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I like it! I think it’s a good way of capturing the distinction between the impulse to shape the broader story and the impulse to shape the main character. As you say, just about all of us have both impulses to some degree, but some of us CSG readers are very focused on the latter, both in terms of the level of customizability we crave and in the extent to which we’re annoyed or, er, dis-immersed (is there a better word?) when we’re given choices over aspects of the gameworld that wouldn’t be in the MC’s control.


I admit, I read the code as I play games and try to engineer a perfect playthrough every time, which is probably strongly on the director side of things, but on the other hand I do get immersed and try to make different characters succeed in different ways appropriate to their personalities.

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I’ve never really code dived to find the “best” paths, and have gone for trial and error and metaknowledge and insights I’ve picked up from playing/reading other COGs/HGs, gamebooks and other interactive stories, fiction and storygames instead when it comes to discovering the “best” paths. So in that sense, I guess you’re even more of a director than me.

But, just to be clear, I think you can still care and maybe even deeply care about your character even if you lean strongly towards the director playstyle. Actually, I think whatever playstyle we prefer, most of us care about our MCs and want a happy, or at least happyish, ending and want good things to happen for them. I certainly do and I don’t think my attitude is untypical for the average director-leaning player/reader. Because when you have the approach/mindset that you’re directing a character, they do also in a way become your responsibility and if the writer do their job, so to speak, and make you care about your character, this will mean for the most of us that we also try to help them and make good things happen for them. And although I think a director won’t be as fully immersed as an actor when it comes to hgs and cogs that they like, I still think you can be reasonably immersed even as a director. After all, when reading regular books, we can still be deeply affected by what we read, even if we don’t really identify with the main characters and there’s no reason that COGs and HGs should be different. But still, there will be a difference in how we view the MC where instead of MC=you or you=MC the MC is a character clearly different from you who you direct and where you’re taking the meta perspective of someone directing the MC into consideration and where you don’t have to think from the perspective of the MC and maybe even also forgetting the game aspects in order to have an enjoyable experience. Obviously, since I’m more of a director than an actor, there’s a good chance that I word it somewhat differently than someone who leans more strongly towards the actor playstyle would and my way of explaining it is influenced by a director perspective and approach. And someone like @EvilChani who seems to be a good representative of someone with an actor playstyle could probably explain that approach better than I can. Still, though my explanation might not fully convey what it’s like on the actor end, so to speak, the point is that you can still care about your characters and still be reasonably immersed(though, I think, not quite as immersed as someone who leans heavily into the actor playstyle), even if you lean strongly towards the director playstyle.

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I want an interesting story, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I want my MC to be happy. Sometimes I’m way more interested to have bad things happen to them. Depends on the story, of course. Also that doesn’t mean I’m not invested in them, because I definitely am.


That’s one of the interesting things about playstyles, that there are also many different ways of being a director or an actor too, like whether you, like me, always want them to be happy or at least end up happy or happyish or whether you, you like you, don’t necessarily have that as a main concern.

But out of curiosity, would you could consider yourself more of a director or more of an actor when it comes to playstyle, if you agree with that distinction?

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I’m not sure I 100% catch what you mean with that distinction, I’m afraid. But what I focus on depends heavily on the game and also my capacity of being able to focus.

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I guess I would fall more into the director style. I frequently think of the games I play as movies and keep a kind of mental boundary between myself and the character. My IRL friends often comment on my tendency to make the same choices repeatedly.

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I generally play the MC as a character archetype similar to myself, and focus on that, so I guess that makes me an actor. If I want to see how different options play out, I look at the code instead of playing through again.

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I’ll try to give a more concise definition of and/or walkthrough for the director/actor distinction. With the actor playstyle you immerse yourself fully in the main character and either the character becomes you, that is you self insert, or you become the character by getting into character, either by making an oc kind of character that you act out or playing and acting out the part of an already partly or wholly preset character. This will, as far as I can tell, also usually mean staying away from metagaming, so as not to ruin the immersion.

With the director playstyle, there’s a clear division between you, the reader/player and the MC. Instead of you becoming the MC or the MC becoming you and the MC taking on your perspective or you taking on the MC’s perspective, the focus is on guiding the MC towards certain outcomes and paths and/or using the MC to explore different outcomes and paths. And with this playstyle, you are also more okay with metagaming in order to fulfil your goals, so to speak, and are less concerned with that ruining your level of immersion And although there probably also are directors(although maybe readers is a better word for them) who aren’t that inclined to experiment with the different shapes the story can take depending on their choices or using the choices of the MC to create particular storylines and outcomes that they particularly like, I think that most directors will like to feel like the co-creator of the story on some level and feel like they’re able to use the decisions of the MCs to bend the story into particular, maybe new and unusual, shapes experience particular storylines and kinds of paths that they are fond of and/or explore the many different paths and outcomes you can get in the COG or HG in question, depending on the choices of your MCs.To almost paraphrase what @Havenstone wrote earlier, while with the actor playstyle the focus is often on shaping the main character, with the director playstyle the focus is on shaping the broader story.

