Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Storyworld Level Design Tasks - Characters

One category of existents is the characters (Ryan, Storyworlds Across Media, 2011) – human or otherwise – which are sentient beings with the ability to feel, perceive, or to have subjective experiences. In science fiction and fantasy non-human characters described as "sentient" typically have similar abilities, qualities and rights as human beings.

The true nature of a character is “revealed in the choices [made] under pressure – the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature” (McKee, 1997, p. 101).

“Pressure is essential. Choices made when nothing is at risk mean little. If a character chooses to tell the truth in a situation where telling a lie would gain him nothing, the choice is trivial, the moment expresses nothing. But if the same character insists on telling the truth when a lie would save his life, then we sense that honesty is at the core of his nature.” (McKee, 1997, p. 101)

A character’s motivations, values, desires, and fears may change as the story progresses. This process of change is exemplified by the “hero’s journey” that a protagonist undertakes in an epic narrative.

Exploring the roots of a character’s desires and fears provides opportunities to use a different medium to flashback to a particular time and situation that resulted in a specific desire or fear. These could be short vignettes that provide depth to a character while allowing the overall process of the protagonist’s change to continue.

The use of archetypal characters can help an audience quickly move into a story. If the protagonist and antagonist in a story are broad archetypes they are immediately recognizable (Jenkins, 2006, p. 120).

Archetypes are found in the themes of myths (e.g. death and rebirth), characters in literature (e.g. hero and villain), and imagery in dreams (e.g. eyes and teeth). They are believed to be the product of unconscious biases and dispositions that have been ‘hardwired’ into the brain over the course of human evolution. (Lidwell, Holden, & Butler, 2010, p. 28)

The Matrix used character archetypes from a variety of sources to help the audience quickly understand the story. This use of archetypal characters is particularly important in games where there is little time for exposition before users “grab the controller and try to navigate the world” (Jenkins, 2006, p. 120). From an information design perspective, “identifying and aligning appropriate archetypes with a design will increase the probability of success” (Lidwell, Holden, & Butler, 2010, p. 28).
Consider archetypal themes and forms in all aspects of a design – from form and function to name and brand. Since archetypes influence perception on an unconscious and primarily affective level, they are especially useful when traditional modes of communication (e.g. language) cannot be used. (Lidwell, Holden, & Butler, 2010, p. 28)
Engaging the audience on the unconscious and affective level can increase the incentive to migrate to another platform or medium in a transmedia narrative. An audience that is emotionally engaged with a character or set of characters is more likely to cross media in order to follow what is happening. Archetypes also reduce the friction associated with audience migration by making it easier to quickly recognize the characters on the new platform or medium. The list of possible character archetypes is long and varied. For example, the website Listology has 140 archetypes listed (Diaskeaus, 2006); 65 archetypes are listed on the TV Tropes site (TV Tropes, n.d.); and 47 archetypes are identified at the Unofficial White Wolf Wiki (White Wolf, n.d.). In 45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters, Schmidt identifies 45 archetypal characters and provides broad character descriptions for each.

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