Thursday, February 28, 2013

Rambling - Face Character Where

Yep, my wizard uses a katana.
I've been playing a metric fuckton of Diablo III, lately.  That's a scientific measurement.  As part of my recent subconscious effort to avoid actually making any progress with my work, I've become more deeply fascinated by games than usual.

For several weeks prior to this week, it was The Old Republic.  I progressed more during those weeks than in the previous two months, and my two main characters there are each at the peak of their power.  I've also explored more areas than I even knew were available to be found, mapping them with stubborn precision.

This week, though, it's demon-smashing.  I'm not really certain why, to be honest.  I do like the game, it's fun in a kind of non-brain way, but I've never been the biggest fan of the Diablo franchise.  For one thing I loathe that people actually call it an RPG, but I'm not going to bother getting into that subject (it's stupid).  I've just never found that the Diablo series has much in the way of gameplay depth.  That's not a crime, by any means, but for whatever reason it ended up diminishing the series in my list of interests.  I didn't have any real problem with the game, but neither did I have any great interest.  It was just there, and fun sometimes.

Wouldn't know it to look at me this week, though.  When I first got the game I beat normal difficulty with my wizard, and played around with each of the other classes.  I made a hardcore monk, of whom I'm strangely fond, and when she died due to a fucking random mob in a random fight due to a simple computer stutter I said fuck it and stopped playing.  Now that I'm back though, I've gone kind of crazy.  My wizard has beaten both Nightmare and Hell difficulties, and has spent a bit of time futzing around in Inferno.

So why am I rambling about Diablo III today?  Because I think it's an interesting example of a previous post I made, wherein I talked about characters being Vessels, Masks, or Personalities.  You can read the whole post if you want, but a brief summary doesn't help.  A Vessel is a game character that is devoid of personality or motivation, and has very little history if any at all; they are an empty space into which the player steps to play the game.  A Mask is a character that carries some personality or motivation, and has a bit of history that's likely vague so the player can fill in details; they're someone the player can experience the game through, but they provide more emotional investment than a Vessel.  Finally, a Personality is a character that has their own motivations and personality (hence the title), and they usually have some type of history to them; they're someone that the player can watch.

I'm bringing this up again because Diablo seems to me an interesting mix of both the Vessel and Personality character types.  There are literally no choices to be made during any point; your character makes decisions which determine your next objective or, more often, other NPCs simply give you instructions to which your character automatically agrees.  This would seem to lean toward the Personality archetype; you're just going through the gameplay elements while your character pursues their own agenda.  At the same time however, the character's complete lack of any real agency in the story leans fairly in the direction of Vessel.  There are very, very few moments where the character actually makes a decision about what to do; nearly every time there is a new objective, it's because one of the NPCs gave instructions.

All that's left of my monk.
This presents an interesting combination; a character with personality and motivation that doesn't direct the story by their own choices.  I'll use my monk as an example.  The game presents the monk as a character in her own right; she has a history, motivation, and a personality.  I can watch all this as I play the game.  Yet at the same time, her lack of decision-making, her part as a simple agent in the story rather than the one who drives it, allows me to interpret her personality and motivations as I see fit.

As presented in-game the monk is dedicated to the pursuit of her studies and furthering the goals of her gods.  She is quick to help the innocent, and is good-hearted, but she expects people who are capable to act accordingly.  Beyond this however, there isn't much to go with.  There are some interactions with the game's NPCs, but I was free to decide who my monk was as I played her.  She was Montesi; raised in a particularly harsh environment where only the strong and the brave survive.  Of particularly strong faith even at a young age, she took to the study of martial arts with a fervor and energy that bordered on the fanatic.  Yet her dedication paid off when, just as she was coming into her own, a star fell from the sky.  So she pursued her destiny, and that began to shape who she was just as much as her training had done already.  Before, she had simply been a servant of her gods; now she was a servant with a very specific purpose, and she would see it done at any cost.

Maybe I'm just having too much fun with it, but I think it's an interesting mix.  Characters with personality who are not the primary motivating agents of the story being told.  It allows for the character to be someone with whom the player can identify, yet frees them to a point where the player can personalize them to a fairly large degree.


Copyright 2012 by J.L. V'Tar
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