Character polygamy; is it dull, with null emotional investment?

edited October 2011 in Story Games
In another thread Robert posted this:
Posted By: komradebobIf you're going ahead with this, maybe you'd get more out of it by being upfront with your players and also having them play characters on both sides, and some on neither or even just in a faction of their own.

In my opinion, this is exactly the sort of set up where dirty hippy games with lots of player ability to go outside of character monogamy really work well, specifically because there is some distance between player and character direct identification.
This is what I answered:
- I think not. What you proposing is an intellectual exercise, with next to no emotional investment in character. That is, to me, a dull place to be. I'm not overly fond of the character polygamy of a lot of modern games. In this instance it would totally kill my objective. The agenda of tapping into the soul of the oppressor, would be null and void if executed in the manner you propose.

I suspect that a lot of players really feel as I do; a safe distance between player and character is not something they enjoy; they find it dull. So when trying modern games of the type Robert describes, after the first rush of hacing all threads in their hands, and doing what they want with them ... after this a great portion of players realize that they miss something ...
- they miss out on the really heartbreaking relationship with their character; identifying with it, and sharing in its successes and failures.

Looking at it from a safe distance is not quite the same.

So, to be a bit cheeky here; I propose for the kind of play Robert is propagating, to be games made by and for people who are very much dependent on keeping inside their comfort zone. Having an intellectual exercise is fine and fun, but having emotional investment is potentially disturbing, and to be avoided.

Character polygamy ensures aloofness!

Any thoughts?
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Comments

  • I love my aloofness.

    There. I said it.

    I have real life for emotional disturbances.
  • Yeah, I'm aloof no matter what, on account of playing jerkoffs, assholes and other assorted morons. I like watching them run into walls and fall over. I cackle when they cry and smirk when they offer their deepest emotions.
  • Posted By: JDCorleyYeah, I'm aloof no matter what, on account of playing jerkoffs, assholes and other assorted morons. I like watching them run into walls and fall over. I cackle when they cry and smirk when they offer their deepest emotions.
    So you mostly Gm too, eh?
  • Yessssssss. :D
  • edited October 2011
    An alternate take over here: if I'm playing a game, I like to have one character rather than many not because I crave serious emotional investment, but just because I like being able to focus.

    When I GM and I'm playing dozens of NPCs, that's fine and all, but it's like doing a bunch of little one-off performances. It's fun, sure, but at best I'm only getting to do one or two things with any particular scene, and the nature of switching between characters keeps me thinking in big-picture mode rather than really sinking my teeth into the scene I'm in right now. But when I'm a player and I have my character, it's like being the star character in my own little movie: I can figure out who that guy is, what he talks like, how he moves; I can try to portray more complicated and nuanced reactions with him; he can have long-term plans and change over time. All of that is really entertaining and fulfilling play for me, the same way that playing Hamlet on stage is more fulfilling than playing Elsinore Guard #1.

    I'm not gaming to get some kind of emotional catharsis (I also get enough of that in real life) or to push my emotional boundaries (again, plenty of that in real life) or to explore and experience disturbing emotional situations (real life too, sadly): I'm gaming because pretending to be these characters in these games is fun, and because getting to act around a table with friends is a ridiculously good time and much easier to arrange and more flexible than acting on stage.


    I think that one of the very best things about this hobby is that it is big enough and varied enough to encompass what I and my friends like to do as well as whatever it is the rest of you people enjoy. We would all be worse off if gaming was only about one thing.
  • Aloofness?

    Playing multiple characters in the same scene, yes.

    Playing a small number of different characters in succession in the same game, no. Play a human for 5 sessions, then play an Orc for 5 sessions. Or have one Orc and one human you control, and alternate scenes back and forth.

    Not that that's typical of any games I know. Any time you run 3 characters in a one-shot, there's no time to invest.

    Polaris would be an interesting test case. The game can be fast, and also can wind up spending only 1/4 of the play time controlling any given character, and can also get people invested in play. Whether they get invested via their characters, I don't know. When I played, I think I was pretty much equally invested in everything. So I didn't especially care about my character, but I wouldn't say I was aloof either.

