Pixie talks about her work in character development
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Interviewer: I’m here at the ARG Fest and with me today is a special guest. How about you introduce yourself?
Pixie: I’m Pixie.
Interviewer: What do you do related to ARGs?
Pixie: Well, at the moment I do character development and voice over work.
Interviewer: For character development, what exactly is that, and how does that relate to an ARG?
Pixie: Well, it’s just like reading anything else, any other type of story. You get an idea of where the game is going, where the final outcome is going to be, and you have to develop the character based on that. A lot of PMs will give you…
Interviewer: And PM is puppet master then?
Pixie: Yes, sorry. A lot of puppet masters will give you the information that they want you to use with that character, like name, what they’re doing, what they need to convey. Some puppet masters are more strict and they give you the full background information and the whole life story of a character.
Other PMs will just say, “This is the general thing of what I need; now run with it. Because this character is interacting with the players, it’s very fluid. Things can change all the time. They have a personality, but just like any other human personalities can change slightly; things can happen.
Interviewer: So when a PM or puppet master says to run with it, then you have to develop this character. What do you do then to develop a strong character presence within a game?
Pixie: I like writing stories so I tend to sit down and I just write a story for a character. It just kind of comes to me, like I tend to-just the basic story. A person woke up one day and had to do something, and they put on this shirt and then they-you go through the whole story. I find the personality that way. I don’t really write personalities. They just come to me, but you just write a whole back story for them.
Interviewer: How many weeks then does it take for you to get a better understanding of how the character is going to be within a game?
Pixie: [Laughs] You know, I don’t know. It depends on the game and the character. I mean, some characters come easier to a person. It’s sort of like any type of table top RPG. You basically have a character sheet, except in my case I write a story for them.
Interviewer: Going to the character sheet analogy, do you have different categories of personality and you give them point rankings and stuff like that?
Pixie: I could actually turn it into more like the Sims. In the Sims you have your personality grids where it’s like this person is more outgoing. This person is more sloppy. This person is more like that kind of stuff, like that. So, yeah, I kind of go with that a little bit.
Interviewer: So, once you’ve developed this character, how does this character interact with the players in the game then? How does that work out?
Pixie: It all depends on the game and the characters and how things are going.
Interviewer: Players can actually send you emails and stuff as if you’re there.
Pixie: Not just emails; depending on the game, a character can be getting phone calls, can be getting emails, can be getting faxes, can be getting… You can have live meets with characters where you are face to face with them. Like today, we did the Muscle Robot speed dating where they are staying pretty much in character as long as possible. That’s not who they are. That’s their character, and they’re just interacting. It’s make believe for grownups.
Interviewer: Some of the ARGs that you played and you’ve developed a strong affinity to characters, can you describe some of these ARGs? Did you ever become attached to some of these characters in any ARGs?
Pixie: I can mention one specifically. There was a game by Dave Szulborski called Urban Hunt, and a lot of us got very attached to a character named Ed Vargas. He was just very personable. The key to why we all got attached to this character was because he responded to everything. If you emailed him, you got a response back. You really felt like you were talking to a person and not just an automated response.
Interviewer: So, you’re saying that you would, say, email this person some question or something else, and you would get a response that seemed pretty genuine or authentic.
Pixie: Oh yeah, completely. One of my favorite PMs who works on characters is something in Detalk [sp], and I tend to gravitate toward characters without knowing that she is doing them, characters that she is playing just because I like the way they interact. They just talk to you a lot, and it’s not always related to the game.
In the last game that I played with her, I promised her character that I would buy her Rita’s Water Ice, and we talked about that. You commiserate over your life story along with the character’s life story, like we were sharing trying to save a library. So, we talked about why we liked the library and stuff like that.
Interviewer: Did you talk to this person over email or was it over the phone?
Pixie: In those cases it was email, but there have been lots of games where you talk over the phone. There was a game called I Love Bees that was very, very popular. A lot of people got to talk to characters by answering pay phones, and sometimes it was a recording. Other times you got surprised, and it was actually a person on the other end that would answer your questions, respond to you, change what was going on. That game broke major ground, and that one person changed the entire context of the game with one conversation.
Interviewer: To clarify then what’s happening is that the end game has a character. In the game there is a character, but that character is represented by some actor or something else. He’s kind of role playing that character for everyone else. So, where do you see character design going for ARGs, and how can ARGs make it so it’s scalable if you have 10,000 players. Having just one character responding to everyone’s email, I think, would seem pretty difficult.
Pixie: That’s where you come up with multiple PMs playing the same character which can be tricky if you’re going for a specific personality, or you go back to automated responses or not responding to everybody, being a little more selective. I’m seeing a lot more character action on Twitter, for instance. Muscle Robots is using Twitter to communicate with different players, and it’s a little bit easier because it’s more like a forum than emails.
Interviewer: So, then a player would subscribe to a certain Twitter account which represents that character.
Pixie: Yes, basically, and then we follow what the person is saying and respond to them, and just like any other Twitter account they talk about mundane things that don’t have to do with the game and you talk to them about that, you know, what shoes they’re wearing, stupid stuff like that. It’s really a person. As a player, you have to suspend reality. We like to say this is not a game. Totally pretend it’s not a game, and there’s a robot standing over there. His name is Oliver, and you just talk to him and that sort of thing.
As to where I see it going in the future, I personally find the character development and character interaction in games as incredibly important, but there have been games where you really don’t interact with the characters at all. And it’s just sort of watching them and trying to solve things on your own. I don’t tend to play those games myself, possibly because I am so into character interaction, but I don’t know how well those games do personally.
Interviewer: Great. Thank you very much.