thread: 2006-01-13 : Push and pull aside, co-ownership

On 2006-01-17, Drew_rrr wrote:

Roger said:  “This (perhaps inevitably) seems to be leading towards a great big involved discussion about just what ownership means in this context.”

I have a feeling that the question of “ownership” is a red herring.  Like Emily Care said in a previous thread it’s really about who get’s to say what about which character.  But like the breaking up of the GM and redistribution of his/her power, we need to be aware of which parts of player power are being redistributed.

I think “ownership” is something we invest in the character rather than a definable state.  I can think of examples of play where aspects of creation/control have been taken away from me.  Only one results in my feeling like I’d lost “ownership”

As a result I’m coming to think that “ownership” really begins and ends with “sole portrayal rights”  Not who gets to change what…

Let’s look at these different aspects of character control we’ve been breaking down.  Issues like:

Who can create/change a character’s backstory?
Who can create/change a character’s traits/skills/personality?
Who can portray a character in the game?

There are probably more examples.

Anyway, thinking back I’ve played many games where I’ve been handed a pre generated character, personality, backstory, skills and all, but because I was then given free reign to portray this character, I came to emotionally invest some notion of “this is mine” in it.  So I had no creation rights over the character, but I still felt like I “owned” it.

Examples:  Convention play with pre genned characters.  Freeform LARPs of the style “here’s a list of characters involved, pick one and play it”.

I’ve played games where I was informed during play by the GM that my backstory was radically different than I’d previously conceptualised it.  This changed the character immensely, but again because I still got to choose how to portray him, I still think of him as “mine”.  Anyone who’s played a character with no memory or similar and left it up to the GM to “reveal” it has done this.  So the GM had control over my backstory which had things added to it a number of times during play, and by extention he could change my character’s personality and motives, but the character was still “mine”: I portrayed him and no one else.  And I had control over how to portray him.

The only time I feel like I don’t “own” a character I portray is when playing NPC roles in LARPs.  I don’t create the character, I can’t make changes to the character, but that’s not the reason I don’t own it.  The reason is that I can be told, and often am told by a GM how to portray the character.  And somehow to me that means it’s not “mine” any more.  This situation could of course happen in a table top game, but it is rare I think.  In LARPs over here in the UK it is very commmon for players to take turns being NPCs directed by the GMs.

This is interesting to me because it suggests the following:

You can give other players the right to make changes to a character.  But so long as only one player gets to portray the character then they will probably feel like they own it.  To really break the “ownership” thing you need to allow any player to portray any character.

Possible definition of “portray”: have the right to make meaningful decisions about the character’s actions in the game.  (?)

However, I’d suggest that each player needs, at base, the right to “portray” something.

Side note: Imagine a game where one player can change any aspect of backstory or traits for any character, but cannot make decisions regarding their actions within the game.  The other players have sole responsibilty for portraying these characters, but cannot change any aspects of their backstory or traits.  How would that play out?  Would the one player with no character feel divorced from the game?  Kind of like a scientist changing variables in a computer simulation, who then just sits back and watches as the results play out?

Hmmm.  I’m getting lost now.


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