The incompetent, "chronically out of xir depth" protagonist

I agree with the wayhaven part, I initially thought that the main character just starts off as human and later become a supernatural or stronger. But it seems like your character stay the same. There was also the fact, the vampires felt way too powerful, your character felt like the “exception human” for the vampires, you got shamed for some of your choices and the fact that the mother and team is somewhat keeping the main character hostage.(also I was kind of getting some diabolical lovers vibes from it and I really don’t like that game or any game similar to it.)

I don’t dislike the author and love some of their other works and I don’t hate anyone who loves the game. But I guess with this one I couldn’t get into because I’m not a big fan of overpowered vampires? I have no clue.

I mostly like power fantasies so I tend not to play games where the main character is weak but it seems like weak or not strong main character games are pretty popular here from what I’ve seen

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That’s a whole other problem then. There are a whole host of issue and contradictions surrounding romance. Like maybe if one or more characters (including the main character) are in mortal danger, romance is going to be the last thing on their minds except long before or long after shit has hit the fan.

It can be jarring when the situation tells you you might not live to see tomorrow but there are options to flirt with one of the other characters.

Now imagine the game makes it seem like your detective stats are important. There is a brutal killer on the loose, but it turns out that you should be romancing one of the well dressed secret agents that walked in to your office.

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plz don’t use logic with meh…cose I totally would jump on the romance and smooche them and let the killer watch at the window :rofl:

Sordwin actually did that sort of thing quite well. There is supernatural stuff, there is detective work and there is romance. One of the characters have such a high libido that they proposition you for sex 3 times during the 24 hours that the story develops within, even to the point of suggesting a quickie just before you are about to face the final boss. And none of that seemed out of place or immersion breaking.

So yeah, it depends on the character. If the romancing is completely out of character (or out of tone) then it may feel out of place.

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On the ‘let the player know stuff the mc doesnt’:

Player-, character- and author knowledge are tricky bastards:

The author will, naturally know stuff the player and the mc don’t.
The MC, thus, will know stuff the player does not.
And the player might know/expect stuff due to tropes etc the author has not thought about.

First and second case it’s imho important to let the player know what the MC knows before/when it becomes important.
In the third case: This is what high-level feedback should be for. If you thought something would happen, say it during testing, whether or not you liked what has happened instead.

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This is where we disagree - the MC was much better at manipulation of relationships than any of the NPCs and despite of the fact that one was constantly snickering in the background, one was undermining your authority, one ignoring you and one seemed embarrassed with you at the least, the MC is still able to form and control a romance with any of the above.

The MC masters the romance and this connection that most have with the MC is the basis of a huge and loyal fan base, no NPC is better than the MC in this quality and this connection formed to the reader allows the rest to work wonderfully and successfully.

The entire game’s focus is romance (as declared by the author ) and in its focus, the MC is peerless. This why fans of romance love her games so far.

The perfect contrast to highlight this, is the WiP Donor where romance is never stated to be the focus, so the MC’s romantic skills may or may not work on the NPC characters. In this story, the MC’s survival skills are supreme.

Edit - This is addressed to everyone in this thread: Thank you for sticking to the thread’s topic and resisting going off-topic. This is a great discussion that @Whisper_Gardener has began and I hope it continues.

This is the type of thread that makes the community so strong and wonderful.

So: Thanks :two_hearts: everyone.

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Probably a personal preference, but it never occurs to me to skip narrative that isn’t contained within the MC’s PoV because a.) I most likely paid for the game and should get my money’s worth and read the entire thing and b.) I’ve skimmed over things before and it’s bitten me in the ass when it comes to making choices (sometimes big, sometimes small) that I could’ve got ‘right’ if I hadn’t skimmed or skipped the narrative text.

Anyway, we’ll have to disagree on that perception of the Detective since I was never given the impression (see previous comment) that the Detective was that useless. I’m agreeing with E_RedMark and giving the IF the benefit of the doubt because it markets itself as a romance and not a crime thriller.

