Posted by: Sean | February 26, 2009

Your Character Belongs to Everyone Else.

Usually Thursdays see me in a snappy mood. This is largely for two reasons.

  1. I don’t know if you know this, but I get up at 4:45am every single day to go to work at a location over two hours away from where I live. This is mainly because I’m an idiot, but also because it keeps me closer to Jess – Who lives two hours in the other and in another city . I fail completely at the whole ‘date local’ idea. The point is that by Thursday I’m running on low reserves, my eyes are tired, I’m sick of the week and I’ve still got another bloody day to go even after I finish this one. Snarkiness comes naturally to me. But there’s also another reason, which is;
  2. Yahtze’s celebrated Zero Punctuation feature comes out on Thursdays. (In my local time.)

So a hell of a lot of my Thursday posts are often written consciously trying to mimic the style of Yahtze, that mad bastard, This one was a case in point.

But how many of you get that? How many of you consciously pick up on my attempt to bite Yahtze’s style? After all, I use punctuation. A lot of it. Sometimes more than is strictly required. But the snarkiness and the venom is very much in the style of Ben Croshaw. Maybe some of you instead noted that the title of the column was the same as Spider Jerusalem’s column in the terrific sci-fi political thriller Transmetropolitan, and ascribed Warren Ellis-like tones to it.

Each of you interpret these words differently. Each of you bring a different emotional context and meaning to each word I type. This is true of every word ever written by anyone ever.

Your character in World of Warcraft is words. They are your text description in FlagRSP. They are your emotes and speech.

Those words will be reinterpreted by everyone differently.

The point is this: Your character is not singular. A different version of your character exists in the mind of every guild mate you have, in the mind of every regular role-play friend you play with and, if you’re very good at role-playing, in the minds of those you’ve even role-played with once. The character is multiple, existing in a quantum state of reinterpretation.

They look different to different people. Your text description suggests a kind of Robert de Niro-like haggardness and aged edge, or so you think. But one tiny detail, the beard, instead triggers in one of your friends an image of Sir Sean Connery, and every other feature you’ve listed becomes reinterpreted in that light. I did this myself with one of Jess’s characters, immediately thinking of a young Christian Bale in their character description in spite of the fact that only one part of his description matched Bale in one of his films.

Or how about personality? You imagine your character as a noble if eccentric type whose essential inner strength is their defining character trait. They love your quirkiness and think you’re a comedy character. In this latter case, there’s a real role-play impact – You’re trying to set up scenes to show your nobility and strength, they’re pushing you to make ’em laugh, make ’em laugh. (This kind of reinterpretation we’ve discussed before.)

We each bring massive amounts of extra-textual context to the game, this is the point. We map famous people or people we know onto characters we meet, ascribing to them subconsciously the attributes of these people as we try to get a grip on who they are. None of us can make a person wholesale – We patch them together by bits and pieces of photocopied pieces of others.

This is fine, for the most part. This is how the real world works, even – We interpret other real people this way as well.

Sometimes, though, it’s good to get out of your head. Try and imagine what your character looks like to other people. Evaluate how much time you spend on each style of play, perhaps. Reinterpret your character yourself, and maybe find out what character others are seeing.


  1. I definitely think this is true – but I don’t think it’s a bad thing. Having had a guildmate who is also a fantastic line-artist draw my characters from time to time, it’s amazing what different people see or think of when they interact with your character.

    Which does not, in any way, diminish that character (since really, real people are like that in real life, at least with personalities!).

    Also – if you ever have the chance to have someone make art of your character, I highly recommend it!

  2. … one of these days, I swear, I will stop being star struck when a bigger name blogger than me posts a comment here.

    That said, yeah, I totally agree. There’s no problem with this. It’s a fact, you deal. Mostly it doesn’t get in the way.

    (Also? I in fact do have art of both of my mains. Shelbi Roach does lovely work.)

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