    Tomas, surely you've GMed a game where you got really invested in one NPC of many, right?
  • edited October 2011
    Posted By: Accounting for TasteI think that one of the very best things about this hobby is that it is big enough and varied enough to encompass what I and my friends like to do as well as whatever it is the rest of you people enjoy. We would all be worse off if gaming was only about one thing.
    THANK YOU! I really appreciate this!

    Character monogamy = if you do this in your games, you are in some way suspect, and I recommend looking at your play-style.

    Character polygamy = if you do this in your games, you are in some way suspect, and I recommend looking at your play-style.

    The use of such laden terms is risky. Using them without thought, and regularly, is potentially damaging for the fellowship of role-players, in my view.

    To quote the president of the United States, as he was portrayed in the film "Mars Attacks", by a sunglass-bespectacled and hilariously overplayed used-care-salesman-like Jack Nicholson ; Why can't we ALL live together, in PEACE!?

    Have a nice day!
  • I prefer to invest in on character, but I think when playing a traditional rpg being the opportunism to occasionally take on a another character is a great tool.

    For example when for some reason your character is left out of a long scene or a series of scenes, and you whant something to do be to be active IC. Or to use other another character then you main one to give the others player a certain experiencing, like if another player craves a scene with his characters mother, and the mother is a semi-regular appearance in the campaign.

    For me occupationally using more characters in scenes my main character wouldn't be in anyway don't distract me from investing in my main character.

    ---


    But I think it is a personal thing, I know people ho play with impressionistic play styles who has easier to invest in a story if they get to play a cluster of characters affecting each other, then have a GM play a majority of the characters. They want to play the father, the son, the mistress the manservant because they KNOW what they want out of the interpersonal relationships of the character dn want a LOT of control to be able to immerse.
  • I like when a game allows the best of both worlds: I play *my* character, but I also sometimes get to play NPCs/supporting characters for the other players, either because the game is GMless, or to take the pressure off the GM. I get to have strong identification with my character, and variety with the others. Somewhere between character monogamy and polygamy. Character open relationship?
  • I don't think playing multiple characters is in and of itself more distancing than a single one; I'm pretty sure anyone who's ever played any version of D&D has had at least one character who never became anything more than numbers on a page, right? On the other hand, I do wonder sometimes if experience GMing or writing fiction makes it easier to get in the habit of empathizing and identifying with multiple characters.
  • The term "character polygamy" reads poorly in English. The word monogamy is used in non-relationship, non-sexual contexts all the time but the term polygamy is not.

    I think in the service of clarity you either have character monogamy or you don't have character monogamy, it is defined by its absence rather than coining a new phrase. This is probably ludicrous in other languages but in English it is going to work much better.
  • Can we call it character polyamory instead? Please?
    [j/k]
  • God made "Adam and Thraxor", not "Adam and Thraxor and Blackleaf and Grondle and Ellianthalasis"!

    Just as an aside, I find "character polygamy" to be the perfect term in American English for the topic being discussed. You're trying to have multiple, significant relationship with different character sheets and/or character concepts in contrast to the much more conventional "one character per player" model. Just my opinion, but there you go.

    And despite my initial statement, I don't have a problem with "character polygamy" because I've never been able to "immerse" in a character anyway. Heck, I have trouble playing myself.
  • edited October 2011

    Since we're talking about the terms, I may as well mention: in conversation with Adam Minnie, I coined the terms "monoprosopony" and "polyprosopony", from the Greek prósōpon, "face, mask worn by an actor". (Related to latin persōna.)

    Well, I like 'em.

  • As an addendum: in normal daily life, people engage in polyprosopony all the time, constructing different identities in different social contexts. So, in that regard, it shouldn't be surprising to see in an RPG. But I suspect you can make a richer and more convincing person by having one character, who displays polyprosopony, than having many characters, each of whom you can devote less energy and screen-time to, rendering each monoprosoponous and relatively flat.

    This is useful when you want to foreground some characters as protagonists and background others as support (as done in a classic GM/player divide).

  • edited October 2011
    Posted By: kobutsuI suspect you can make a richer and more convincingpersonby having one character, who displays polyprosopony
    I actually have mechanics for supporting this in my fantasy rpg Fabula. The characters may have several social skills (there's 5 in all), and each skill is linked to one particular part of society.