“Experience the big and small moments with a host of characters throughout this exciting twist on the usual supernatural tale—a story which will take you through heart-pounding romance, smile-filled friendships, and shiver-inducing drama.” - Excerpt from Wayhaven: Book One’s promo spiel

Go down into the bullet points and not once does it directly say that the story is about solving the string of murders. The closest points you could argue for the game marketing itself as a crime thriller are 4th and 5th points (reading from the top down).

Most people who play Wayhaven probably don’t play it be a detective (speaking from experience here), but play it for the romance. So the focus for them is whether or not they have agency and are competent in the romance aspects of the game. We could argue whether or not the game satisfies those two criteria, but that’s slightly off topic since that’s focusing on a specific vein of competency/agency in IF and not in general (which is your original topic).

In the end, if I want to have agency in the romance aspect of an IF my go-to would be Wayhaven. If I want to have agency as a detective, my go-to is Highlands, Deepwaters where the focus isn’t on romance (it metaphorically gets shoved in the fridge if you pick certain options) but on being a detective in an increasingly disturbing world.


Another example would be the Dragon from Choice of the Dragon versus the Cat from Choice of the Cat.

From the get-go, the player is instantly told that the Dragon is the one in complete control; they can do whatever they want, whenever they want with little to no consequences if they’re skilled enough and play to those advantages. Having an incompetent Dragon because the author said so would ruin the experience of being a dragon, especially one with that much agency right from the start of the game.

In Choice of the Cat, it’s set up where the MC is in a cat carrier and we’re implicitly told that we - as a cat - don’t have as much agency as the Dragon. We’re a cat and we can’t get out and have to rely on Andre for help (I think that’s the husband’s name; correct me if I’m wrong) to unlock the cat carrier.

I don’t know if you ever played Choice of the Cat, but that lack of agency made sense (again for the reasons I said in regards to a baby!MC) because you’re a cat - a pet cat, no less - in a household with humans and a dog. And because you’re a cat you are incompetent compared to NPCs by virtue of being a cat. Cats don’t have agency in comparison to their owners who decide the fate of their entire lives on a whim, so to speak.

There are instances where the MC can exercise their agency over these characters, but that’s because these NPCs (Homer the dog, your next door neighborhood cat, and Moon) have relatively the same level of agency as the MC themselves.

In my opinion, incompetent characters can be done well but that hinges entirely on if their incompetence is believable (i.e. being a baby, a pet, or something that doesn’t have as much agency compared to others by nature of being itself) and nuanced (i.e. as that Cat you can directly influence Homer, but you can only indirectly influence Andre again because of the relative level of agency between you and the NPC).

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well you can meow…guilt them…be afraid…and take a poo…

and not all cats can get out of the carriers . I had alot of cats and in the 5 of them…only 1 of them busted the cage while on the road and thats only cose she was So big (as in built like a freaking body builder…all muscle and no fat) .

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Just telling you what I saw. :thinking:

Although I’m not sure what you mean by “manipulation of relationships”. I did not get the impression that the MC was some kind of master manipulator or Casanova.

And there is some sense in which the characters “ability” to be involved in a romance is not really a capability. A characters “capacity” to be seduced does not seem like much consolation when they lack agency in all other aspects.

It seems more like a metacapability more than anything. No other character in that story is going to remark about your knack for being swept off your feet by attractive government agents.

According to the premise (a great premise by the way) and stats (which were almost all detective based) this character is meant to be a detective trying to figure out whats going on and trying to avoid being overshadowed by a larger government agency that does not care about the locals, also there are supernaturals. So it may be a bit off putting if you are expecting to be Sherlock.

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I’m referring to the fact that we, as a cat in Choice of the Cat, have no direct impact on the agency of other NPCs or they can easily override our actions as our owners. Sure, we can inconvenience them at time - ie. poop in the carrier - but the effects of our actions aren’t the sole cause of one thing or another in regards to the human NPCs (at least as far as I can recall. We can cause the divorce [I think; I never went that route] but only as the straw that broke the camel’s back since Claire and Andre had all these other stressors in their lives by the time the Cat!MC rolls along).

