Human Nature

Good, Evil, or Oxymoron

This essay was originally written for a role playing game magazine. The question was how to create believable characters for use in fictional conflicts. There are a few abbreviations that might cause problems for those unfamiliar with role playing games. A "PC" is a Player Character, who is the equivalent of the star of a movie or a TV show. Six to ten players generally control the PCs, the stars. The creator of the game - the equivalent of the director of a movie, the Game Master, or "GM" - runs all other characters. "NPCs," are thus non-player characters. These are quite often villains - characters that must in a believable and realistic way provide tension for the adventure - an opposition for the PC stars to overcome. Creating believable and challenging NPCs is thus a large part of running a good role-playing game.

On another level, the essay is about people and conflict. How is it that humans end up fighting one another?

Some time back, Peter Maranci of Interregnum proposed as the game magazine's topic of the month "Human Nature". His own response a month later invoked "Good and Evil". To me, both the nature of man and the nature of Good and Evil are Great Questions. The best minds of all the centuries have been trying to answer them. The efforts of even the most veteran role player are not going to significantly impact the Halls of Academia.

Still, any decent game creator must have some sort of answer to these questions. I for one dislike the "black and white" school of gaming, where man is portrayed as a good guy or a bad guy. I enjoy more the "shades of grey" school, where it is not always immediately clear the proper thing to do. The grey approach is both more realistic, and presents the players with more interesting choices.

Yet, while it is easy to build black and white characters, how does one build grey people? I'm going to develop some other traits of mankind. Man is a creature of instincts. Man is a creature of culture (or habit). Man is also capable of rationalizing his actions, so that however black his actions may appear on the surface, many individuals can portray themselves as white in the minds. Finally, after reviewing these other dimensions of human behavior, we can return to the original criteria of Good and Evil to see what is left, if anything.