And like I said earlier, it’s probably better understood as a continuum, where while most people lean more towards one of the two playstyles and few, if anyone, belong purely in one of the groups(and few, if anyone, are excactly 50 % director and 50 % actor)

I could probably go on, but I hope this sums up the essence of this distinction in a way that you also can understand. It is a quite new concept and distinction, I only came up with this year(during spring or summer, IIRC) and hadn’t really heard of anyone making that distinction before I thought about it myself. This means that this distinction is still kind of a prototype distinction, which probably can still use some tweaking, to make it understandable and useful to everyone for whom it might be relevant.


I like this distinction, it makes sense. I definitely prefer actor playstyle more, but I also utilize director style to some extent. I absolutely love roleplaying, in IFs and in video games alike. I try to think like characters I’m portraying, I try to understand their motivations and values and act accordingly. When I play a game for the first time blindly, I’m fully in the actor mode. But when I replay the same game again and I already know what about to happen, my goal is to make my playthrough as interesting as possible, so I will use meta knowledge to orchestrate situations I want my character to experience. For example, if I want to play as a tragic character, I’ll make sure to choose branches/romances/etc. that I know going to provide maximum drama. In that case I’m “directing” the events of the story so I can “act” as the character I want to roleplay. So even though I use director playstyle, I use it mostly to help with my main actor playstyle.

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I’m 100% always a self-insert player. The difficulty that causes is that I don’t play the stories that I can’t see myself as the MC in.

No, no, I understood your explanation, I just don’t quite grasp the concept (also I had a headache, which… doesn’t do miracles on my reading comprehension). I honestly don’t know where I land in there - assuming it’s a game that does allow a good amount of options for shaping the character, I’m at the same time inside and outside the character (I “feel” their emotional arc, but I’m not immersed in the way plenty of people seem to; I make choices based on what the character would do, but I would imagine any good director does that too, or risk losing all coherence; if there’s multiple options that the character could equally take, I map them out and then pick the one of which I like the results best); if it’s a game that doesn’t give good enough options, I practically just switch to a reader/watcher format.

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I personally think the distinction is very valuable, at least for me as a writer.

I think that recognizing people of both types will play your game is important, because while Directors may not mind looking up guides or what have you… Actors may find the pressure of needing to do so (if you have too many specific stat requirements) frustrating and unimmersive. I fall much more on the Actor side by nature but will often be railroaded into needing to look up guides in order to know how to get what I want to happen.

Like, let’s say I want to romance a specific character. In most games, you have to farm relationship with them in order to romance them. This means that I have to figure out what makes them gain and lose points. My preference would be being able to gauge instead through what the game tells me how/what they are attracted to, but usually it feels like you have to look up what to do.

I think that my preference for playstyle is Actor first (especially during the primary/‘canon’ first playthrough) then Director when needed if I find it difficult to engage with a story the way I want to.

Edit to Note: I think this is why I want to have an ‘attraction’ system in my own game based off a set of choices different from the usual ‘flirting’ choices traditionally in IF/CoGs. Like, let’s say Joe is a shy guy. He can be attracted to someone who talks a lot, because he feels he isn’t being pressured to speak himself, or to someone who is also shy, because they both appreciate the silence. But he won’t feel attracted to someone who pressures him to speak, or glares at him (he feels put on the spot). I think that feels a lot more organic than “you wink at him and shuffle closer, he flushes and looks at the desk as if peering through it to his hidden hands.”


I assumed when reading the description I would fall into the “actor” role; I’ve been roleplaying since I was 6 (before I even knew what the word was), and that sort of required me seeping into the role (which I am now quite good at), but from what I’ve seen people say I fall into more of a director role…? I’ve never self-inserted, never will- (it breaks immersion for me. Also the choices aren’t usually stuff I would choose.) and almost every single IF I play has me making a custom MC for the world to better fit it, and also so I can better immerse the character in the world. SOMETIMES I’ll take a name and general personality trait and use em for another IF, but most of the times I never do. (I also always use custom names- Idk why sjdhnekjnfhekr), but when I’m reading an IF I typically choose choices that would… both suit the character and suit the direction I want the narrative to go in. A lot of times, especially for dialogue options, I’ll go through and see the outcome of EVERY option before picking the one I like the best, which I don’t think is very actor-like. This is an interesting topic, actually…

@LiliArch, like I said, I think it’s a continuum, and although I think most people will lean more into one of the playstyles in question, while few, if any, have a playstyle that is purely, only and 100 % a director or actor playstyle, there still may both be a few people who have a playstyle that is 100 % or at least almost 100 % director or actor and a few people who have a playstyle and approach that is a “perfect” or almost “perfect” 50-50 mix of the two, where you’re just as much an actor as a director and vice versa. And maybe that is the case for you.

