Monday, 2 May 2016

Writing about game characters

Ravanel writing about Ravanel - so meta

Some posts are easy to type away, others take days to pull off. When I read about Pizza Maid's ARPil challenge - a month of answering 30 questions about your game character(s) - I knew it would fall into the second category. I was bummed by this, because I found the idea so charming! The past month, I tried to spread the word as much as I could, even enthuse some people I knew liked the topic, but I didn't manage to write a single post about the background of my characters myself.

My ARPil failure left me with a question: where does this inner resistance against writing about game characters come from? Why can't I just get it done? Searching my soul - yes, this all on a Monday morning! - I came to two answers.

The first is a confession, an especially unpopular one in the light of the recent ARPil event, so let's get it out of the way: I don't like reading about people's game characters.

Ouch. Souls were crushed and all of you who write about your characters now hate me. Even worse, now I feel the need to elaborate and incidentally rub more salt into the wound in the progress: to me, reading blogs that are dedicated to people's characters is like reading a dusty book about the political history of kings, queens and countries: to some it's really interesting, but to me it's a substitute sleeping pill. Ultimately, it's the things that happen, the actions and motives of characters and those of the people playing them that interest me, not so much descriptions of their traits.

The heroine of ARPil: Alisha Rue, alias the Pizza Maid (source:

As for the second reason, well, the above is not entirely true. Part of the reason I don't like blogging about avatars in a role-play like fashion is because I, franky, suck at it. As much as I'd love to have the ability to write compelling stories about my characters, my strength does not lie with fiction. It's not that I don't make up stories for my characters, I do. I actually haven't met anyone who doesn't make up stories for the MMO characters they play - and those I do didn't stick to the genre. I wrote some pages on this blog with backgrounds of my characters and some elaborate stories about my LOTRO characters on the Lotro-wiki, but it's strictly meant for my own amusement. When I blog, however, I want to be 100% behind the stuff I write on this blog, and I would feel awful if it's cringeworthy.

So while I generally don't follow blogs of people that write about their characters exclusively, the participants of ARPil proved me wrong by showing me how it's done. I want to highlight the approaches of two blogs that I liked in particular.

The first is Light Falls Graciously, who didn't just answer the questions, but wrote short stories (yes, for each day of the month!) about their characters. Oh, and juggled the A to Z challenge, too, while at it. This is a fragment of their post called Wild:
“Wait!” shouted Grace as I jumped off the pier into the water headfirst. Moments later I felt something tugging at my ankle – were there snapping turtles in the lake? I started panicking, then suddenly found myself upside down with my long black hair almost touching the surface of the water as it dripped a bucket’s worth of itself back into itself. I reached backwards with my hands and magically levitated back onto the wet wooden planks of the deck. Mother and Father’s hands released my ankles; they had each grabbed hold of one leg to hoist me up out of the water.
It really makes you wonder what's with the water, why the protagonist is not allowed in. Many of the posts of this blog take place in an unknown world, a world I don't know the monsters and the dangers of (in other words, probably MMOs I don't play). It does not matter, because you always know just enough to be excited and want to find out what's going on.

Rakuno's cute ratonga practicing his martial arts 
- hopefully not soon on me for featuring him here (source: Shards of Imagination)

The second is Rakuno of Shards of Imagination. No, I'm not saying that just because he's MLG with commenting! During ARPil, Rakuno wrote about his ratonga character in EverQuest 2, one of the first characters that he identified with and borrowed his online identity from. Every day he dutifully answered the questions posed, and while you'd think that might bore me, considering what I wrote above, it did not. I don't know what exactly, but there's something about his writing style that entertains me to no end. I got used to checking his blog regularly the past month, read some posts about the cute ratonga and always ended up with a smile on my face.

If you want to check out one of his posts, I recommend [ARPil] Day 10 of 30 To become a better person. It is a short story about a turning point in Rakuno's life, explaining how he became a monk. It also is just an awesome story on its own, even when you don't know anything about the character. Oh, and while you're at it, read the rest of his ARPil posts, too.

So what did I learn? Well, I still don't like dry posts summing up the characteristics of one's avatars, but if you can write, though, well that's a different story! Even though I only watched from the sideline, ARPil was a lot of fun. My sincere thanks go to the awesome Pizza Maid for making it happen.

Do you like to write about your characters? And do you like reading about other people's characters just as much?


  1. I agree. Reading descriptions and background details of people's gaming characters is never going to be any more involving or compelling than reading the dramatis personae of a play you'll never see performed. There's always the caveat that an exceptionally talented writer can make you interested in just about anything but it stretches credulity too far to imagine that such a writer would be likely to pen character profiles and leave it at that.

    I have another reason not to write about my characters, though. I don't know who they are. Oh, *they* know who they are and I know that they know, but they keep most of it to themselves. In game I can and do talk in character and I can write in a the voice of many of my characters with considerable facility, but that's very different from being able to give chapter and verse on their backstory and personality.

    All my characters develop organically, almost as if they were actual people. I don't prepare anything for them - haven't done that in decades - but they develop personalities and idiosyncrasies that expand and alter over time. They acquire numerous verbal tics, catchphrases and personal memes. They gain likes and dislikes, phobias and quirks. As a result, writing in character amuses me no end but is almost certain to annoy the hell out of anyone reading so I keep it for my own amusement.

