Sometimes I sit around and reminisce over characters past, their stories, and how insanely long Ive been at this seemingly pointless hobby. I mean seriously, those are years of my life Ill never get back, where I couldve been doing something productive, like, uh
watching television. Anyway, the point is, when youve been at the game for months, then years, what happens to your characters and their stories? Has anyone ever actually concluded a characters story? Or do we play them until the game collapses, then either transfer or try something new?
I started MU*ing in 1993. I havent kept a single character for the duration. I think the longest Ive 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 lets 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. Im a hobbyist shirker. Id go pro, but I just dont have that kind of dedication.
The purpose of this months article is twofold. I want to discuss concluding a characters story, while taking a look at the idea of on-going stories vs. the little-used notion of a storys pre-determined limited lifespan. Since I can only really speak for myself and my own experiences here, I welcome feedback in the forum. Im 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? Ive seen players take their characters through story after story, never losing fascination for this fictional person theyve created. Ive 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 its 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 its just living the vicarious day to day of someone who doesnt really exist.
See, I cant do that. Once the suspense and intrigue is gone, and its 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 theyd hunt me down and kill me, because I thrive on doing terrible things to them. The moment theyre happy, Im 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 characters story fresh? Is there such a thing as playing past the characters 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 youre ready to call it quits, and the people involved with the character dont agree?
Rolling the Credits
I suppose if you want out of a story, and the others involved arent done with it yet, you could remove your character IC. Nothing says Im done now like the PCs car pitching over a cliff and exploding into a million fiery pieces its a bit extreme, but theres 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. Ive often been talked out of retiring characters because doing so would compromise someone elses 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 youre here to entertain you. The way I figure, if your friends dont want you to do whats going to make you happy, theyre not very good friends, are they?
Thats not an excuse for being insensitive though. If youve 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, youre bailing on these people it shouldnt be dumped on them to figure out, alone, what theyre supposed to do now that youre not going to be there.
On the flipside, if someone with whom your character is deeply involved decides its time to end his/her story, cope. If there are ways to salvage the situation, thats well and good, but nagging and whining arent going to make the player change his/her mind. At best its 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 doesnt owe it to you to stay longer than s/he wants. So both parties should be cool. Remember, this is a game. Its supposed to be about having fun.
Keeping Things Interesting
While I hold that there really are situations where, no matter what, its just time for a characters 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 characters 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 characters story falling victim to the suckitude that afflicts many sequels, where stories are carried on beyond their natural lifespan.
Im no pro at this end of things. Ive 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 cant think of a character I play who, if s/he died horribly tonight in-scene, Id be all that broken up about. As long as the death scene was quality RP, Id probably have another PC in chargen within a week. Therefore, when my characters 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 dont 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 cant 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.
Lets Try This Another Way
One thing I dont see on many MU*s is the idea of a predetermined end for the chronicle. When Ive mentioned the idea in passing to other players, Ive 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 dont all stories come to an end eventually? I kind of like the idea that, after the plot concludes, thats all there is. The character fades to black, and youve got the sense of completion that comes with a story well-told. Id 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, Id want to know ahead of time. It would suck to make all these plans for how youre going to play my PC only to find out that theyre 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 didnt sign up for. I think the limited lifespan MU* has potential, but it needs to be stated upfront that this is the way its going to be. Otherwise, when the clock runs down, youre going to end up with a lot of pissed off players.
Ive 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. Im not sure how it would work on a larger scale, in an established game where the player base cant 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 theres not going to be a morning after.
Like other aspects of MU*, the lifespan of a characters 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 players 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 PCs story ends.
Just remember, theres no such thing as too many messy explosions.
(1) Karrin was married recently and now goes by Karrin Jackson instead of Karrin Dailey.