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dim.”) tends to make players wonder whether they are supposed to feel that they
themselves are the actor in the story, or if they are somehow intended to role-play
whomever it is that the author has specified. What if the player wants to take an
action that is out of character for the PC? What does the PC do? What does the
author allow? Would a PC with a particularly active sense of self start to notice that
they feel something like a puppet?
There was an IF game by Stephen Bond a few years ago called Rameses (XYZZY
Award winner, Best Individual PC 2000) that told the story of a particularly moody
and recalcitrant young man. In effect, he was so emotionally ungrounded that he
often rebelled against commands the player tried to issue, making the meta-point of
the game the difference between the PC's internal motivations and sense of moral
inertia and the player's interests in what he'd like to make the PC do in the story. It
generated a lot of earnest newsgroup discussion and is still pointed to as an example
of thought-provoking use of the medium itself.
One of my own experiments into the realm of player characters was Being An-
drew Plotkin (XYZZY Award winner, Best Game, Best NPCs 2000), which riffed on
the title and the premise of the Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze movie Being John
Malkovich . I noticed that the premise of the film—traveling into the head of some-
one else and witnessing and directing their movements from behind their eyes—was
a rather close parallel to the schism between PCs and players in IF. It was also a
chance to explore something that IF allows you to do but that hasn't been used by
many authors yet, and that is multiple player characters, with the player switching
viewpoints between different characters as the story progresses. It also folded back
into the other territory of mutable scene descriptions. As one particular location in
the game was traversed a series of times, each time with the player directing a dif-
ferent PC, the room description changed to be from that PC's point of view. Same
furniture, but each character had a different attitude, a different set of things that
they would notice about the environment.
I also had fun in a couple of games that followed that one, of breaking the tradi-
tion of starting the game with a character who is empty-handed (and who is expected
to eventually acquire a large range of objects in the course of the game) to one who
comes fully-stocked, on the first turn, with a full inventory of clothes and gear, all of
which was there to help describe who the character was as well as the world he was
inhabiting. Furthermore, examining all of the items gave you the PC's personal take
on them, how he saw his own possessions. This was very different from the stan-
dard way of describing things in IF, which traditionally uses an omniscient narrator's
perspective. I was also catching the modern wave of making self-examination, the
command “Examine myself ” (abbreviated to “x me” in all standard IF games), print
an introduction to the PC for the benefit of the player. Here's an example from the
first turns of my game Centipede :
￿ ￿￿
You're in good health for a guy who's been awake and on active
duty for 76 straight hours.
The stimulants they rationed you
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