Character Advocacy: Part II
I hear a lot of stories about people who get tripped up in games because they want their characters to fail and don’t know how to work that into the system. A couple of questions that comes to mind when I encounter this situation are, “What is wrong with your character that you want him to fail?” or “Why is the situation so bland that failure is the more compelling option?”
First, players wanting their characters to fail can be a sign of player driven railroading. The player is invested in how the story “should go” and not in the here and now tension of the situation. In all likelihood they are trying to build a specific story arc which requires failure at this juncture in order to setup some future situation they are looking forward to.
Going a bit deeper, when a player is committed to his character’s failure it expresses to me a lack of emotional connection with the character. The player seems more interested in the fiction as a structural artifact than as an emotionally compelling narrative. Again, it represents that desire to always stay in author mode and never experience the situation as an audience member. Does the player have so little sympathy for the character’s plight that he would so casually will his failure?
Playing passionately is about building and playing characters that we are personally invested in. This is not about avatarism where the character is some thin proxy for ourselves. I’m talking about just a simple basic connection with the character as if he were a real human being. This is where the trust and vulnerability enters play because, in my experience, when you’ve got that connection, seeing the character fail will be emotionally jarring if not outright painful.
When that personal connection to the character enters play Character Advocacy becomes not just something the player does as a feature of the rules but something the player WANTS to do as a function of his emotional commitment to the character. Again, this is why well designed rule sets are critical. The fact that the rules are consistently applicable and not subject to the whims of a single player acts as a shield to that player’s investment. The success and failure of his character is a legitimate and fair outcome of the system and not simply his investment being toyed with by someone else. Failure is narratively satisfying when it is most unwanted and when it is legitimately unexpected.