Larian isn’t actually paying me

I don’t think of myself as a gamer. I’m … someone who plays a small selection of video games on the “normal” setting. In my misspent youth, I was even known to play on Easy.

That said, the character-focused ones are 1) fun! and 2) weirdly useful writing tools.

That sounds like rationalization, but I mean it—within reason. You have to be able to manage your time.

Five years ago, I wasn’t one of those people. However! I’ve found that, with the games that have reasonably complex character mechanics, building the PC(s) from my cast actually helps me refine them.

I think of the game as an alternate universe from my novel, with its own rules and history etc, but with my character(s) integrated in as if they were part of it. Of course, that’s pretty much the definition of an RPG. But the thing that makes it interesting is that you have to very strictly play the character as the person they are in the novel, whether that turns out to be an advantage or a disaster.

Since the setting is different (to a lesser or greater extent), you have to very seriously think about the character as a person, setting aside their role in the novel. You can find yourself thinking—okay, but she’s arrogant, she wouldn’t take orders like that. He’s too straightforward, he wouldn’t ambush them.

I once designed one of my characters as Lawful Neutral, which was more or less how I thought of her: rule-abiding and loyal, but personally amoral beyond her specific code. When I played her as the person I’d actually written, though, she kept shifting to Lawful Good. Thinking it over, I went—you know what? She is. She’s a deeply moral person. I was creating a polarization between her and the other (Chaotic Good) protagonist that didn’t reflect their real characterization.

For me, Divinity: Original Sin has been the best for this sort of exercise, because there isn’t an alignment system at all. There’s general reputation, and then there are a ton of individual sets of opposite qualities, which develop (or even reverse) based on your choices through the game. Since there are two PCs, the choices also affect their relationship to each other, which was a fun way to think through my protagonists’ relationship. They’re friends, but very different people—what is straitlaced Giva going to go along with for friendship, and where is she going to draw the line? When is brash Arceptra going to bite her tongue, and when is she going to get pushed beyond her limited restraint?

All a bit silly, of course. It sounds like the sort of thing you should already know before you’re writing. But a lot of character work happens in the process. It’s a quick, fun way to force yourself to think about what your characters would do in other circumstances–what the essential qualities of their personalities really are.

As long as you don’t let it be a substitute for actually writing. 😉

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