For anyone who’s invested time in developing a character for a game or story, you discover a curious development as you learn more and more about this character: they take on a life of their own, they become their own person–
And you find yourself becoming emotional attached to them, and you never want anything bad to ever cast a shadow upon their doorway.
It can be argued that this happens because the characters are an extension of ourselves, that when you’re building your protagonist (who probably isn’t Hiro Protagonist) you’re putting yourself into the character and actually living that character’s life.
Of course most of us know about that last one: it’s the infamous Mary Sue Syndrom, when the creator gets so wrapped up into wanting to be part of the story that they make a character that is pretty much them, only with 1000% more cuteness, perfection and an innate ability to make a 90 year old glittering daywalker fall in love with a ambulatory Lego block.
It’s easy to see how a person with a Mary Sue can get so locked up in a character that when something happens–something bad, that is–when their karma meter is pegged at zero and all their biorhythms are in negative numbers and their bad moon is in the House of the Rising Sun, that when that character takes it on the chin they’re going to lose their shit.
I’ve seen this happen a lot in gaming–and by “gaming”, I mean the kind where you sit at a table and throw dice at each other. I’ve seen some players get completely invested in a character to the point where they were constantly drawing pictures of the character (who just happen to look a little like them) and tracking elements of the character’s life within the game that had nothing to do with what they were actually doing within a session. Remarkably, their characters also had a love life that was as awesome as their own, which is to say pretty much zero.
(Some would argue that this is evidence that the character was not a Mary Sue, as if they were they’d be getting laid every time the wind blew. However, for one player I knew, his character had women all over the world in love with him. Why worry about getting laid when you know you can sex with thousands of potential NPC women every night?)
And when their character came to an end, it was ugly. It was very ugly. I knew one player who’s character was usurped from a military position within a mercenary unit and they they went on a week-long rampage with the other players “explaining” (otherwise known as “irrationally arguing”) why it was not only impossible for “them” to remove “him” from command, but how they couldn’t use the unit’s “equipment” because . . . well, he owned the pink slips to all the ships! (Keep in mind those last items are actually space ships, as the game I was running took place about 1000 years in the future.) It was a truly classic example of getting one’s fantasy and reality totally mixed up–though I doubt there is much reality at any point where one truly believes they own the pink slips to space ships some dozens of times bigger than the retiring Space Shuttle.
And then there was the one player whose characters died. And by “die” I mean “Bodies and major organs perforated with lots of bullets”. And it happen to him and his little Mary Sues twice. One of his character was executed because they tried to murder “someone” (well, hell, the person wasn’t really human, but you had to be there) and the thosands of others attending the event decided the dude had to pay, so, you know, bullet in the head– And the second time involved one of his characters deciding to go head-to-head with a military-grade black helicopter sporting twin 30mm chainguns, and things didn’t exactly go his way–
And his reaction to having both his characters die because, lets face it, he played his characters like his shit didn’t stink and there was no way, no how, he should have gone down–he cried. He went into the nearest bathroom after each event and cried. ‘Cause lets face it: when his characters died, a little bit of him died with them.
So what does it say when you put a character in harm’s way a lot and have them get banged up?
Currently I have a character that I’m developing in an on-line game and in the course of writing about their adventures–which, I have to say, won’t win any major literary awards but is still pretty nice writing–and I’ve noticed that I’m putting my character out there in situations where he seemed to be spending a lot of time going to the hospital. In the first week . . . well, took a girl to the hospital because she was a little freaked due to a conversation with a spirit, then ended up back in the hospital due to being sort from physical labor, then my character was repeatedly cursed (as in with magic) and had to do a little rest and recuperation . . . and that’s just the first week. At this rate the character should ask the Head Nurse for a bed with a personalized name plate attached ’cause he’s probably going to need it.
Now, who is the person putting my character through all this stuff? Why, me, of course. And why? I can’t say. Is it because I truly hate myself and really want to see my character beaten and broken? Or is it because I’m really such a hypochondriac that I like the attention I get being kept medicated and monitored. Or could it be that . . . it’s all part of my character’s story that when you do things that require you to take a step over the line to prove yourself, and you have access to free health care, you should take advantage of said care. Otherwise you’re just a masochistic who enjoys being fucked up time and again.
And then again, since I’m also writing a very long term love story for my character with another character, maybe, just maybe . . . I’m trying to create something that doesn’t feel like an episode of “Friends” where, for the ninety-millionth time Ross and Rachael are out having non-sex with people who aren’t the other person in their non-relationship, before spending the next few episodes so caught up in their own misery they binge out on cheep vodka and Keith Richards-grade heroin before masturbating with a cheese grater. (Well, they did in the episodes I imagined.) I’m trying to create something that feels real and tender and sweet. And also a little clumsy because, well, love and romance and passion should be, especially when you’re starting out.
Sure, the right now there are trips to the hospital, but I don’t think I’m doing it to hurt myself through my character. I’m doing it because it currently makes sense.
Hey, you wanna see hurt? Just wait until my character is older and he starts understanding why love is sometimes a total pain in the ass.
Lets see the hospital fix that up.