Character Creation Research

Character creation.

Now that I understand how to make people empathise with other people, and fictional characters, I need to begin deciding what kind of character creation system should be in the game.

Player Created Vs Designer created

The first looming decision is this: should players create their own characters, or choose from a list of characters that I have designed?

Self perception theory states that we observe ourselves and then use that information to make inferences and assumptions about our attitudes and/or mood. Despite seeming counterintuitive, a lot of research has been conducted into exactly this phenomena. For example, Playboy magazine: “When the researchers used their control over the machine to fake an accelerated heartbeat, subjects decided that they must have a thing for the particular model they were viewing. The effect was even still there two months later when subjects were invited back.” (Madigan, J : 2013).

The idea that first we perceive what we look like or what we are doing, and afterwards deduce conclusions about ourselves is important to this project. This means that players will act first, and their opinion will change based on that behaviour. For example if the avatars are only capable of combat to overcome challenges then players will see themselves as warriors. If there is a class system, the system must adhere to this research and allow for player actions and mechanics that fit with the character the player is playing as.

Similarly, other studies found that: “Like in the real world, we first make an observation about our avatar, infer something about our character, and then continue to act according to our perceived expectations. We needn’t make a conscious decision to do it.” (Madigan, J : 2013). If a player avatar is described as “aggressive”, then the player has inferred this about the character and therefore the player will continue to interact with the game world in an “aggressive” way. When designing the characters systems careful attention must be paid to text and wording, as the character designs could go completely against the cooperative or competitive mechanics. This will create balancing problems, and an conflicting player experience.

This affect (dubbed the Proteus effect by Dr Yee) shows that people unconsciously conform to the expectation of their avatars appearance. This appearance will take the form of actual images and text in a non digital game, meaning that as much as the player is choosing the avatar (or indeed creating them) the avatar is also shaping the player.

Whilst player created avatars will create a more immediate sense of empathy and connection, due to players imprinting their most desired self on the avatar and that avatars expected behaviour then affecting the players actual behaviour – this must be balanced carefully. Players are fundamentally unaware of this phenomena and therefore will create a character based on instinct and desire which may not fit well with the game systems. If the players have never played the game before they will have no frame of reference for the kind of game they are about to play and how useful various behaviours will be. If players create a strong, confident gunslinger and then engage in a tactical game of diplomacy they will be understandably frustrated as all of that effort was for nothing.

Alternatively if players use characters created for them it takes time to build empathy, which can affect the beginning sections of the game and could potentially lead to competition instead of cooperation. However I will have more control over the character arc, and the ultimate experience the player has with their avatar. I can control the empathy they feel for this character, when they feel it and how that feeling of empathy can be channelled to create tension and a feeling of agency. Agency is when people project their own thoughts and feelings onto an object, it is a common technique used when creating characters. Typically employed in first person games, or silent protagonist games. The idea is that the designer leaves the character as blank as possible in order to allow the player to project whatever personality onto the character they want. The problem with this is that often in these games the emotional impact often falls flat because there isn’t enough context or build up for players. With these games the character doesn’t speak or do anything the player isn’t in control of, so the player is just pretending to be them – there is no sense of empathy driving player actions.

Types of Character Creations

In Call Of Cthulhu d20 a players level system is used as a slider for mood. This idea has possibility, as a big part of the reason people enjoy creating their own characters and playing MMos and RPGs is ranking up characters, collecting items for them etc. The extrinsic rewards are part of the enjoyment for them. Instead of having a straight forward level system, where players collect experience points when they perform actions, instead it could be a sanity system. So as players progress they must remain as sane as possible by avoiding hazards, once sanity has reached a high number certain in game items are useless or certain effects come into play. These effects must be balanced to avoid the game becoming unfair or unwinnable for players.

Some character creation systems are deep, time consuming and hard for first-time players to understand. These systems can also be flawed as a player may not know what skills and classes will suit their play style, or the requirements of those classes until further into the game when it is too late to change their mind. Ideally any system I create will be quick to understand, and medium length to create a character for. Whilst having a deep and time consuming system can put some people off, it is also the very foundation that allows players to create empathy for their character. They care about their character because they have spent so much time and energy creating them, their backstory and planning what skills and personality they will have.

A player must be able to create their characters physical appearance, in order to tap into the theory of Self Perception. This could be achieved purely through writing the information down and using imagination, or with simple tools to allow a physical representation on the table or board. The player should have at least some control over their characters personality, though this could be controlled by having pre-determined cards listing personality types that are linked with skills. This could work well, as it would allow me to then have some control over the characters impact on the narrative because I would already know the personalities of the protagonists. I would also know what skills are linked with what personalities, and therefore what actions would be performed by whom.

However there is an argument for de-anthropomorphising the physical representations of these characters. By de-anthropomorphising characters it allows the player to fill in the blanks more, and means that I could create essentially blank slates that anyone could identify with. The player would still create their character, but the actual avatar that moves around the board would be as blank as possible whilst still representing a human to avoid players not identifying with them because their physical appearance is too different from the players.


Overall I intend to blend the concept of pre-designed characters and player created characters. Players will use either use modular pieces of paper to create their own characters appearance or use imagination. The player will then choose from a list of pre designed character Classes. These classes will determine what skills the player can choose from, and how their avatar will attempt to tackle problems in the game. These skills also aid in developing a personality for the avatar, and affect the characters interactions with objectives and obstacles throughout the game. For example some equipment will give bonuses to certain classes, whilst being less effective with others.

An interesting idea would be to implement some kind of Augmented Reality technology, to make the character “come to life” for the player. However that is beyond the scope of this project.

The player will decide their characters class and skills – which will affect the mechanics of the game. Some classes and skills will be better for certain interactions, and weaker for others. In this way the players must work together to have a balanced team capable of dealing with a variety of events in the game. However they will also decide their characters job, personality, backstory, morality etc. These things wont affect gameplay, however they are vital for players to care about their characters. This is the information players in RPGs use to role-play and bring the characters to life.


Fuchs, M. S. (2017). STORY. [online] Dispatch from the Razors’ Edge. Available at: [Accessed 11 Nov. 2017].

Messenger, S. (2014). Why Every Animal Should Have A Name. [online] The Dodo. Available at: [Accessed 11 Nov. 2017].

Noctua. (2015). The Psychology Behind Character Creation – Gamers Decrypted. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 Nov. 2017]. (2015). Character Psychology – Screenwriting Tips & Advice. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 Nov. 2017].

Madigan, J. (2013). The Psychology of Video Game Avatars. [online] The Psychology of Video Games. Available at: [Accessed 11 Nov. 2017].

Ashkenazi, O. (2017). Three Roleplaying Games With Great Character Creation. [online] Mythcreants. Available at: [Accessed 11 Nov. 2017].

Winkle, C. (2017). Five Steps for Adding Character Complexity. [online] Mythcreants. Available at: [Accessed 11 Nov. 2017].

TV Tropes. (2017). Write a Tabletop RPG / So You Want To – TV Tropes. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 Nov. 2017].

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