Protag is a liar to audience

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Ishvke
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Protag is a liar to audience

#1 Post by Ishvke » Mon Jul 28, 2014 2:38 am

How do people feel about a protagonist who isn't letting the audience in on everything she knows until near the end of the story? What about a protag who's indirectly lying to the audience/player about a chunk of significant information regarding the story, not because she's aware of the audience/player or anything, but because she's deceiving those around her & sees no reason to clarify to the audience that she is lying (until the middle/end, obvs)?

Would that be a turnoff, esp. in an otome?
First person btw, if that's at all relevant.
Last edited by Ishvke on Wed Jul 30, 2014 10:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Protag is a liar to audience

#2 Post by Zetsubou » Mon Jul 28, 2014 4:42 am

Turnoff for me.
Having the "truth" finally come out, when the protagonist supposedly knows it all along, makes it feel like the author didn't plan it at all.
ie. Rather than feeling lied to, I'd assume the author just pulled it out of nowhere or lacked the ability to properly convey their own story.

On the other hand, I think it's fine if you drop hints that lead up to the revelation.
Let the player come to their own conclusion from the hints you drop, and have the revelation make sense when considering the earlier hints.
Ishvke wrote:What about a protag who's indirectly lying to the audience/player about a chunk of significant information regarding the story, not because she's aware of the audience/player or anything, but because she's deceiving those around her & sees no reason to clarify to the audience that she is lying (until the middle/end, obvs)?

First person btw, if that's at all relevant.
I think you'd have to be careful.
If it's first person, you'll presumably have the MC share their thoughts with the player, but how many times can the MC lie to those around her without ever thinking anything that might give it away?
Try too hard to hide everything and you'll wind up with an MC so walled-off that the player won't feel a connection to them to begin with. And if you're going to hide so much of the MC's character from the player, then I don't think first person is the way to go.
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Re: Protag is a liar to audience

#3 Post by Taleweaver » Mon Jul 28, 2014 4:54 am

Unreliable narrators are quite popular in certain genres, especially crime stories and detective mysteries. (For a movie example, think "The Usual Suspects", for a video game example, think "Heavy Rain". They are a good way to work towards a twist ending, or to keep the audience guessing what exactly is going on. And in a story that works towards this effect, that's perfectly alright.

However, pulling a fast one like that should always come with a reason. Having your narrator lie to the audience about either something irrelevant or for no good reason whatsoever feels cheap. Also, in a story like that, internal monologues are a no-go. Always make it clear that the protag is telling his/her story to whoever's listening. Make it clear that it's not a neutral position he/she is taking. However, make him/her as likeable as possible. People are more willing to forgive lying if they like the liar, and even if they don't, it makes it more reasonable that they actually believed the lies.
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Re: Protag is a liar to audience

#4 Post by sasquatchii » Mon Jul 28, 2014 8:50 am

I love unreliable narrators, when they're done well.

Have you guys ever played Digital: A love story? (You should, it's free-http://scoutshonour.com/digital/) Or Analogue: A hate Story? Both of the main characters in those games are unreliable narrators. One lies about her identity and the other makes a huge lie of omission, to hide something that she did. It was really fun to piece together what was happening and made the games even more intriguing. I was hooked.

I also think George R.R Martin does an awesome job of creating Unrealiable Narrators in his A Song of Ice & Fire series. I think those characters work really well, though, because we get to see the world through more than one character's eyes, so it is easier to figure out when a narrator is unreliable and why. I think it would be very hard to pull of multiple perspectives/protagonists in a VN, though.
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Re: Protag is a liar to audience

#5 Post by Katta » Mon Jul 28, 2014 11:13 am

To me it looks like bad writing (maybe because I haven't read good examples of this), as if the author was unable to acheive their goal with normal means, the same as when some person we haven't even heard about before turns out a killer or when someone suddenly turns out a mage when we didn't know they had magic, etc. - I feel cheated.

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Re: Protag is a liar to audience

#6 Post by Mad Harlequin » Mon Jul 28, 2014 11:13 am

I'm rather fond of unreliable narrators. They're so much fun.

