Columns, Opinion

Mapping Around Mediocrity: The Importance of Character Creation

Video games are the most expressive medium of the modern age, allowing players to show a new side of themselves through an on-screen avatar. This is no more apparent than in the role-playing genre. Players become the center of a story by delving into a particular character role. The biggest way a player can express themselves, however, is during character creation. Character creation allows players to ponder the type of person they wish to be as they journey through the world. Unfortunately, standard creation tends to limit itself to six-or-so metrics surrounding strength, constitution, dexterity, charisma, intelligence, and wisdom. 

These attributes work from a gameplay standpoint, but are miserable for creativity, leading to general stereotypes, such as the strong but stupid brute or the intelligent yet frail wizard. This prevents role-playing development that would remarkably increase player immersion, forcing this avatar to conform to the developer’s vision instead of the player’s. Improving a game’s role-playing elements will not only avoid it becoming just another R.P.G., but it will also allow for better and more diverse character development.

A perfect example is Disco Elysium’s character creation. There are only four attributes: intellect, psyche, physique, and motorics. Intellect and psyche focus more on the player’s abilities to know and understand, while physique and motorics focus more on physical characteristics and coordination skills. 

All four of these have skills within them that manipulate the character’s state of mind in some way. For example, the skill “conceptualization” is under intellect. During character creation, increasing intellect will affect conceptualization. Afterwards, increasing this skill will increase the protagonist’s knowledge of art, although other areas of knowledge may still lack. Unlike Fallout, where an increase in a skill like science will increase all areas of knowledge, the system presented in Disco Elysium asks not just “Will I be intellectual?” but also, “How will I be intellectual?” The player will start to specifically shape these skills to make their personality what they want it to be. This cop may be great at understanding art, but absolutely horrible at recalling other bits of knowledge that may help during investigations, despite having high intellect.

A system like this is perfect for role-playing games. Role-playing games thrive on immersion and creativity, and being able to mold the mind of the protagonist unlocks new avenues to truly understand who is forming on screen. It is important to remember that although these worlds are virtual and fictitious, character creation is an opportunity to produce another personality. These opportunities give users the chance to live out a fantasy, put themselves into the game, or even create a character that may challenge the player’s beliefs. The playable character is the user’s avenue into exploring the world, and as the character grows, so does the player. Every strength and flaw will give new interactions with the world, which can often lead to new world lore missed on a previous playthrough. As such, when analyzing a game’s system, it is important to not only understand how the game’s system works, but also understand how the system improves on the generic six attribute mechanic. In this way, one can understand if a protagonist will be shaped by a game’s limiting system or a player’s creativity.

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