Series Info...The Medium #15:

Fresh Blood

by Karrin Jackson1
August 11, 2003

Sometimes I sit around and reminisce over characters past, their stories, and how insanely long I’ve been at this seemingly pointless hobby. I mean seriously, those are years of my life I’ll never get back, where I could’ve been doing something productive, like, uh… watching television. Anyway, the point is, when you’ve been at the game for months, then years, what happens to your characters and their stories? Has anyone ever actually concluded a character’s story? Or do we play them until the game collapses, then either transfer or try something new?

I started MU*ing in 1993. I haven’t kept a single character for the duration. I think the longest I’ve had a character is five years. I finally retired him after realizing the only way to keep him playable was to take on a bunch of IC responsibility which also equated to a bunch of OOC responsibility, and let’s face it, I log in to play. This is why I take low-level PCs who tend to be screw-ups. Avoiding responsibility is, for me, as much a part of the hobby as telling a good story. I’m a hobbyist shirker. I’d go pro, but I just don’t have that kind of dedication.

The purpose of this month’s article is twofold. I want to discuss concluding a character’s story, while taking a look at the idea of on-going stories vs. the little-used notion of a story’s pre-determined limited lifespan. Since I can only really speak for myself and my own experiences here, I welcome feedback in the forum. I’m curious about how others view the longevity of their characters.

When Does it End?

At what point is it time to pack in the +sheet and say good night? I’ve seen players take their characters through story after story, never losing fascination for this fictional person they’ve created. I’ve seen characters transferred from game to game, outliving several MU*s and still going strong. Whereas, in my personal experience, there comes a point where I feel like it’s time to draw the story to a close. The character has done just about everything the character is going to do, as far as I can tell, and from there on out it’s just living the vicarious day to day of someone who doesn’t really exist.

See, I can’t do that. Once the suspense and intrigue is gone, and it’s all just so much dinnertime chatter and ‘so what shall we do today’ content, I get an itch for something exciting to happen. I swear if my characters ever came to life they’d hunt me down and kill me, because I thrive on doing terrible things to them. The moment they’re happy, I’m bored. Moments of calm are great for a story, but when too many of them start stacking up, I lose interest.

So how do you keep a character’s story fresh? Is there such a thing as playing past the character’s expiration date, or do I simply have a short attention span? Of course in the end it comes down to personal choice, but when the character has been around for a long time, s/he gets entangled with other characters whose players may not be keen on having the story simply fade to black. What do you do when you’re ready to call it quits, and the people involved with the character don’t agree?

Rolling the Credits

I suppose if you want out of a story, and the others involved aren’t done with it yet, you could remove your character IC. Nothing says ‘I’m done now’ like the PC’s car pitching over a cliff and exploding into a million fiery pieces – it’s a bit extreme, but there’s something to be said for having your character go out with a bang, or in this case a ka-boom. If you prefer subtlety to melodrama, you could take a milder approach. A PC could always get a job in a different city, discover a close relative is deathly ill and needs someone to take care of him/her, or something along those lines.

That only leaves dealing with the people with whom your character was entangled. I’ve often been talked out of retiring characters because doing so would compromise someone else’s story, and let me tell you something; nine times out of ten I regret lingering and end up ditching the PC anyway. The fact is this is not life-and-death for real, and while it might inconvenience someone somewhere along the line, ultimately you’re here to entertain you. The way I figure, if your ‘friends’ don’t want you to do what’s going to make you happy, they’re not very good friends, are they?

That’s not an excuse for being insensitive though. If you’ve got a situation where there are characters deeply entangled with yours, such as family members, close friends, or lovers, I suggest broaching the topic with tact, and come armed with suggestions for how to make your bowing out as painless as possible for those involved. After all, you’re bailing on these people – it shouldn’t be dumped on them to figure out, alone, what they’re supposed to do now that you’re not going to be there.

On the flipside, if someone with whom your character is deeply involved decides it’s time to end his/her story, cope. If there are ways to salvage the situation, that’s well and good, but nagging and whining aren’t going to make the player change his/her mind. At best it’s going to prolong your mutual story long enough for the resentment to build up, until the player leaves anyway, and this time with a good deal more bad feelings.

