To move characters away from just being avatars that we control we ultimately need to look to our own lives and emotions to determine how to truly bridge that connection.
This war of mine bridges the connection between player and character to a certain degree, so much that when I lost one of my characters the first time I actually cried, this character struggled for a long time, to then make one single silly mistake which ultimately cost them their life. The painful part was I had to live with that mistake. That person wasn’t coming back, well until I restarted of course.
But this was the downside, I had to restart the entire experience and unless the experience is considerably different each time, you become more and more reluctant to want to restart.
Permadeath to a certain extent helps make you feel accountable for your character, making the player play in a more cautious manner, but at the same time, causes the player to have to retrace old steps. But it’s just one element in the connection.
Imagine a game with permanent permadeath, one shot, no retries, no loading, nothing. Just emptiness.
This is in essence the difference between games and life. We know that every action we take has consequences. In game worlds this isn’t usually the case.
Ultimately the problem in connection between player and character lies with the fact that the player doesn’t know enough about their character to connect.
The player must be made to feel instantly connected to their character, for example starting the game by throwing them into danger. Players need to understand their characters situation in moments so they can work out what is required of them.
How do you tell your player enough about the character? because if they really were that character, they’d have it all stored in memory somewhere. This is one of the real barriers to bridging the connection.
Some obvious options would be a lengthy introduction, although going against instant connection or having the player craft their player like in an rpg or choose from preset players like in games such as borderlands.
I feel games give away too much about the world to the player, you are allowed access to too much, too early.
Deliver stuff as they play, introduce new characters that were once people you just saw as passers by.
The connection between player and character is as much about both their own connections with the world
Essentially turning extras into main actors. Lock out areas, open areas or new paths based on how they play the game.
Connection through choice
The more a player has choice over where there player goes, what their player does, the more connection can be made. Constraining them to one path can make play dull as then it’s either go forwards or reverse back on myself. What if a better option was to go through the side track to the right.
Reflection on Character
Let the player grow with their character as they progress through the game, reflect things like changes in their mood, their attire, their get-up. Don’t just let them choose what the player wears, or have skills determine, have the world shape them. Have the world reflect their hardship in the character from how they react, to the way they speak.
Heck why not even have them grow older, or as a few games such as fable did and start to resemble the path between good and evil they take, should this play a part.
What if you could write it so that your character could adapt to the surroundings you place them in, rather than being told how to react, when to talk. What if they felt fear, what if every time they
were thrown into danger, they developed courage allowing them to walk into situations fearless.
What if the very world around them was too scary, would they proceed or turn round and go back to comfort.
Darkest dungeon is a game that from what I’ve seen and read explores your characters state of mind.
If your character has just been in water, the player will expect their character to be soaked, shivering, dripping and squelching as they move on. Would this pose extra risk, risk of slipping, make the player consider an alternative to going through the water.
What if your character lost a limb, how would they adapt? What if your actions affected the world around you. Closing doors and opening new ones. What if the next time you visited somewhere you were able to see the real extent of your control on the world?
Connection through feedback
If the player is tired, reflect this through sluggish behaviour, slow reactions, yawning. Think to the sims we can get quite attached to our little characters as we essentially look after them like you would a pet.
If the player is stuck, why not have the character ponder, pass hints or simply sit and reflect, who says we have to have total control of them? They’re not puppets.
The player should be able to get everything they need from the world in which you have immersed them, the connection starts to get lost, the moment they need to look to external forces to be able to progress further in your world.
The only real connection between puppets and people is the hand that controls them.
The player should be able to instantly recognise how the players feeling to get that level of emotive connection. If we look to our friend and see them looking sad, it instantly makes us feel that emotion, and generally we respond with, are you ok?
Would your character really walk through a sea of dead bodies without batting an eyelid?
Connection through Memory
Now if the character saw the sea of bodies, for the first time, would they really react the same way each time they saw it? the first time round they may throw up in disgust, the second time, they may well retch but if they came up against similar encounters ahead, would they not slowly become accustomed to it?
We take life in our stride and we become accustomed to all manner of things, should the player not also?
Connection through Compassion
How does the world affect the emotions of your characters? do they feel and express compassion if they saw a dead animal for example? does the character reflect a true image of how they are portrayed or written about.
Bridging The Gap
Bar putting the player directly into the game, there’s no sure fire ways of being able to bridge the connection between player and character, but by exploring emotions alone we get that one step closer to creating characters that are alive and believable and not just an avatar that you move from area to area (according to wikipedia on platformers).
However a great point by Mike Chambers is that MMO’s and RPG’s are actually two genres of game that to some degree do bridge the connection between player and character, by having the player shaping their character and in essence their adventure the way they want them, crafting and developing their character as they traverse the world, taking them on adventures, and more often than not, even onto other adventures in different game worlds.
For me when I carry my avatar across, the real connection is not so much in the player itself but in the name and my own memories.
This aspect actually directly reflects how players can feel connection for their characters, their avatars, who more often than not, reflect the way the player would choose to adventure if they were right there in that world.
What are your thoughts on player connection?
How can you see the connection increased?
What was the last player you really connected to and why do you think that was?