I also think what you, @Phenrex and you @Nemureru_Mori, said about being more in actor mode in the first playthrough compared to the following playthroughs shows what I think is a really important point. Although, I, like I said, definitely lean more towards the director playstyle, I notice that I, in my first playthrough of a COG or HG, particularly those where there’s no particular type of a character who seem particularly interesting to act out and control, my choices are often to a large extent based on what I personally would have done or would liked to have done in a similar situation, since I don’t know the “lay of the land”, so to speak, of the story and don’t know that much about the outcomes the different choices will lead and so don’t know that much yet about how to shape the story a way that I would like it to be and haven’t really started to experiment so much with making different choices either. There still may be some choices, particularly when it comes to creating my character, that are clearly my preferred choices and of course I still don’t have any issues with looking at the stats in that playthrough in order to make what I think will be the best choices for my character and I still will experience the MC as someone clearly different from me, who I am directing. But though I still hesitate to call my first playthrough af a COG or HG an actor playthrough, there’s no question that it is more actorly, so to speak than later playthrough. I guess you coluld say the director playstyle really comes into its own after repeated playthroughs, because then you both get the opportunity to explore the different paths you can take and outcomes you can get and get enough knowledge about how the story and COG/HG as a whole is laid out, to more easily find particular storypaths and outcomes that you’d like. While the actor playstyle, particularly if you tend to self-insert, seems to be at its full power, so to speak, or maybe even at its peak in the first playthrough, since you can then fully immerse yourself in the story without having much metaknowledge that could potentially decrease your level of immersion, except for the stats page for your character.

This could in turn mean several things: Firstly, that although people tend to lean more into one of the two playstyles as a whole, the use of strategies typical of actors(at least of the self-insert kind), like “what would I have done in this situation”, may be much more frequent in first playthroughs and the use of strategies typical of diectors, like code diving and a certain amount of metagaming in general, may be much more frequent in repeated playthroughs, whichever of those two is your preferred playstyle. Even though you may use more of the strategies of the “opposite” playstyle, however, your focus and approach would still be in line with your preferred playstyle and approach. Just like (at least non self-insert)actors can use a bit of metagaming in the service of their character and, in some ways, getting more fully in character, directors can use the, “what would I have done”-approach in order to explore paths and outcomes of decisions in the game and finding out more about which paths and which choices that takes the story in a direction or in directions that they like for the story to take. It still comes down to how you view your character and character vs story as a whole focus.

Maybe this also means that self-insert actors are less likely to replay a COG or HG, as long as they get a good ending in their first playthrough, since they already are fully immersed in their first playthrough and since they don’t enjoy acting out many different characters, won’t find replaying the COG or HG to try different approaches and getting different outcomes that tempting. And, on the opposite end, that directors usually will enjoy several replays, since they enjoy exploring different outcomes and shaping the story in ways that will them to experience particular outcomes and paths that they enjoin, which is usually easier to do on repeated playthroughs.

One final thing to keep in mind is that for the actor-director distinction, the way I perceive it, an important part of that distinction has to do with the mindset of the player/reader in question. And although there are many ways of being an actor or a player, the part of focusing on your character vs the story as a whole and identifying strongly with the MCs versus viewing them as someone clearly separate from yourself who you direct in order to explore different paths and choices with their outcomes or experience particular outcomes and paths for the story, is a key distinction when it comes to understanding that distinction as a whole and will lead to different consequences for how you approach each story and the choices you let the MC make, depending on which playstyle you lean more towards. For instance, while I mostly use make my MCs male, I do sometimes make them female if there’s a male RO that I can explore a romance dynamic that I really enjoy with a female MC who is made a certain way. And in the same way, I do sometimes also make female MC to be able to explore options that, for me would feel too stereotypical and cliche for a male MC, but is just about the opposite when it comes to a female MC. But conversely, I don’t let my male MCs enter into gay romances, even if the male RO in question is a RO I would have liked if they were female or put myself into a female MC in order to romance a female RO of the kind I like in order to put myself in their shoes and experience the feeling of that kind of romance(although of course I think it’s great that most COGs and HGs include both wlm/mlw and mlm and wlw romance options). And the reason for this is that I particularly like a particular, kind of role reversal-y dynamic that is contingent upon the romance partners being female and male and, whether to a greater or lesser extent, reversing fictional traditional and (stereo)“typical” straight romance dynamics. If even of these elements is missing, it’s just doesn’t give me the same kind of experience(although I can enjoy other romances too, though). So, in a very “directorial” way, it becomes less important to me what kind of MC I’m playing than what kind of story I can tell with that particular MC. And sometimes that approach has lead me into making MCs where I’ve surprised myself with how fond of them, like with my calm and gentle giant-ish female Troll Wizard in Life of a Wizard.

I have actually dug into a lot of my own experiences with being the former in Fallen Hero: Rebirth, and hidden it behind a veil of science fiction.

And I really do get this distinction. It makes a lot of sense. I would be very much the actor here, playing different roles. There are very few games where I have had any wish to play a different path only to explore. I like such a narrow band of characters that it becomes uninteresting in most cases. A study in Steampunk is an exception, there I can experience different stories while still playing characters that interest me. I guess I am too much of a director when I write, so it is fun to relax and see where other authors lead me.