    And each skill is, at the convenience of the players, an expression of one particular aspect of the character. The aspects may be translated, crudely, into Bravado (physical), Flirt (sensual) and Conversation (intellectual).

    So the character may have up to three different social skills (of the 5 available), each linked to a different part of society, and each of them supporting the character in expressing him/herself in a special way.

    I find such things far more interesting than any discussion of "character polygamy", which I only invented to say something about that dreadful term; "character monogamy".
  • "Character monogamy" should be reserved for the extreme cases of My Guy Syndrome, the very worst ones, in which people respond to criticisms of or misfortunes that befall their character as if they befell their real-life spouse.
  • I played in a game at a con. The game was Godlike, so pretty traditional structure. There were 8 characters and 6 players. Two players were asked to take on two extra characters, and they did. Those extra characters were definitely second fiddles. They weren't characterized as much (or rather, their characterizations were very solitary and isolating).

    I was playing a fight pilot captain. Another player was playing my wingman. It was established we were buddies.

    4 hours into the game, two of the players realized they were double booked, and the other game was short on players. They left. The two of us with only one character took on their characters. Now I was playing two characters.

    It was awesome. First, because the guy I started with wasn't so hot when it came down to combat rolls. The other character had an amazing ability for his plane's guns. Second, because I was able to have them play off each other more and plan some combo moves (the guy playing him previously was great, but we were sitting across the table so it was hard to interact without taking the spotlight to do it). There was nothing big or dramatic that changed wither mechanically or from the story as a result (like I said the other player was great).

    I get emotionally invested creating a story. The number of characters takes second place to that fact. It turns out this holds true even in games and situations where I wouldn't expect it to work (as in my example).
  • At some point Tomas I do intend to give you a more proper reply that isn't simply a cheeky one-liner.
  • edited October 2011
    Cheeky one-liners are quite in tune whit this thread! Even monosyllabilism would be good!
  • Having played succesful games of Ars Magica, Polaris/Thou Art But A Warrior and Montsegur 1244 among others, I answer with a resounding "no, not if the game supports it". If it doesn't, well, I guess ...it doesn't? Very crunch-heavy games for the most part don't, with Ars Magica making it work with one super-crunchy character and a supporting cast of crunch-lights. Also it tends to work well in games that specifically support it, like the above. Well, unsurprisingly.
  • I think this may have more to do with character exclusivity:

    Am I the only player who has the ability to say what this character does, what she thinks, who she is?

    Then I can invest in a totally different way in the character.

    Compare playing a game where you get to take turns saying what the character does. Not the same feeling at all, is it?
  • Right, it's not about does one person control one or more than one character, it's about where do the borders of my authority lie on the space of characters.

    So, I could have say over this part of these three characters, and you could have say over another part of the same three.

  • edited October 2011
    Hmm. Te last couple posts looked at things in an entirly different light than i was thinking, actually. I've been thinking more in terms of playing multiple characters, some more shallowly, and also having noncharacter input into the game.

    I'll have to mull over those concepts more.

    Tomas

    In terms of engagement and interest, I have great fun playing with a bit of character polyamory.

    However, as regards your comments on playing within a safe emotional space, well, frankly, yes.

    While I will certainly dip into character and game play beyond simple shoot 'em up type entertainment, I personally have no great desire to go deeply into the mindset of being some character in a truly appaling situation and experiencing it as close to first hand as possible.

    At most, i might want to experience it the way i experience the emotion of watching a tear jerker film. Most times, not even that.

    As for what most players want?

    Who can say? My experience has been that most players I've met prefer mostly to portray a character that they've created that is largely a combination of traits of other characters from popular adventure fiction of some sort, perhaps combining the portaryals by a couple of different well-known actors if the source characters were from film ( or the equivalent from books, comics, or animated features).

    Occasionally, they'll attempt to offer non-character ideas and work them into play, but since the majority of games aredesigned to filter htis sort of thing through a GM authority figure, the longer they game, the less likely they are to offer those sorts of asides either about their character or setting or situation in favor of strictly self-limiting themselves to character portrayal.

