All the World's a Stage: What's my motivation?

Anne Stickney
A. Stickney|02.27.11

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All the World's a Stage: What's my motivation?
All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players. In World of Warcraft, that player is you! Each week, Anne Stickney brings you All the World's a Stage with helpful hints, tips and tricks on the art of roleplay in WoW.

When creating a character for roleplay, it's a good idea to have goals for that character in mind -- things that he wants to accomplish over the course of his lifetime in WoW. We've talked before about creating memories and moments that stick with a character; today we're going to talk about incorporating those memories and moments from the past into the future. Along with using these memories to create realistic goals, you can also use these memories as direct ties to your character's motivation.

With roleplay, it's not just about what your character remembers and what he's experienced in the past; it's also about how those memories affect the actions your character takes in the future and how he reacts to what's happening around him. These memories, these events from the past should affect and lead into what your character is up to today. As your character travels around the world, doing quests for quest givers and dungeons and other numerous errands he carries out every day, he should have some sort of motivation for what he's doing, a reason for carrying out all these tasks. Without motivation, a character lacks a reason for existing.

Bringing the past into the future

To figure out what exactly it is that makes your character tick, you want to look at two things -- first, the memories your character has of the past and how those affect him, and second, what your character knows, the information he's got a really solid grasp on. Take all that information that you've pulled together from his past and look for the common thread between all the memories and information, that one thing that unites all the information into a cohesive whole.

For example, a character with memories largely associated with war or conflict, times that she's been in battle, fallen comrades -- when looking at all that information, you can pull a character that's either fiercely protective of her world, her friends and family, or perhaps one that's withdrawn, bitter at the sheer amount of violence in the world today. Or maybe she is the endless optimist -- despite all the sorrow present in his lifetime, she still manages to see the good in things. There are endless possibilities in this process, so pick one that seems like something you'd enjoy playing out.

Once you've got that background for your character's personality, you can draw your motivation from that. Perhaps that eternal optimist is traveling the world to find the good in people or to share his optimism with those that are battered and worn from the struggles of war and conflict. Perhaps that bitter warrior has made it his life's purpose to wipe out those that seek to harm the world. Again, the possibilities are endless.

When you've got your character's motivation established, you've got a reason for your character to be traveling throughout the world. That reason plays heavily into how they interact with other characters. The eternal optimist is going to have an interesting time interacting with characters who don't share his bright outlook on life; the bitter warrior may spend her time butting heads with those that don't share her darker views of the world.

Pitfalls to avoid

You'll notice that when I give examples of motivation, they are incredibly vague -- there's a reason for that. You want to keep it simple; overcomplicating your character can sometimes lead to locking yourself into a path you may not want to necessarily follow. One problem some roleplayers face is confusing "motivation" with "goal for my character to obtain." If you give your character one very, very defined goal, it leaves you with a big fat "What now?" when you've finally reached that goal and conquered it.

How does that work, exactly? Well, let's look at a couple of examples.

Example 1 Kronk the orc witnessed his father's death when he was very young. The killer wasn't an Alliance soldier; it was his father's second-in-command, who was seeking to improve his status in the Horde army. Since that day, Kronk has vowed revenge on the orc who took his father's life. To that end, Kronk has been training in order to improve his strength and combat awareness, so that his father's life might be avenged.

This isn't a bad story at all. Kronk's got motivation for traveling around the world -- he's training to get his revenge on the orc that murdered his father. That certainly gives him the drive and potential to travel the world. Every battle he participates in only serves to give him more experience in combat, which should make killing the villain of this story a breeze. But there are a few questions that need to be asked in this situation, particularly in regards to RP.
Is the killer a fictional, made-up character that will never be encountered? If this is the case, Kronk's never going to get his revenge. This means his life is going to be spent in a constant state of "I must do this," but the "this" will never be obtained. While the story itself may be interesting and engaging to start with, over time, the constant "I must find my father's killer" may grow a little old, both for characters that interact with Kronk and for Kronk's player.

Is the killer actually someone that Kronk can kill? If the killer is another roleplayer, then Kronk's player has set it up so that that ultimate conflict can actually occur. This is good, but is the roleplayer behind Kronk's nemesis okay with having his character killed? Or is this going to be a situation where Kronk won't be able to complete his task?

What happens after the killer is dead? If Kronk has devoted his life to this one purpose, what is he going to do after that purpose has been fulfilled? What's going to keep him from simply going back to Orgrimmar and retiring, happy and satisfied that his task has been completed? What new conflicts will keep him engaged with other roleplayers?
Example 2 Keia is a simple woman who avidly follows the teachings of the Light. Though she participates in battles, she much prefers to let others do the fighting and instead use her powers to heal those that are ailing. Fiercely protective of others, Keia would like nothing more than to be swept off her feet by a charming and handsome man, get married and live happily ever after.

Again, it's not a bad story. It seems to be a pretty realistic, simple goal. This is actually a situation where a lot of roleplayers falter. Romantic relationships can be really fun to roleplay through. But when the sweeping fun of getting caught up in a relationship ends, players can often find themselves getting bored, restless, and desperately wanting to end their character's romance.

What is it, exactly, that causes the problems? It's pretty simple -- you spend your time focused on completing one event. Let's take Keia as an example. A player spends the majority of their time in the mindset of needing to seek out an in-character relationship for the purpose of getting married and "living happily ever after." Once that "happily ever after" is achieved, the player finds himself bored beyond all reason. Why? Because the player has been living so long with the thought of "getting into a relationship" that that's where the excitement comes from -- the "happily ever after" is an afterthought that provides no real excitement.

The same problems apply to the character of Kronk. Kronk's player gets so caught up in "finding the killer" that when the killer is dead or dealt with, there's nothing for the character of Kronk to latch onto, no where for him to move on. With both of these hypothetical situations, it's a matter of getting stuck in the process for so long that the character becomes the process.

Keeping it fluid

The key to avoiding these endless loops of repetitive roleplay is to keep your characters' motivations distinct and separate from the paths they follow and the goals they seek to achieve. They should have a reason for doing what they are doing. They should have something they're trying to accomplish. But that reason, that goal shouldn't be the be all and end all of those characters' existence. In real life, we are not our motivations -- they shape us, they help us choose a path. But that path can and will change at any moment, whether we like it or not. Our goals are simply points where we succeed, but reaching those goals often opens other goals for us to reach.

There is a distinct difference between motivation, goals, and the path you follow. It's easy to confuse the three, because they interplay so heavily. Remember to keep your characters' motivations clear, but give them the fluidity to change at any moment. Give them goals to work toward, but don't limit them to a single outcome, and you'll see yourself having far more adventures, interacting with many more people, and in general having a better time all around.

All the World's a Stage is your source for roleplaying ideas, innovations and ironies. Let us help you imagine what it's like to sacrifice spells for the story, totally immerse yourself in your roleplaying or even RP on a non-RP realm!
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