Players name themselves vs. OC character

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Players name themselves vs. OC character

#1 Post by Corban » Thu Jun 28, 2018 10:00 am

So as I'm working on my visual novel, I began debating whether or not I should let the players pick their own name or just give the protagonist a name and use that character as a vessel for the players, like Doki Doki Literature Club and Katawa Shoujo, respectively. I should preface by stating what I'm aiming for with my visual novel. After playing VNs like KS and watching anime like Anohana, (as well as other similar animes, video games, and books), I realized one thing they all had in common was the experience I was left with after finishing them. They all had characters I grew to love that were tied together in a well written and often emotional story. I realized I wanted to make something that will leave people feeling the way I felt then after the credits rolled and the last page was turned.
Thus, this visual novel I'm working on, focusing heavily on character development and a good story.

But I digress. Deciding who'll name the main character is an important one, so I've weighed the pros and cons (in my opinion) for both.

Player naming:
In DDLC, you get to name the MC, which I think is cool.
The pro is that you can be more immersed in the VN and sort of make it personal since the game will be reading your name (assuming that's what you typed in) rather than some other character's name.
The con is that the player can put in whatever they want. I've seen plenty of people put in something other than their name for DDLC, such as "scrubpai" (albiet the game isn't actually advertised to be taken seriously, so that may be a factor to consider). I believe that having a goofy nickname appear a hundred times in a "serious" VN would kind of get in the way of getting invested in the story.

Using a character:
Katawa Shoujo names the MC Hisao, rather than letting the player choose their own name. I like this because it gives a little more control to the writer when creating the story.
The pros here are that giving a fixed name to the MC would mean that I won't have to worry about the possibility of a "MyDude" appearing and wind up interfering with the player's experience later on when things really start picking up. I'd also be able to add a little bit of personality to the MC this way since the MC's now a character I made rather than keeping things neutral enough for the character that the player "created".
The cons. Again, I'd forfeit the option to make the game more personal for the players, but this also means that this is an additional character I need to keep track of (i.e. choosing a good name, defining a vague personality, etc).

TL;DR
Player naming would be an eternal risk/reward option, while using a character is sort of a muted middle ground.
Tbh, I'm leaning more towards giving the MC a name rather than the player. I'm reminding myself that it wasn't hard for me to put myself in Hisao's shoes, so I may just be overthinking about the immersion of using your own name.
I'm still posting this though because I'm really curious to see what you guys would or have picked for your VNs as well as your general thoughts on this topic. Plus, I might be willing to change my mind.

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Re: Players name themselves vs. OC character

#2 Post by morinoir » Thu Jun 28, 2018 10:27 am

why not take the middle ground? Give the mc an official name, but provide the option to change it if that's what the player want. Player won't waste time thinking of a name in the beginning of the game, and if they don't like the name you choose, well, the option to change it is there.
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Re: Players name themselves vs. OC character

#3 Post by Mutive » Thu Jun 28, 2018 11:22 am

I like letting people determine their own name and gender (gender because woah is it silly to have the game referring to "Annabella" or another super feminine name as "him"...this really annoyed me in DDLC which I generally found to be a great game. It's pretty easy to add variables into the script to call the correct pronoun, so it makes it all the more annoying when the characters are like, "You're such a handsome man!" to "Annabella" who I've imagined to be the most feminine lady around.)

The people who are naming their character things like Poopoopeepee are going to do that. If it's not multiplayer, it's not like it'll hurt that they come up with something horrifying or vulgar. (And if you do manage to come up with an multiplayer VN, you probably want to find ways to keep people from being super vulgar anyway, because wow will they be give the chance.)
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Re: Players name themselves vs. OC character

#4 Post by Chekhov » Thu Jun 28, 2018 12:02 pm

There are some people who are of the school of thought that you have to give as much control to the player as possible, and in that school of thought it makes sense to give an option to rename the character (and the sex/gender).

I personally do not think sex/gender are superficial terms where simply swapping out the right his/her adjectives is sufficient. I think when people do good writing, you write men and women differently. A feminine man and a masculine woman are different, they're likely to have had different experiences. They make up a different character. When you make a decision early on to allow the player to choose gender/sex, you're writing a unisex character and I think the character will come out different than if the character was written either male or female (or any specific other).

I understand that some people do think sex/gender are superficial terms. For these creators and writers I think it makes more sense to write for a unisex character where the player makes the choice, though it would still depend on other factors whether it's the right choice.

