Writing the Player Character

Personally I find that the hardest of an IF is writing the player character, as I don’t want to put too many thoughts into their head unprompted, while I also don’t want them to feel absent from the story or for the writing to be dry. I try to balance it by using personality stats to affect how the PC talks and describes things, as I’m sure many others do as well.

What approach do you take to writing the PC? Do you give them some set personality traits, backstory, etc? Or do you make them more of a blank slate? And whichever one you do, what are some of the tricks you use while writing them?

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I haven’t yet published anything, so take this with a grain of salt, but here goes:

That depends on the game I’m writing.

For the work I’m using for my Master’s Thesis research, I decided to use a locked character (and third person POV), because I figured it would fit there best (it’s not meant to research a game but the concept of the system, and customization would detract from that, not to mention the system can’t really support that… and I wanted it to also be approachable to people who don’t play IFs) and… sorry, I digress, I was just fine-tuning the questionnaire and my head is full of teddy bears.

For actual games proper, my current plan is to, depending on the game (I have a few ideas), to give the MC a few background options (and in some cases but not the others, occupations - if I’m, say, writing a spy thriller, MC needs to be a spy, and so on) to choose from. Having the dialogues be in some way shaped by the choices of the player is also something I’m thinking of doing (if MC has made a choice in an “all business” manner, the discussion goes on that way; MCs who are professionals on some area will observe things related to that area). I’m not sure I’m capable of completely keeping out some pre-set personality though.

We’ll see how that goes, of course.

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Yeah there is a thing the author of War For the West wrote that I think is relevant.

TLDR; You must set the player free, don’t railroad, don’t put words on their mouth, don’t spend your time putting dubious or obvious choices… Let the player play.

Seven Deadly Developer Sins

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Personally I am doing a mix of preset personality and chosen personality.

I am having the players choose specific character flaws out of options. In the end I am picking which three flaws they are picking from, so I can make sure that all three flaws have their moment to shine. I am doing the same with fears and some of their moral code. This I think is a nice balance between letting the reader choose, but still having control over when these flaws go into effect.

I also have one or two preset flaws for the main character to overcome. I believe in character arcs and that is hard to do in a CYOA, but if you force one or two traits that gives you as a writer something to work with. I’m not sure if I am leaving as much space as some readers would like to make choices, but I do make sure they are included. In the end I want a compelling story with character growth and have opted to have restrictions to do it.

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