    In that, I simply see a feedback cycle and example of self-selection, not any particular large scale trend.

    Well, maybe a trend of sorts. If you want to play multiple characters, have input into non-character concepts, and potentially play assholes, losers and morons who fuck up, then one beomes a GM, no?
  • "Character polyamory" sounds a bit suspect to me.

    On the other hand; playing within "a safe emotional space" sounds like it's lacking in suspect.

    Dalliance and Dull hand in hand?
  • edited October 2011
    You've completely lost me, Tomas. I have no idea what you're on about.

    Edited to add:

    I've often found somewhat suspect the idea of playing out deeply emotional first person games. In fairness, for myself, RPGs have always been a form of enjoyable escapism.

    I don't feel the need or desire for deep soul penetrating gaming.

    OTOH, I live in a place where a man was bludgeoned to death last night on the same route I take to pick up my car after work each night and the local petroleum refinery three days ago had an unexpected flaming release of gasses, that had it one on for much longer unchecked risked incinerating my humble self, my cherished feline companions, and whole neighborhood while we slept, an event which has repeated itself with unnerving frequency in the last few months.

    I commonly interact with people who on any given night make decisions on what part of their personal ethics or ideals they'll be willing to compromise today to try to survive vaguely comfortably in the short term, and who may well be wrong about the expected results of the compromise regardless.

    I hope that you will appreciate that, for myself, I have a fairly low regard for some of what passes for "deep" gaming, given that context.
  • I'm on about the thing I've already said:

    Character monogamy = if you do this in your games, you are in some way suspect, and I recommend looking at your play-style.

    Character polygamy = if you do this in your games, you are in some way suspect, and I recommend looking at your play-style.

    The use of such laden terms is risky. Using them without thought, and regularly, is potentially damaging for the fellowship of role-players, in my view.

    Some people here talks about "character monogamy", as if that is a meaningful phrase connected to the character-player relationship in classical role-playing games. The term is a slur. Turning it into a regularly used term is bad. It will alienate a lot of players.
    Posted By: Jason MorningstarThe term "character polygamy" reads poorly in English. The word monogamy is used in non-relationship, non-sexual contexts all the time but the term polygamy is not.
    Excellent! So then my invention; "character polygamy", is understood as I wanted it to, and should do much to point towards what I'm saying above. Thanks!
  • Just to muddy the waters further: character ownership vs. no-character ownership?

    Fiasco has the character you own and others you just ... borrow. For some reason, I do find a greater attachment (and less aloofness) to the owned PC than I do the NPCs I pick up and play.

    Apocalypse World lets you create an alt. I've played two mains and one alt, and have less attachment to my alt ... maybe that's just because I haven't really gotten to know him yet.

    I do want that attachment. Maybe it's just time. Time helps, no matter what the media: I'm more attached to the heroes of my favorite TV shows than the heroes of my favorite movies.

    But that's probably just me, and I'm not sure it should become a guideline for good game design or anything. There are well-loved games with little-to-no character ownership.
  • Posted By: TomasHVMExcellent! So then my invention; "character polygamy", is understood as I wanted it to, and should do much to point towards what I'm saying above. Thanks!
    I think next you should create a jargon framework that ties every socio-sexual affinity to specific player-character relationships. Surely there is a difference between character polygyny and character polyandry. You have not delved deep enough yet.
  • edited October 2011
    Ha! Jason you own.

    For my two cents: I've had the deepest character involvement in games where I've had the highest number of characters to field. In the 6 year improvsed system Ars Magica campaign I played with Vincent & Meg Baker, I had more investment in minor characters even, than I've had in many short term trad or hippy games that only asked me to play just one. But I spent waaaaay more time in character in this campaign and others like it than in any of the latter.

    I've also loved games where I've had very little investment in my own character (Blue Lines still stands as one of my favorite games, but I barely did anything and felt little connection with the cartoon unicorn mascot I played). This isn't the same as character involvement though.

    Perhaps The Hare and Hound, is a better example for that. My character was a bastard, covering for the crimes of Jack the Ripper and generally acting as a foil. And my screen time was short. But I loved playing that character, and feel strongly about him and the game still.

