Friday, May 26, 2017

Player vs. Character (Key Terms)

Hey Game Fans, we’re back with a look at a couple of key terms that are going to come up a lot in the world of Role-Playing games.  If you haven’t joined a game yet, or have been playing for years, you’re going to routinely encounter the terms Player and Character, and you probably shouldn’t get them mixed up.  “I think I was too rough and killed one of the players in my game” has a much different meaning than “I think I was too rough and killed one of the characters in my game.”  Let’s dig into these two important concepts and then we’ll cover a couple of other ideas.


The person actively engaging in a game activity.  Players gather round their chosen interface (probably a table, but there are a host of other areas) and take on the role of a character to interact with the game world in a shared social activity.  This is You


The mechanism that allows a player to interact with the game world created as part of a shared social activity with friends.  This represents a combination of values and mechanics (attributes, skills, and other things dependent on the game) and the personality and other individual choices that a player makes to define their character.  Other terms for this include toon, avatar, persona, and many others.  

Important things to consider:

You are not your character and vice versa.  Playing a character in a role-playing game gives you wonderful opportunities to explore ideas and concepts outside what you would normally experience in your day to day life.  You can explore a different job, a different ethnicity, change the particulars of your social status, and a host of other wild and crazy ideas in a role-playing game.  Embrace the differences you can explore and see where the game takes you.  

Considerations and other concepts

There are some important concepts and ideas that you need to be aware of when getting ready to play a role-playing game. I’ll discuss these in a little bit of detail, though you’ll read about them in most player’s guides/handbooks/manuals.  The ones that don’t come up, I'll cover in a little bit greater detail.   

In Character

Being In Character generally refers to communication and interactions that you as a player have while acting as your character.  Exploring old ruins, trying to talk the Harbormaster into letting your ship dock, or Wooing whichever of non-player characters you’re interested in all fall under things you’d be doing in character.  
Note 1:  Non-Player Characters, or NPCS are controlled by the Game Master and are elements of the gaming environment created as the setting and/or background for the game you are playing.  
Note 2: Game Masters (most games have a specific title of their own for this) are a special type of player that doesn’t control a character of their own.  Instead, they control the game world, including setting elements, challenges, and other characters that the rest of the players interact with.  

Out of Character

Out of character interactions are the things you as a player do to interact with other players outside of the game environment.  Chatting about the movie you’re going to see later this week, tossing sick burns at the new player, and texting one of the players about something that doesn’t have anything to do with the game are all examples of Out of Character interactions.


So you have two differing states of interaction, In Character (IC) and Out of Character (OOC) and there are some interesting situations that come up because of the way these two states interact with each other.  

In Character Information

When you are playing a character in a Role-playing game, there are a myriad of potential things that your character likely knows and is intimately aware of that you as a player do not know.  I personally have no idea how magic works, nor am I versed on the Royal families of dozens of neighboring countries and city states.  The character I am playing for the game is probably aware of these (especially if I am playing a spell caster or someone who has a vested interest in nobility for some reason).  So how do we handle things like this?  
Typically there are traits or skills that enable players to either know the information (in which case the GM will explain it to the player or give them a handout) or they can attempt to “roll dice” to see what their character knows in this particular circumstance.  Either way, there are in game systems designed to help you as a player either utilize the knowledge your character would know, or learn it as a player.
Note 3:  Roll Dice is a shorthand term i use to describe any time a player attempts to use the game’s system to accomplish a task.  This can be dice rolls, value comparisons, or may involve the playing of cards.  Since I’m using a generic idea for a role-playing game environment, I'm also going to use a generic term.  
Note 4:  Take Notes.  There are usually going to be an assortment of names, places and specific things that come up as part of a gaming session, and if you want to be able to quickly bring them to mind, write them down.  

Out of Character Information

Out of Character Information is anything that you as a player knows that your character doesn’t.  This doesn’t seem like it would as much of an issue, but let’s imagine the situation that you are playing in a Star Wars game (and there are several) set during The Empire Strikes Back. Having seen this movie, you as a player have much more information about what’s going on in the game environment than your character probably has access to.  This is a fairly common situation because there are dozens of games that are licensed from other franchises and settings, and some of the most popular games have their own backgrounds and novels.  
Handling this issue is a little trickier because it requires you as a player to separate what you know from what your character probably does.  It’s hard to do in some cases.  The GM will likely start asking questions if you start using a lot of Out of Character Information and may curtail your use of Out of Character Information by changing the facts as the exist in the game environment.  


There’s an interesting (to me anyway, most folks are constantly irritated by it) phenomenon that occurs when players start making in character decisions based on the idea that they know they are playing a game.  Basing their decisions on the overall idea that because they are playing a game, certain facts are accepted.  “There has to be a way to open this door, otherwise we can’t advance the story,” or “The GM wouldn’t put us into an encounter with a giant dragon at our level, he (or she) know’s that we can’t survive the encounter” are two very common examples of metagaming.  
Handling Metagaming usually requires a fairly straightforward conversation between the GM and the people who are playing the game.  My best advice is to not look at a Role-playing game as a game to win, but as something to be experienced.  Metagaming can shortcut the experiences you are having and may result in reduced fun.  

Rules Lawyering

Many role-playing games have complex systems and bewildering options.  It’s possible to find loopholes and interactions within those options that create circumstances that were never intended.  The spirit of the rules and the letter of the rules are two very different things, and players (and GMs) who follow exclusively the letter of the rules are often described as rules lawyers.  Technicalities and unintended interactions crop up a lot, and arguing over the semantics of the rules is a very common occurrence with this behavior.  
Handling this one is fairly straightforward for a GM.  Most games are very clear in the idea that the GM can change or modify rules to suit their specific game style.  Once the GM makes such a decision, that is the new rule going forward.  (be very careful about changing rules)


Playing in a role-playing game often stirs emotions in the people playing.  Anger, joy, and a host of other emotions can crop up during game play.  Bleed is the interaction between a player’s emotional state and the character’s emotional state.  Bleed-In is the player’s emotional state affecting the character, and Bleed-Out is the character’s emotional state affecting the player.
Role-playing is a hobby that likes to elicit emotional responses and understanding the changes that can occur is the first step in managing Bleed.  Recognizing when it’s happened is usually the first step in handling any lingering effects from it.  

Conclusions and Food for Thought

Those are my key thoughts and ideas for you to take away from this discussion about the differences between Player and Character.  There’s a lot of potentially heavy topics and things that you will experience as you continue your journey in Gaming.  Bleed is a topic that I just discovered myself and I would like to thank Whitney Beltran, Emily Care Boss, and Sarah Lynn Bowman for helping me give you this basic explanation of the topic.  
For more information on Bleed, please check out the following sites and sources
Game On, Game Fans, and we hope this article helps you out.  

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