What really happens is that the writer is making a choice between degree of simulation and set-story. Every choice you introduce, particularly one as important as the character, changes both the writing process and the experience, so I think it's a difficult choice to get right in either case.

There is then the other school of thought that narrative itself is the most important thing. The advantage about not giving certain choice to the player is that it feels more like a story they get to experience rather than a sandbox to play in, which are different experiences. When I was young I would always play female avatars if I could, whereas currently I would always choose male avatars. When a game forces me to play as the opposite as my current preference sits, the game demands me to get to a place where I might not usually look from. That can be a very enriching experience. It can be a reason to skip a certain game.

To think about it a little more, I think it's these questions that I try to answer to figure out whether I would or wouldn't allow the player to make that choice:
  • 1. Is it more important that the player identifies with the MC or that the player gets the image of the MC that I want to communicate as writer?
  • 2. Do I want the player to feel in control and some dominion over the game, or out of control and as an observer in the game?
  • 3. Is the gender/sex of the main character important for the narrative that's being explored?
  • 4. Do I think the name I've chosen is appealing to a broad range of audience or might potentially get in the way of the experience?
  • 5. Is there a special significance to the MC's name?
  • 6. Giving the option to name the Main Character is going to make the game feel more like self-inserted for the player(MC as avatar for the player), whereas not giving the option is more likely to make the player feel like they're advising the MC (MC as conscience/mentor for the player). Which is more important for this novel/game?
Those are some of the considerations that I put into it. Let me know if anyone else has some good questions to add to this list.

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Re: Players name themselves vs. OC character

#5 Post by Mammon » Thu Jun 28, 2018 12:37 pm

Personally, I find the experience of naming a character to be much less engaging as a player than I and others think it is as a developer. Half the VN games have it these days, so it's definately nothing special anymore. It might even blow up in your face by making your MC seem more bland and lazy by not having their own name, and having much less memorability because readers can't really talk about that character by an unique name.

A few things that can help you decide:
-If there's any moment that you make a joke, reference or anything else to the name, it should be one you chose.
-If you're going for a specific setting or personality, pick a name that befits the MC rather than letting the reader choose poorly.
-If you want to add some secrets like a secret true name that will unlock a new ending or something, let the reader choose the first name.
-If the game is made to be fun or let's played, make the name selectable.
-If your cast is large or you rarely use the MC's name, make it chooseable. This one will need a lot of self-knowledge to know whether you use so many names or make the MC so bland that the reader won't know the name when it is used. (Huh, Hisao? Who's that? Oh, they were talking about me...)

A name that you can choose yourself is not necessarily a sure-fire addition to make the character more reliable. Part of relating to a character is that character having actual character and things of their own as opposed to being a cardboard cutout, which is so overused that many people have grown tired of it. Intentionally leaving the MC more open and relateable can easily result in making the MC forgettable or crappy. So only make an one-dimensional MC if you can make a likeable one like that, and don't think that a chooseable name will immediately help making them relateable.

About the gender thing, ignore that. A game developer cannot go and make a script workable for both genders, because even if social and behavioural things wouldn't be affected there's still a lot of coding and editing involved in that mess. Some developers do it, but that doesn't mean that all developers and all projects can. With names, that's an easy fix by using a name of your own choosing and Ctrl+H-ing it in the end to turn it into the desired code. With he/she that's obviously a lot harder. Not to mention the changes needed in CGs etc.
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Re: Players name themselves vs. OC character

#6 Post by Imperf3kt » Thu Jun 28, 2018 8:39 pm

I'm going to be (very) blunt:
Why should I care what the MC is called?
If you write it in first person, then as a reader, I assume the role of the character.
If I choose my name, it makes no difference to the story, really.

'Hi Fred'
vs
'Hi Mr.dude'

In either case, I identify as the character I'm pretending I am, has been greeted.
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Re: Players name themselves vs. OC character

#7 Post by Nighten » Thu Jun 28, 2018 8:48 pm

I really approve what you guys said, very interesting topic.

To retake the expression from Chekhov, I'm more in the narrative school. I think that giving the player too much liberty/choices just highlight the fact that they are not really free to experience what they want, and just go through what the developer planned for them.