    The depth of your connection and investment in a character will either be a function of 1) the time and depth of exploration you spend with that character or 2) the compatibility or fulfillment that a character & a game give you.
  • edited October 2011
    My play style varies between polyamorous leatherdyke and transsexual gear queer.
  • I'm mostly in various degrees of masochist-polyroly mode.
  • Hey, new here, wanted to weigh in:

    I have found that I desire a strong attachment to a character. Especially if there is an expectation of logetivity in the game. I also feel that the playing only one character allows for the illusion of potential immersion as well as an artificial attachment bred by choice. By closing off other characters one could of played, one feels that the character left brings with it a special relationship.

    I recently played Blowback and was surprised by how much fun the process of creating multiple characters was. I was also surprised by the investment I had in a) both my agent and civilian, and b) the characters I created as their respective relationships. I believe what helped me overcome my desired character monogamy was that Blowback implied (as I read into it) a prioritization of characters. It was like it told me: "Yes, you can be attached to your agent, but look, don't you also want to be attached to this civilian?" I think in the end forcing my investment in an array of character--some I would play, some I wouldn't--was some of best results that game gave me.
  • That's an interesting experience, Nicholas. Never heard of Blowback before. Did it play out well?
  • I ran a Battlestar Galactica game using the Solar System rules a couple years ago, and I decided on polygamy as a solution to the multifaceted nature of the fleet. I didn't want to have to constantly force situations where the priestess and the CAG were in the same room just to give everyone enough playing time. Instead, I had each person create a primary character and two significant people in that character's life. The significant people then became other people's alt characters. I thought a lot about a system for deciding who got which alt character, but it turned out that with about 30 minutes of discussion, everyone was happy with their choices. It generally worked out fairly well. People occasionally became more involved with their alts than their mains, but as long as they were emotionally involved with something, that was fine with me. We had a couple false steps where players ended up with their mains too close to someone else's alts, allowing them to give themselves orders, but we made one character change and did a little handwaving and it stopped being a problem.

    The campaign was awkward because of a general mismatch in expectations between me and some of the players, but I think the polygamy worked well and I wouldn't hesitate to do it again, if it made sense in the setting.
  • edited October 2011
    Tomas,
    We had some difficulty with Blowback's rules as they pertained to flow, structure, and conflict resolution, and unfortunately those of us who were playing have been unable to revisit the game since. But as far as having two characters to play around with, the game certainly succeeded. We the players were significantly more invested in all of our characters I would have expected. Furthermore, in Blowback you each play an Agent (read: spy/assassin) and a civilian; this lead to a pre-established grouping of possible relationships: agent to civilian, agent to agent, and civilian to civilian. In this way it felt easier to handle (and invest) in multiple characters, because I had a sense of what kinds of relationships I could play into.

    It might be important to note the Blowback is a game about relationships and the consequences to those relationships backlisted spies doing under-the-table-jobs suffer. I would highly recommend checking it out if the genre appeals to you.
  • edited October 2011
    Jason; I like the way you did it. Sounds both intriguing and intelligent. Seems to me you worked out a very nice solution to the dilemma the game presented to you. I really like this kind of entrepreneurship in role-playing games. Bravo!

    Nicholas; thanks for telling me more about this. The pre-established grouping sounds very smart, to me. I would believe it is important to help players keep a clear social map in mind, when trying to invest in multiple characters.
  • Posted By: TomasHVM

    Nicholas; thanks for telling me more about this. The pre-established grouping sounds very smart, to me. I would believe it is important to help players keep a clear social map in mind, when trying to invest in multiple characters.

    You are very welcome.

    In regards to having a clear social map: most of the character sheet is devoted to one's characters' relationships, and the strain characters have put on said relationships.
  • Nicholas; having these character relationships on the sheet; does that include the game having mechanics on relationships too? If so; how?
  • In Blowback character relationships are given a value 1-5. You can either ask someone to do something for you (applying strain) or do something for them (relieving strain). The nature of the something determines the value applied to the relationship, small to moderate favors count for 1-2, while large favors count for 3-4. Also, certain acts (not favors) can impact the same way, like exposing someone to danger or leaving a mess in their apartment.

