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“I’m Just Playing My Character”: Roleplaying and the Choices We Make

March 31, 2017
Ramblings

Ramblings

“Don’t be a dick” — Wheaton’s Law

If you’ve played roleplaying games for any length of time, you’ve heard this refrain at least once (or at least some variation of it):

“I’m just playing my character…”

It’s usually when the player that utters it has just had their character pull off a really dick move. Chances are pretty good they’re playing an evil character, or at least a “morally gray” character. And they’re doing something that is screwing over the other players.

“I’m just playing my character…”

This is the defense offered for the dick move in question. That they are engaging in proper roleplaying by pulling off this dick move and thus playing “right.” They can’t be held accountable for the dick move because they are roleplaying what their dickish character would actually do in the circumstance.

But, to me, this just doesn’t hold water.

Because, as players, our characters are made up of the choices we make. Literally. They are nothing more than the choices we make. Laid out as statistical models on paper (or virtual paper in some cases). And we, as players, are responsible for the choices we make. We just are. And if we choose to play a dickish character that does dickish things and chooses to make strife in the party and ruin a perfectly good game, then we as players should be held accountable for that choice.

Because we could have chosen otherwise.

I’m not saying we should always choose a goody-goody character or even a 100% cooperative character. Sometimes, character strife causes drama which is good for the narrative which is good for the game. But unless you’re a good enough player to know when strife is good for the game, and when it’s not, then maybe you should try playing a cooperative character. Because there’s dramatic tension and there’s bringing the game to grinding halt. And you don’t want to be “that guy/gal.”

You have to be able to strike a balance between playing a jerk and still being able to get things done with the other players. If you’re always at odds, then you’re not getting anywhere and it ceases to be fun. It turns into a chore. And no one’s having fun anymore. Sure, your method acting may be on point, but no one wants to play anymore. And what’s the point in that?

The thing is, while this is a roleplaying game, and even I emphasize good roleplaying at my table, it is first and foremost a game. It is a social interaction. The number one rule is to have fun. And your ability to roleplay comes second to everyone’s good time at the table. So you have to make a choice–and sometimes that choice is to take the path of cooperation and find a explanation for it later. The game may be better for it.

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