Yes, it can be a pain when something like this happens, but let the player beware – before you ever even enter into an IC relationship, you need to realize it could end any minute. Especially on a non-consent game where PCs near and dear to yours could be killed, there are no guarantees that your PCs relationship is going to last, and the other player involved really doesn’t owe it to you to stay longer than s/he wants. So both parties should be cool. Remember, this is a game. It’s supposed to be about having fun.

Keeping Things Interesting

While I hold that there really are situations where, no matter what, it’s just time for a character’s story to end, I also believe that in most cases each ending is an opportunity for a new beginning. Since, on most games, there is no predetermined end to the story, then after a major plot or the conclusion of an intense storyline, the characters still exist. Unlike books and movies, there is no happily ever after. There is no last page to be turned. You just keep going.

This can present a Catch-22 of sorts. In order for a character’s story to have any meaning, then s/he must change as a result of it, but when the character changes, s/he is no longer the same character you created with an interest in playing. Rather than let this be the end of the road for your character, you could look at is as a chance to explore the new person this character has become. The challenge is to do so without the character’s story falling victim to the suckitude that afflicts many sequels, where stories are carried on beyond their natural lifespan.

I’m no pro at this end of things. I’ve got a blithe attitude toward the destruction of my own characters, such that causes other players with whom I kibitz to regard me like some heartless freak of nature. I can’t think of a character I play who, if s/he died horribly tonight in-scene, I’d be all that broken up about. As long as the death scene was quality RP, I’d probably have another PC in chargen within a week. Therefore, when my character’s story starts to drag, my first impulse is to have something messy and explosive happen, then pick out a new concept for the next go-around.

So all this is theoretical, but I suppose if you wanted to keep things interesting for your character in the long term, start the moment you step into chargen. Ask yourself what this character is going to be doing in five IC years – of course you don’t really know for sure. If you did, then the unpredictable nature of RP would be pointless. But have some long term goals. Consider where your character wants to be in five years’ time. Update these IC goals regularly. That way, your character always has something to strive for, and even in times of relative calm, there is a driving force keeping the PC in play. If his/her story can’t be over until X happens, then keep X out of reach for as long as possible, and when the character achieves X, have a plan for Y already lined up in the wings.

Let’s Try This Another Way

One thing I don’t see on many MU*s is the idea of a predetermined end for the chronicle. When I’ve mentioned the idea in passing to other players, I’ve heard a lot of resistance to the idea. No one seems to want to invest in a character whose story they know is going to come to an end – but don’t all stories come to an end eventually? I kind of like the idea that, after the plot concludes, that’s all there is. The character fades to black, and you’ve got the sense of completion that comes with a story well-told. I’d much rather retire a character on that note rather than have him/her simply fade into obscurity because boredom outweighed my desire to be there, or the game collapsed under the weight of its own corruption.

Of course, I’d want to know ahead of time. It would suck to make all these plans for how you’re going to play my PC only to find out that they’re never going to come to fruition, not because of IC factors like being run over by a bus in-game, but because of an OOC situation I didn’t sign up for. I think the limited lifespan MU* has potential, but it needs to be stated upfront that this is the way it’s going to be. Otherwise, when the clock runs down, you’re going to end up with a lot of pissed off players.

I’ve done the limited lifespan story in private RP, in small groups independent of an established game. It works, I think. Particularly when the players involved do round-robin style storytelling, where everyone takes turns running a plot. I’m not sure how it would work on a larger scale, in an established game where the player base can’t be counted on two hands. Warning the players in advance is critical, but other than that, I really have no idea how it would work. I think though that once players overcame the knee-jerk dislike of things running differently than usual, it might open up a whole range of RP possibilities. You can do some really over the top things when you realize that there’s not going to be a morning after.

In Conclusion

Like other aspects of MU*, the lifespan of a character’s story varies from player to player. We all come here for different reasons, and when those reasons coincide, it makes for a fun hobby. However, when it comes to determining when a story is over, entangled characters, and their players, usually have conflicting ideals. As usual, communication is the cure-all, as is mutual respect. I would caution players about becoming too attached to another player’s PC, because when it comes down to taking a bow and leaving the stage, the player of the character in question is the only one who can decide when, why, and how their PC’s story ends.

Just remember, there’s no such thing as too many messy explosions.

(1) Karrin was married recently and now goes by Karrin Jackson instead of Karrin Dailey.

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