    When a relationship has as much strain as it's value, that person won't do any more favors for you until you relieve some strain. Between jobs, players can adjust the value of relationships as they see fit, or even write down new ones gained.
  • Blowback is an excellent example. The relationship you as a player have with your spy is enriched by the relationship you have with your civilian.

    Relationships. Polygamy. This is sounding very much like a different realm, isn't it? I respectfully submit an alternative terminology: one-to-one and one-to-many, player to character. That could be extended to situations where many players play many characters: many-to-many.

    Many-to-many is fairly unusual, but need not be. I imagine that would make character identification somewhat diluted--though again, that would depend on the time and quality of exploration given to the in-character relationship. One-to-one is of course a standard of play for "Players" in traditionally structured games (e.g. D&D, White Wolf etc.). One-to-many is standard for GMs, and is used in certain games, like Blowback, Microscope and Ars Magica.

    Games could have mixed usage: for example, players could have a one-to-one relationship with their Mages, while having a many-to-many relationship with Grogs or Covenfolk. GMs sharing out NPCs would change a game with the standard Player 1:1/GM ∞:1, to a ∞:∞ game.
  • edited October 2011
    Just to add my two cents.

    The number of characters I'm playing doesn't effect the amount I give a shit about them. Maybe because I GM alot or many because I'm a writer or maybe because I do sociological work, whatever the reason dealing with multitudes with care for them as individuals and as a group is something that comes easily. I care about the characters I care about. When I'm GMing/MCing/STing, I never generate characters I don't care about emotionally. I think if it does happen, it's because I'm tried and cranky. So, Jim the NPC becomes the fictionalization of my not giving a care.

    I really enjoy the many-to-many model in Remember Tomorrow. It's a great game and I found myself caring about all the characters, even the ones I didn't mostly play.
  • Remember Tomorrow is a fantastic example of how many-to-many can work. A good mix of character ownership and character sharing.
  • Dirty Secrets is another with this setup.
  • Bad Santa,
    Thank you for answering Thomas' question in my absence. What has been your experience with the stress mechanic of Blowback? I found it viscerally operated on the existing attachment to the relationships I had formed during character creation. That is to say, character creation in Blowback did a great job making me care about my character's relationships, to the point that I as a player was moved and made anxious when stress was applied to them. However, as mentioned, my experience with Blowback is limited, so I'd love to hear other perspectives.

    Emily Care,
    Could you point to any games that use the many-to-many model? I am very interested in what kind of permissions surround a game where characters could be common property.
  • Hi Nicholas,

    I was curious about that myself. Remember Tomorrow has many-to-many, which I'd forgotten. Characters are created, then in play each person can pick one or several to involve in a scene. Dirty Secrets was also mentioned, which I've not played yet. Other games I know of include Spione, which is non-standard in many ways; Universalis, which has an economy that regulates others usage of characters; and Microscope, which has strong creative input by all the players, but little individual ownership of any of the elements once they are introduced into play.

    I was in a campaign where some less central characters were intentionally played by multiple players. Mostly this was fine, but occasionally there were major differences between the players about some central aspect of the character: the sexual orientation of the stable hand became something of a struggle.
  • Posted By: Emily Care Mostly this was fine, but occasionally there were major differences between the players about some central aspect of the character: the sexual orientation of the stable hand became something of a struggle.
    Hey Emily, could you expand upon this example? I really, really like MtM designs but I'm interested in how things like that go down, like a sort of collectively contested stakes question. Struggle in a productive and amicable way? Or like hurt feelings away from the table way?
  • I'd like to second Orly's call for an example, add expand upon the question: specifically, how feelings toward sharing the stable hand related to Right to Dream; if there were hurt feelings, was it because the different approaches infringed upon different players' respective claims to the truth of the character's sexual orientation?
  • I checked my copy of Remember Tomorrow and it says players have their own PC, but there can be other PCs that are 'pooled', as well as all NPCs.
    The same happens in Geiger Counter, where secondary and minor characters are free for all. Shock doesn't state how a scene is regulated, but it seems to imply some freeform that covers a pooled use of non *tagonist characters.
  • In Dirty Secrets, the only character that's "owned" is the Investigator. Each turn, the person setting up the situation gives out the characters to whoever they want.
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