Dec 29, 2011

Posted by in All The Galaxy's A Stage | 2 Comments

All The Galaxy’s A Stage: The Dissonance Of Determined Dialogue

All The Galaxy’s A Stage is a regular column at Ask A Jedi with some lofty, creative goals.  On one hand, we will be discussing and exploring meaningful topics to support the role-play experience and community.  On the other hand, we also want to introduce the casual Role-Player to the writing-acting experience that can add so much more to an MMORPG like Star Wars: The Old Republic.  Share your perspectives and experience as we co-create magical story in that galaxy far, far away!

With a couple of weeks of play under my belt I am not surprised.  BioWare’s dialogue wheel for TOR is everything I expected it to be.  I have a background for a character.  I get presented with situations which call me to make a choice from three options.  When the wheel comes up I know the top choice will (generally) be the virtuous one.  The middle choice will be some aspect of neutral.  And the bottom choice will be selfish or evil.

This has led to a far-from-surprising conversation around the Web about how unique an individual player’s story for TOR can be.  The good news for role-players is that (in my humble opinion) this is a non-issue.  I think the real question is; will the story and dialogue choices presented by BioWare inspire the development of my character and personal story in any way?

Both Sides Of The Story

When I play my Jedi Consular I have a character firmly in mind.  I separate BioWare’s story from my characters’ story, and (for the most part) make the choices as if this were a separate story.  However, every so often something is said or happens that inspires me.  In those situations it’s like I am a gold prospector crouched in a river with my pan and have just sifted a gold nugget.  I take the nugget, hold it up against the light of my character’s personality and background, and use my judgment to decide whether it’s gold or not.

A big filter I use centres around how much a story element relies on an individual getting things done.  For example, only one person can win the Big Hunt or become the Warden of the Jedi Order.  If an event could only be accomplished by an individual effort I set it aside.  I will not have my character being that individual.  Why?  Because, BioWare’s story is shared by millions of players.  However, an event that could have been accomplished by a joint effort has more room for incorporation.  For example, if the BioWare story centres around a war on a planet then my character’s story might include being involved in that war.  Questions I use to support such a decision include:

  • Was I impressed by the story as it was told?
  • Did I feel the choices given by the wheel fit how my character would have approached events?
  • Am I inspired enough by this to incorporate this aspect of BioWare’s story it into my character’s background in some way?

The BioWare story provides some insight and reflects attitudes in the Star Wars galaxy as interpreted by BioWare (and vetted by LucasArts).  I also appreciate that game design (or most likely cost) restrictions led to there only being three choices on the dialogue wheel.  The reality for role-players is that we have an infinite number of choices in any given scene, divided by the self-imposed constraints of our interpretation of how our character would react.

There are some things I can count on though. My character shares the same timeline as the hero.  We also live in a galaxy filled with the same lore.  The Jedi Order is the Jedi Order.  The structure and code fit.  But, BioWares’ character choices are where clear lines start to get drawn for me.  Interpretation of the world on the part of other Jedi characters might be inspiring and add richness, but their characters are not my character.  Just because Satele sees the world a certain way doesn’t mean my character has to lemming along behind her.

Everyone’s A Hero

However, I do feel compelled to close out with an observation for the new (or the ego-driven) role-player.  The BioWare story is about a hero.  Each class story is epic in proportion to what’s going on for other characters.  In the game you play a character with oodles of potential.  As your class story progresses you deliver on that and get to reveal galactic-shaking climaxes.  And so if you are the type of person who thinks role-play is about being the super-hero, where your character has no flaws and cannot be beaten by anything, then I could easily see such prospectors finding a ton of gold in the river.  If I bump into your character I fully expect you to be running about the galaxy with a very shiny and rust-proof posterior demeanor.

In short, the BioWare story will either bring out the best in us, or the worst in us.  The dissonance of determined dialogue isn’t really dissonance for a role-player that appreciates that our shared story is about co-creation and enjoyment for all.  I’ve been inspired by great story all my life.  TOR is a collection of great stories.  And so I have no shame in admitting that my character’s background will at points be inspired by BioWare’s story.   However, at most the BioWare story will be like a casual sprinkling of pepper on my meal.  I’ll use it for flavour, mindful of the reality that the meal already has flavour of its’ own.

  1. Lady Republic says:

    In some ways, I’ve found the story choices can constrain a bit, for the reasons you mention. I’ve also found that it can really help develop aspects of my characters that I hadn’t necessarily pinned down. So for instance, while my Knight is generally a chivalrous, stereotypical Jedi – as I’d planned her to be – the dialogue wheel has led my Trooper down a different path. She’s a good, honorable person and soldier – but in her case, she’s developed a bit of intolerance for politics and she can be a bit snarky at times. Never mean or belittling, just a little sarcastic here and there. It’s nothing something I’d intended when I designed the character, but something I enjoyed and included after experiencing some of those dialogue choices. So for me, I’ve found that the choices are a net win – yes, sometimes they do constrain a bit, but they can also really encourage character development and roleplaying in ways you may not had planned but appreciate.

  2. My experiences echo what Lady Republic says pretty well. Even after RPing for a few decades now, it still catches me by surprise (though of the pleasant sort) when my characters start taking on a life of their own, seemingly outside my control. In more traditional settings, this usually happens by way of my fellow players arranging unexpected situations, but here the dialogue choices provide the outside stimulus.

    I have escaped out of dialogue a few times, because of the usual problem with the BioWare-wheel: that it can be hard to gauge what the exact response that is hiding behind those 3-4 paraphrased words is, but most of the time I roll with it, even if it wasn’t exactly what I would have said given free reign. Over the hours, this has developed into unexpected character traits for my various persona. And for the times when it was just annoying and felt like railroading, I write it off as my guys and girls having a bad day. Even the coolest Agent sometimes comes to work hung over after all those space-martinis, so occasionally he just says something stupid.

    Generally the good outweigh the bad.

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