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Article - 'Motives for Character Development' by Xanqui

An item about Game Design posted on Jan 14, 2004

Blurb

Another article on Character Development, but this time regarding motives.

Body

As time progresses, things change. These things are always affected by other things, and thus create cause and effect. The same applies for character development. An outside force must interfere in order to change a character. This is generally a long quest, the death of a loved one, or a rapid, sudden change in environment. But there are many other reasons for change as well.

To begin with, people change as they grow. But it’s not just the change in age that causes change in personality. The ways other react to people can greatly change personality. Basically, if someone’s a jerk, people will start ignoring him. He will soon want people to pay attention to him, so he’ll change the way he acts towards people by being nicer. The best place to see this is in high school. After middle school, the popular jerks usually become the losers, and if they continue to be jerks, everyone just ignores them. But some of them will end up being nicer to others.

Now let’s put your character in a similar situation. Your character is a jerk. Everyone in the party hates him. It wouldn’t be realistic if the party stuck with him, so he’s going to need to change. They may end up beating the crap out of him, leaving him, or telling him to shut up every time he speaks. Eventually, he will come to the realization that he needs to be nicer. However, in a storyline, character development is usually caused by a key event. One of the characters dies, and suddenly the hero realizes that he was never nice to this character. His outlook on life will thus change, and he will be nicer.

Real life and storylines differ in these sorts of situations. Storywriters rarely make character development like this take place over long periods of time, and generally have changes caused by singly, spectacular moments.

In the game Black and White, you get what’s called a “creature”. This creature starts out as a confused, helpless animal. It doesn’t understand its surroundings or what’s right or wrong. However, it does understand pain and pleasure. If it does something you, as the God, don’t want it to do, you get to slap the crap out of it, and you can be sure that it won’t ever do it again. However, if it does something that you do want it to do, you can rub its tummy and it will continue to do that, knowing that what it is doing is right.

Black and White is a perfect for showing motives for character development. Even you, as the God, develop as a character. When the villagers start hating you, you may end up feeling bad for them and provide them with more food and wood. When you realize that it’s easier to progress by providing villagers with more, you change, and thus, develop as a character.

But nice-ness isn’t the only form of character development. Maturity is as well.

Maturity is greatly affected by age, but there are a lot of other factors involved as well. The way your parents raised you, the location you live, the places you’ve been to, et cetera. But things such as the death of a friend, or a near-death experience will most likely change you forever.

I’m not trying to bring back whatever harsh experiences you have, so this is just an example. Let’s say a good friend of yours dies, but you never really told him or her how much you cared for them. Generally, you’ll be sure to always let people know that you’ll think of them while they’re gone, and always let them know that you care about them.

[!!FINAL FANTASY ALERT!!]
If you hate Final Fantasy, don’t read this section. If you don’t care either way, or you like the games, then go ahead and read this.

Cloud Strife (Remember I warned you, so don’t flame me) loved Aeris. But he was cold towards her, as if he was expecting her to come forward and say she loved him. In fact, she almost did say it at one time or another, but he acted uninterested. However, when she died, he changed. He knew he had a second chance to show his affection towards Tifa, but he still waited to finally come forward and let her know his true feelings.
[/!!FINAL FANTASY ALERT!!]

So as you can see, the best way to cause character development is to change something big. The character must then adapt to these changes. Seeing violent images like soldiers in a war, losing someone or something vital to their life, or placing them in a completely new environment are just a few of the many ways to alter a character’s life.

However, because there are really not that many ways of causing character development, the methods to change a character may seem rather cliché. But character development isn’t meant to be original. It’s more of a way to attach the audience to the character. A stagnant character would be uninteresting and pointless while one who changes and grows before our very eyes would be emotionally inseparable. Still, without proper motives, character development is useless as a part of the storyline. Use the storyline to your advantage as each event changes each character as the story progresses. Every clash of the sword, every life lost, and every arrow dodged should bring more life to the character.

Unless a character can relate to you, or someone you know in real life, there is no way to become attached to it. Bring the elements of the real world into your story, and when combined with the strange reality, character development should come naturally..