In comparison to the Dragon from Choice of Dragon, if you wanted to burn down that village as a step toward conquering the kingdom then you could and nothing could stop you. In Choice of the Dragon, we have a direct impact on what goes on in the story i.e. do X and Y happens as an effect of X.

Anyway, we’re getting off topic, but all my talk of agency is trying to say that how an author sets up the player’s expectation for agency and then how they deliver on that promise can affect the player’s perception of their MC’s incompetence.

This is key. This expectation is why I consider Wayhaven a romance game and not a detective story.

But they are - the reader has the ability to chose any romance option and always succeed, there is no chance of failure.

We’ll just have to agree that we approach this game and perhaps others differently :slight_smile:

It is ok that we disagree, just as long as we respect each other and our viewpoints. A discussion is really boring if we all agree on every thought involved within it. :slight_smile:

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Well I played the game twice. One with the detectives perspective and the other with the “god eye view” perspective. Didn’t waste any money.

Not saying they falsely advertised the story. But the “it was meant to be a romance” argument just does not work here.

The main character’s goal (which the player must buy into) is to find out what is going on and to not die.

If the MCs goal was to seduce one of the agents then their personality will not always reflect this (a personality which we are allowed to build through dialogue, clothing style, home decor etc). What if the character is a mean sherlock, or a stoic, professional type (not the type to fraternize with coworkers)?

Anyway all the hallmarks of the incompetent character are there.

1: They don’t know what is going on relative to other important characters.

2: Their entire role (according to other important characters) is to be rescued, pursued or protected because they are inadequate in such a way that they can not protect themselves (mostly because of 1).

3: They have very little agency, their role in the story is to react to the demi-gods swirling and lurking around them, making secret plans for them. They are a macguffin.

4: Anything which makes them significant in the story is relational, situational or innate(but not in such a way that it helps them solve or avoid problems).

5: You can’t shake the sense that one of the other characters deserves to be the protagonist.

I think this quote may help me explain.

A protagonist who never does anything isn’t interesting. In fact, it often feels like the narrative accidentally got stuck on a side character. They rarely do anything on their own, always depending on the romantic interest to solve problems for them. Some stories try to balance this out by giving the protagonist damsel a secret power, but this doesn’t help. If the protagonist never demonstrates any agency, all a secret power does is turn them into a McGuffin. Five Tropes That Make a Protagonist Boring – Mythcreants

Also this trope.

Granted, at the end of the game the character finally gets to use their stats in a significant way, but that felt like I was being thrown a bone.

Not saying the story and the world building was bad though, just that I would have wanted to follow someone else in that story. Maybe Verda.

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Really? No chance of failure? Well that sucks.

We’ll agree to disagree on the romance bit of Wayhaven and whether or not the Detective in an incompetent character or not. I don’t think they are, but you disagree so we’ll leave it at that. :slight_smile:

I understand what an incompetent character is, I just never felt that the Detective was incompetent. FMPOV I was given agency in terms of who I could choose to pursue and how I could pursue them (shy versus suave flirt options for instance). What was interesting about the Detective was the romance and the pursuit of a relationship with any of the four Bravo members.

I’d love to hear what you have to say in further detail but I think we should take this to PMs because it’s kinda overriding the original thread’s topic. :slight_smile:

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I think this is quite on topic, since it is about whether a specific character fits the criteria for the chronically out of their depth macguffin protagonist and whether that made the story worse or better. But if you do not want to debate the issue that’s fine.

Hardly! :slight_smile: I want to be a good forum goer and let other people have a say!

We can continue this after others have posted. Promise!

I would contend that power fantasy is much safer to create when it comes to IF. Since within a power fantasy a character is more likely to have agency and the world is more likely to respond to their actions.