As others before me have said, it's important not to turn the reveal into an "infodump," and the narrator should have a reason for lying---even if he or she is following in, say, The Joker's footsteps (he lies when it suits his needs, when he can't remember something, or when he wants to mess with people). In Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's The Killing Joke, we hear about his supposed origin, but he admits he's uncertain about how it happened:
"Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another . . . If I'm going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!"
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Re: Protag is a liar to audience

#7 Post by Anne » Mon Jul 28, 2014 1:02 pm

Have you guys ever played Digital: A love story? Or Analogue: A hate Story?
Lying characters are perfectly fine, the problem is with the first-POV protagonist because you're supposed to know their thoughts. So I agree with Katta, that generally feels like cheating, especially in crime novels. An example of when that works for me would probably be something like Edna & Harvey, where you try to get out of the mental hospital (you have no reasons for being there in the first place) with the help of your toy rabbit (that's when you know that maybe there actually was some reason...)

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Re: Protag is a liar to audience

#8 Post by papillon » Mon Jul 28, 2014 3:06 pm

When important information is concealed from the player but not the character they're supposedly controlling, this can make the player feel frustrated and cheated. Especially in a game where the player is supposed to be making meaningful decisions for the character. How can we fairly choose between route A and route B if the character knows that route A leads to disaster but doesn't tell us that?

That doesn't mean that you can't have secrets, protagonists with some secrets are probably a good idea since so many protagonists are flat-out boring! But, as mentioned, you need to communicate to the player that the secrets exist (even if you're not revealing the details yet) so that the player is looking forward to the reveal rather than flipping tables when it happens. I would also say that you need to be very careful about putting the player in positions where the hidden information would make a difference to the choices the player is allowed to make.

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Re: Protag is a liar to audience

#9 Post by Ishvke » Mon Jul 28, 2014 3:26 pm

Clarification just because: MC would be claiming she lost her memories, because she'd otherwise be killed (& she has a goal to fulfill, and her supposed memory loss would make her more flexible & trustworthy to those she must deceive). There would be scenes beforehand that would make it painfully obvious that MC probably didn't forget everything, although the extent of her lies wouldn't be revealed until she enters a route (and the general route would be long -- possibly a bit longer than each of the individual routes themselves), and the purpose of her lies wouldn't be revealed until near the end.

@Taleweaver The lies would be presented solely through dialogue (and occasional descriptions of the MC flinching, etc) ofc, and internal monologues would only be given in scenes that have little to do with them.

→→As for the reason the truth would be hidden from the audience, it's because her concealment was supposed to act as a metaphor for her psychological state of being which is actually pretty stupid now that I think about it and, more importantly, because I wanted to present a relatively unbiased (and when biased, biased the other way) presentation of the side characters before I filtered those impressions with bias from the FMC.

But yeah, now I do see how that could fail miserably. I'll just state the obvious from the beginning.
@Anne/Katta - Yeah, I see how third person could be better. I may consider that as well.
Or I'll just change the MC lol, with her personality and everything. I don't think a placid, silent FMC would have been very popular to begin with anyways.

Thanks to everyone who commented (& feel free to add more, because that would be great)~
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Re: Protag is a liar to audience

#10 Post by E-night » Mon Jul 28, 2014 3:58 pm

In my opinion os a third person narrator actully more difficult to have unnreliable than a first person because more often than not the third person narrator is not a character as much a story telling device. (As all else in narratives, there are many exceptions to this).

First person narrators are more often than not biased characters with a goal as to why they tell the story and thus have limited understanding of the story and a reason to alter it. 3 person narrators are often a device and not really a character in them self and thus incapable of lying. Besides in a VN you will properly need 3 person narrator with acces to the mc thoughts to have the player be capable of making decision on her behalf and thus not getting rid of the problem of the 1 person protagonist:

The problem with the a lying otome is that is often first person present, which means that the narration is more a less the mc's thoughts and feelings and who is she lying to in her own mind?

Now I can actually of reason as to why, but none of them sound like they would fit into your story. That said a protagonist that takes advantage of the classic amnesia is something I like, just make it clear from her thoughts and action that she does remember more than she say to the other characters and don't make any decision points where the player would have chosen differently if they knew what the protagonist knew.

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Re: Protag is a liar to audience

#11 Post by Taleweaver » Tue Jul 29, 2014 2:58 am

E-night wrote:In my opinion os a third person narrator actully more difficult to have unnreliable than a first person because more often than not the third person narrator is not a character as much a story telling device. (As all else in narratives, there are many exceptions to this).
Exactly. Best example: the narrator in "The Stanley Parable". Comes over as an omniscient third-person narrator until you actually start questioning what he's telling you - in which case he quickly turns out to be quite annoyed about you messing up "his" story.