    In the end, my blog is just that, though - my blog. I don't do it often but if the mood takes me then I'll indulge myself by writing in character. If I do, I at least attempt to keep it amusing. I really think it would be unreasonable to expect anyone to read something that was both in character and po-faced.

    1. What you say about your characters' background sounds familiar to me. I start out with having a vague idea about who they are and then, if I play them long enough, they'll develop traits as things happen to them - which can be anything, like: a new outfit that gives them a different air, places they travel, a significant boss they defeat, another special achievement, or a special group of persons or specific person I play them with. Like people, who they are changes through time; it's not a static thing. Some of them stay strangers to me because I play them very irregularly, or for short periods of time (for instance, only to craft stuff).

      Writing/reading about characters seems to share some parallels with RP. I find RPing while gaming (which I only do spontaneously and casually, when the opportunity arises) to be super much fun, but when I walk into an area where people are RPing and read the /say I'm guaranteed to cringe. I don't have any delusions that I'm any better at RP, it's just the perspective.

  2. If it makes you feel better I doubt most people like reading about other people's character backgrounds. Like you said, reading descriptive text about some other person in history is pretty boring. But reading about what they did and why is a lot more entertaining.

    I must also confess I was hesitant to participate on ARPil since I was afraid my answers would be really cringeworth and I didn't want to inflict some boring info about my character on the internet. In fact, if you see my post for the first day that is pretty much what I did. Fortunately I saw the way Pizza Maid wrote her first day post, realized it was a much better format and changed my strategy. I am am still not entirely happy with every post but that is just how it is for anyone who writes. :p

    And I think Karinshastha pretty much blew everyone out of the water with her entries. They were just that good. I think I could read those little stories about her character forever. :)

    1. I did like your first post (even went back to check, but the cringe-meter didn't ring), but I agree that the writing of the second is just that tad bit more engaging. I really hadn't noticed that without reading it here, though. Sounds like you even learned a thing or two from the event. I for one am glad you participated!

  3. Gah! Almost forgot (that is the problem of having too many thoughts running at the same time inside your brain) thanks for the mention and kind words. /bow

    1. The many thoughts running inside your brain were right. No thanks are needed.

  4. I find it exceptionally hard to write about my game characters too, so you're not alone!

    I do usually have a vague inkling about their background, which usually comes at the same time that they are officially named at character creation. The problem, I find, is that those small details do not a story make.

    To be interesting and readable to others, posts have to come out as scenes, that small indivisible and really hard to formulate story part. Your character has to want something(s) badly enough, they have to face some kind of opposition (internal or external) and that conflict has to resolve or progress in some way in the course of those couple of paragraphs.

    Not only does that take up way too much time in my usual day to figure out, I have to confess that most of my game characters really aren't motivated enough to -want- something that badly. They just piddle about through their MMO life like I do in real life, and as a result, there's no story there.

    It takes a ton of effort for me to scan through a game character's life history, figure out which part of it has that interesting story tension, and come up with the supporting cast that will show it off.

    Mad props to those who can manage it.

  5. Thank you for your kind words, everyone. I have no notion of writing mechanics or technique, so I can't really join the conversation about motivations and such. My stories wrote themselves as they came out of my fingertips as a way of connecting with my character and developing her existence organically using a predominant experiential mode that must be the counterpart to Bhagpuss's. Different folks, different strokes, as it should be. I would agree that reading - and writing - mechanical exegeses of character canon is rather dull; likewise with straightforward recounting of events. I don't read EVE blogs for that reason: I find descriptions of unexploded spaceships moving about systems with robot-generated names and waiting for something (or nothing) to happen to be tedious and dull. No offense taken by such authors, I would imagine. I mean, think of a game you've played that wasn't very fun for the players but looked beautiful and must have been all sorts of fun for the designers to create. It's like that with character fiction if you don't make it humorous or compelling or otherwise relatable to people who aren't you.

    When it comes to stuff that doesn't interest you terribly, there's something to be said about skimming, though: it plants seeds and generates ideas. Bennie Hill would watch television for hours every day on the off chance that he saw something he could use in one of his bits. Inspiration strikes randomly and in the least interesting of places.

  6. Like Jeromai, any character writing I do usually comes out in scene-size bursts that I do feel good about, but I am notoriously bad at pushing anything close to a short story, much less a novel. Maybe notorious isn't the right word, since none of you have seen the fitful bits of story I have saved through Scrivener. However, I am guilty of writing boring life summaries, as well.

  7. I know where you're coming from. I'm not exactly seeking out people's blogs about their game characters, but I've come across them and I've never been very compelled to keep reading. It feels like someone describing a person I'll never meet. Why is the information relevant? Though I do dream of massive backstories for my video game characters, especially some of my WoW toons, I've never actually committed anything to paper. I just felt like it was something that didn't need to be said out loud or written. It was an internal monologue that served only to deepen my own gameplay experience, and I don't see how that would be entertaining to someone else. Though I do know people who enjoy reading these works, I also know people *cough*my husband*cough* that will sit down and read a book of maps like I read novels. So to each his own, of course.


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