But there are cases (like in cosmic horror) where there are forces greater than you at play(e.g. Highlands). This is almost the opposite of power fantasy, even then, the character should have some form of agency (like being able to use the information they have gathered to escape the situation).

Ofcourse, in such stories you probably shouldn’t give the player the ability to “punch out cthulhu”, that ruins the effect.

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Your points really aren’t wrong, but I think there’s a difference between “incompetent” and “out of their depth”, and the Wayhaven MC is the latter. They’re doing their job just fine, with all the information that they have at their disposal–but there’s a world they don’t know about, and getting embroiled in it is the point of the first book. The mystery of the murders is a conduit for the actual goal of the story–set up for the rest of the series, which is a romance about a person getting involved in the world of the supernatural. And it’s hard to say the MC will definitively be out of their depth throughout all seven books–there’s a lot of time for them to develop skills and adapt to their new situation.

I think the Wayhaven MC could be compared pretty well to the CCH MC on that front–they begin the story at a clear point of weakness in comparison to everything around them, and as time goes on become more equipped to deal with it all. Although I feel like in CCH there’s a bigger goal of letting the MC make it to the same playing field as their peers, whereas in Wayhaven (if I recall right) the author has been fairly explicit about the MC, as a human, simply not being able to physically compete with other supernaturals. So it might be less “going from out of their depth to in their depth” and more, “going from out of their depth to less out of their depth”.

Wayhaven isn’t marketed as a mystery, and it doesn’t play like one–the player is largely aware of who the bad guy is from the opening scenes, even if the MC isn’t. The investigation is definitely happening, but generally the focus of the scenes is on how the cast interact with each other. Hence the defense that it’s a romance game first and foremost–looking at the romance as the main plot, you can see that the player has a quite a bit of agency over how it progresses. Including, yes, choosing your romance option and being sure that you’ll get to see the entirety of their romance route, as well as choosing between bold and shy options, later on how physical you want the relationship to be … in some of that there’s a question of MC agency vs player agency (I agree that the main character as they appear in the text isn’t a master of social graces, at least not necessarily, so there isn’t necessarily a clear cut diegetic justification for the MC to take their pick of the ROs; and yes, the MC has the professional goal of solving the case, but the game was not written to cater to a player who wants to solve a fictional crime), but there’s definitely agency. I guess whether the MC is out of their depth in the romance portion of the story is kind of up for debate–I think it depends on how you play it

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I think the keyword here is ‘helpless’. The MC from Wayhaven is not helpless; they can do their job fine, they could speak up when they were bullied or undermined; their decision affect the course of events in the story. Yes they need to be saved and yes there are much strongers characters that need to save them but the MC bound the story together and has impact in the story.

Meanwhile there are stories where the MC is just pretty much useless; no matter what they do (or didn’t do), they are helpless and it feels like they were just being dragged along the story. Not being able to stand up for themselves, not being able to make decision that affects their lives. That situation is what I think author should avoid.

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I think the out of depth term and incompetent aren’t really meant to be in the same category. An incompetent MC would have to have that as their gameplay to attract a fanbase. If an MC can’t do anything right, but everything is well written, I would play that game simply because blundering from situation to situation and doing so charmingly and sympathetically sounds like an incredibly introspective and fun game.

The out of depth protagonist has to be there to be able to insert anyone in their shoes. Or almost anyone. The point is also to progress into their own and overcome their faults. The good traits of these characters are usually their determination and moral drive or compassion. When a powerful character walks into a fight, they count on their strength and general powers. When a powerless, out of their depth protagonist does the same, they do so knowing they’d get hurt or die but the reason they’re there is a good one that matters to them.

In that aspect, I largely prefer a well written weak or flawed character in a game/book. It is simply much more compelling. There’s a quote by Terry Pratchett that says “When you can flatten entire cities at a whim, a tendency towards quiet reflection and seeing-things-from-the-other-fellow’s-point- of-view is seldom necessary.” …this largely makes a story about a powerful creature less interesting to read.

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