Also, papillion, if you do this in a VN, and you have a lying first-person narrator, of course you need to make sure that the player can still make meaningful decisions for the character even if he doesn't know his real motivations. That's best accomplished by making the MC formulate a goal they're working towards, and to make each decision about the way to reach that goal.

For an otome example, here's a story idea I just came up with. I hereby declare it up for grabs, or Public Domain, in legal terms:
Our heroine is your typical, slightly klutzy high school girl who has a lot of small (but cute) accidents. She has only a few friends at her school, and even those tell her that she can be pretty weird at times, which really seems to hurt our MC because: "All I ever wanted was to be normal."

One day, there's an earthquake, and which our MC's immediate neighborhood is not affected, several students from another high school are transfered to her school because their place was damaged and needs to be renovated for several months before normal classes can resume there. Among the transfer students, there are four outrageously handsome boys, typical otoge love interests, and all good friends to one another. All the girls in class are immediately smitten with them, and our MC is no different, as she reveals to her BFF. She'll put it like "I have the strongest feelings towards XXX".

In the further course of the story, the MC attempts to romance the four guys, but due to her being "accident-prone", most of her attempts don't go too well, and she ends up in several embarrassing-if-comedic situations in which the boys have to help her out. Surprisingly, if played well, they may even grow fond of her "damsel in distress" character. If the MC plays it wrong, then the four guys may start arguing over her, and their friendship may be tested. In those cases, the MC always insists that "this isn't what I wanted".

Eventually, the four guys have to leave again, and our MC invites them to a farewell party at a lake. The boys show up (minus those who got in fights with one another), and everything looks as though it's set up for a love confession. The MC and her chosen boyfriend board a small rowboat and go for a romantic trip out on the lake. Of course, our accident-prone MC manages to have yet ANOTHER accident and falls out of the boat, and as the boy with her tries to help her back in, she pulls him into the lake as well. With his help, she manages to get into the boat again, but when the boy wants to follow her, she picks up one of the oars and - seemingly out of nowhere - hits him over the head with it, knocking him unconscious and leaving him to drown.

As the MC rows back to the others (to tell them about the "terrible accident" that just happened), she reveals that she grew up in the same town as the four boys, and she went to elementary school with them. She was quite the ugly duckling back then, and the four boys were the worst delinquents at their school, constantly teasing and pranking her. One of them (the one the MC identified as the one she has the "strongest feelings" for took it exceptionally far and did something really cruel to her (dependng on the boy, that changes - lock her in the chemistry cupboard overnight for the megane boy, tie her to a pole and pelt her with softballs for the sporty boy...) - that's the one she hates most of the four. The only reason why she wanted to approach them was to finally get her revenge, which had been eating her for all those years.

This makes the player an unwilling accomplice to her crime, with the twist that she never really lied but implied a false motivation through her actions.
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Re: Protag is a liar to audience

#12 Post by papillon » Tue Jul 29, 2014 3:28 am

Of course, that's also a case where, especially in a long or commercial game, the player is probably going to be pissed as hell.

If you're going to pull something like that, be very sure it's sufficiently well-clued that when the reveal happens the player goes "Oh, of course, it all makes sense now!" and not "I WILL EAT THE LIVER OF WHOEVER WROTE THIS DRECK" :)

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Re: Protag is a liar to audience

#13 Post by Taleweaver » Tue Jul 29, 2014 3:41 am

papillon wrote:Of course, that's also a case where, especially in a long or commercial game, the player is probably going to be pissed as hell.
Absolutely. That's the effing point.

Don't even think about going for a lying first-person narrator unless making your audience mad at you is your intention.
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Re: Protag is a liar to audience

#14 Post by E-night » Tue Jul 29, 2014 9:59 am

To be fair some writers (and I assume game makers too) do try to make the players mad and it can be a valuable tool in questining the genre and the medium, but I don't think was quite what Ishvke was going for. At least that's not the impression I get from the story description.

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Re: Protag is a liar to audience

#15 Post by Mad Harlequin » Tue Jul 29, 2014 10:07 am

I don't think it's a foregone conclusion that a lying first-person narrator would inspire anger. It all depends on the nature of the character in question and his or her reasons for lying.
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