In these examples, we'll explore two instances of Player-Character Dissonance.
[[Example 1|Example 1]]You are a nameless generic adventurer who has just stepped off the boat in Aieliaiolaia, the Land of Swords and Magic and Stuff.
What is your name?
[[I have no name.|Sign]]Your name is Jon Stabsalot. You've arrived in this accursed land of Aieliaiolaia with revenge in mind: a bloody promise to keep, for the man in Ironbore who murdered your wife.
On your hip, your trusty sword, Hatefuck, hangs heavy with intent.
[[Set out for Ironbore|step1]]Having chosen a name, you turn your attention to the ground. A selection of weapons lies at your feet.
Which do you choose?
[[The slightly-larger knife|Destination]]
[[FUCK THIS SHIT I CHOOSE MY FISTS|Destination]]Thus armed, it is now time to choose your destination. Before you lies a crossroads. To the east lies Gilbroke, a simple fishing village. To the west lies the Imperial Capital of Ironbore. To the north lies the Salty Marshes. To the south lies Mt. Skullrage.
Where will you go?
[[Mt. Skullrage|Conclusion1]]You set out for the city of Ironbore, armed with your trusty sword. At the city gates, you're greeted by a guard.
"What's your name?" he asks.
"Jon Stabsalot," you answer.
"What's your star sign?" he asks.
"I don't remember," you shrug.
"Are you here for business or pleasure?" he asks.
"Well," you say, "I'm here to avenge my dead wife. Who you murdered, you evil son of a bitch. Do you remember me?! Because I remember you! TAKE THIS, MOTHERFUCKER!"
You stab the guard in the eye, grinning savagely as his skull explodes, spraying blood on the cobblestones below.
[[Continue|Restart]]You lift your gaze to the twilit sky, casting a glance toward the star-sign of your birth...
What is your constellation?
[[The Big Ol' Butt|Weapon]]
[[The fuckin sun lol|Weapon]]See? Player-Character Dissonance. You were given a bunch of ++ moments (player-defined traits, via exploratory interactions). Then when the game gave you a predefined, instructive result, it felt super weird, jarring, and frustrating. Like the game had made you a promise and then welched on it.
Now let's see the same thing done the other way.
(link-goto: "Example 2")On the road to Ironbore, you're accosted by a bandit. He comes at you with a knife. As you rip Hatefuck from its sheath, the blade screams eagerly for blood.
What do you do?
[[Stab the bandit in the eye.|goodstab]]
[[Stab the bandit in the stomach.|goodstab]]
[[Befriend the bandit.|badstab]]You open your mouth to speak a friendly word, but the bandit drives his dagger into your chest. As you fall, you realize the lesson: there can be no friendship in this land. No kindness. No decency. There is only one rule:
Kill, or be killed.
[[Try Again|step1]]You drive your blade into the aforementioned meaty bit, and he gurgles with pain as he dies. You wipe Hatefuck on the back of his shirt, sheath the sword, and move on.
[[Continue|step2]]You soon come to a crossroads.
To the east lies Gilbroke, a simple fishing village.
To the west lies the Imperial Capital of Ironbore.
To the north lies the Salty Marshes.
To the south lies Mt. Skullrage.
Where will you go?
[[South|badplace]]Maybe someday. But for now, your destination is Ironbore.
[[Try again|step2]]You set off down the crossroads, and reach Ironbore by dusk.
[[Continue|step3]]At the gates of Ironbore, you spot a guard. He doesn't recognise you. But you recognize him. This is the man that murdered your wife — that drove the axe into her skull, laughing all the while. That burned her body. That destroyed your world.
You approach the gates...
[[Continue|conclusion2]]At the city gates, you're greeted by a guard.
"Welcome, traveler!" he smiles.
What would you like to do?
[[Visit the Mages' Guild|conclusion3]]
[[Ask the guard for a quest|conclusion3]]See how friggin weird that was? You worked your way through a heavily (--) story, playing a predefined character, navigating explicitly-instructive gameplay moments that had only one correct answer each, all designed to make you feel like Jon Stabsalot, the avenging warrior.
But then, when you got to the gates of the city, you were given an open-ended (++) exploratory choice — as if you were some player-defined character! And even worse, the game didn't let you do the thing it taught you you're supposed to do!
JEEZE! SO FRUSTRATING.
[[Continue|end]]But here's the thing:
If you flipped these conclusions, they would work just fine.
In Example 1, it would have been perfectly natural for you to come to the gates of the city and then face a choice to go shopping, visit the mage's guild, or ask for a quest — because that's a (++) choice, just like all the previous one you'd made.
Likewise, in Example 2, if you had reached the city gates and only had one option (murder the guard) it would have felt like a perfectly natural conclusion to Jon Stabsalot's story. But that was a (--) outcome at the end of a series of (++) moments, so it felt weird and out of place.
[[Continue|finale]]I think Player-Character Dissonance can almost always be explained this way. <b>It's the frustration and confusion that results when a game is inconsistent — when a player's understanding of the relationship between themselves and their character is suddenly, unexpectedly violated.</b>
Hopefully these examples have helped illustrate the idea a little more clearly than a boring blog post ever could!