To stay on the subject of the name (the gender choice discussion deserve its own topic), I don't really enjoy having to choose the name of the MC, but some people will really like that. It just feel odd most of the time in a coherent universe, unless the player put their real name or a name that match with the context of the game.
So I feel it's pretty tricky to let the player this freedom, but not every persons are as nitpicking as me; So use it, but at your own risk!
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Re: Players name themselves vs. OC character

#8 Post by Corban » Fri Jun 29, 2018 2:16 am

Thank you guys so much for your input! Reading these comments kinda confirmed what I've been suspecting, that in my case, I should probably just give the MC a name (leaning towards Ethan). Tbh I don't know how gender found its way here. I don't think I've seen a VN where you can choose your own gender, but I think it'd be interesting to see one that could pull off that function well.

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Re: Players name themselves vs. OC character

#9 Post by Nighten » Fri Jun 29, 2018 3:09 am

The only VN that I played who give this choice was a dating sim, " Roommates ", where each gender chosen lead to different scenes, but with a similar storyline. If I remember right the MC had a name but was renameable, but maybe I'm just confusing with something else.
Anyway, I really like this comprise as described by Morinoir; This might be considered as a third option!
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Re: Players name themselves vs. OC character

#10 Post by Chekhov » Fri Jun 29, 2018 5:32 am

Nighten wrote:
Thu Jun 28, 2018 8:48 pm
To retake the expression from Chekhov, I'm more in the narrative school. I think that giving the player too much liberty/choices just highlight the fact that they are not really free to experience what they want, and just go through what the developer planned for them.
You're putting something into words here that I was trying to communicate. I didn't know how to verbalize it though. Well said.

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Re: Players name themselves vs. OC character

#11 Post by gekiganwing » Fri Jun 29, 2018 9:58 am

Assuming that you give the protagonist of your story a name, think about who he is and what his goals are. Write down notes for story purposes. Ask yourself things such as "What specific things does he wants to achieve? What's keeping him from those goals?" as well as "Who are his friends, family, rivals, and/or foes?" Consider using one of many character questionnaires available online.
Corban wrote:
Fri Jun 29, 2018 2:16 am
I don't think I've seen a VN where you can choose your own gender, but I think it'd be interesting to see one that could pull off that function well.
According to the Visual Novel Database, there are ninety-three instances of VNs in which the reader is asked to choose a male or female protagonist. I created a list which shows only examples with a partial or full English version.

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Re: Players name themselves vs. OC character

#12 Post by Chekhov » Fri Jun 29, 2018 10:05 am

gekiganwing wrote:
Fri Jun 29, 2018 9:58 am

According to the Visual Novel Database, there are ninety-three instances of VNs in which the reader is asked to choose a male or female protagonist. I created a list which shows only examples with a partial or full English version.
I am not familiar with the website. Is there also a number given for those that do not have that option? To know the ratio?

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Re: Players name themselves vs. OC character

#13 Post by Corban » Fri Jun 29, 2018 6:36 pm

gekiganwing wrote:
Fri Jun 29, 2018 9:58 am
Assuming that you give the protagonist of your story a name, think about who he is and what his goals are. Write down notes for story purposes. Ask yourself things such as "What specific things does he wants to achieve? What's keeping him from those goals?" as well as "Who are his friends, family, rivals, and/or foes?" Consider using one of many character questionnaires available online.
There’s actually this website called Charahub that I’m using for two of the characters in the story. It works pretty well, so now I just have to create a page for Ethan/MC. I’d recommend it to anyone trying to brainstorm some characters.

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Re: Players name themselves vs. OC character

#14 Post by sasquatchii » Fri Jun 29, 2018 9:45 pm

I personally really enjoy being able to name a character in a visual novel after myself. It usually makes me feel more connected to that character, and oftentimes more invested in the story than I would have been.

To quote Dale Carnegie,

"We should be aware of the magic contained in a person's name and realize that this single item is wholly and completely owned by the person with whom we are dealing and nobody else. The name sets the individual apart; it makes him or her unique among all others. A person's name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language."
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Re: Players name themselves vs. OC character

#15 Post by papillon » Sun Jul 15, 2018 11:20 am

I dislike naming a character after me if the character is otherwise quite set. Because it will be jarring to me if I'm invited to imagine the character as I want to, and then the story goes and does something else with them.

I am fine with games where the player gets to do a lot of character-shaping, I am fine with games where I'm supposed to be playing a set character. It's really all about managing expectations IMO.

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