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Playable character

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A player character or playable character (PC) is a fictional character in a game who is controlled or controllable by the player. A player character is typically a protagonist of the story told in the course of the game. Especially in the context of video games, player characters are often also metonymically called players.

Role-playing games

In a role-playing game (RPG) a PC is an individual within the game's setting. The character's thoughts and feelings are decided by the player based on the background provided by themselves and by the setting. In contrast, the character's physical presence within the world is usually represented by a collection of statistics, numbers stating the degree of certain characteristics of the character, such as strength or intelligence.

When creating a character, a player either imagines a character and then selects these characteristics deliberately, or generates the characteristics randomly and then describes a corresponding character. Most role-playing games have a system for the selection of the statistics with intricate rules and many choices. Characteristics represented can range from fundamental (endurance, social skill) to the trivial (favorite color, height) depending on the nature of the game and the degree of detail the players want to go into. These attributes describe the way in which the character will typically act and what the character is capable of doing.

A player character provides the player a chance to do things that, in real life, could not be done or would have unwanted consequences. That is one of the attractions of role-playing. However, excessive actions by characters attempted by some players can spoil a game for the other players. The expectations of the other players need to be respected or the social cohesion of the playing group can break down.

Computer and video games

In a computer or video game a PC is one that can be used as the player's avatar within the game world. Some games only have one such character available by default (for example, Link in Zelda). However, many other games have multiple characters available for play. Some characters, called secret characters, cannot be played without finishing some specific, often arcane labor in the game (the Super Smash Bros. series is famous for having a large amount of secret characters). In some games, usually of the fighting genre, secret characters can be played when a code sequence is entered. Some games automatically change the playable character during the course of the game. Other games give the player control over more than one character at the same time, or allow one character to directly or indirectly control one or more other characters.

In some computer role-playing games, as in traditional RPGs, players may construct playable characters from a range of aspects, such as a fantasy race and character class, e.g. mercenary, shaman, starship freighter pilot, etc. Playable characters can also refer to the multiple characters the player can control (such as the members of the player's party), especially in single player games that allow the player to control more than one character. On a similar note, some games have the player controlling another party member's avatar (usually that of the second-in-command) on the field in certain situations (if it is plot-wise, it is usually because the usual main character is unavailable and/or away from the main party for some reason).

Often, the player character is a simple blank; the NPCs speak their lines without response from him/her, and in a first-person perspective game, s/he is never seen, since the player sees through his/her eyes. Examples include The Stranger in Myst and Gordon Freeman in Half-Life. Other games define the personality of the player's avatar, with a backstory, reactions from NPCs, the lines of dialogue from which to choose in branching dialogue options, cutscenes, and other storytelling devices. This type of character is often called a silent protagonist.

In contrast, a non-player character, often shortened to NPC, is a character in a role-playing game or computer game whose actions are not under the player's control. Non-playable characters may be bystanders, competitors, bosses, or potential allies to aid the player's progress in the game.

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