Motivation conflict

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A motivation conflict arises when the player and the PC have strongly different motivations within the context of the game world, and this causes illogical actions, damages mimesis or otherwise elicits a negative response from the player. In a motivation conflict, either the PC will carry out actions which are out-of-character, or the player will feel forced into actions he would rather not take.

Common causes

  • Ethics. Some players may feel qualms about directing a PC to perform unethical actions, or may be frustrated at the refusal of a scrupulous PC to solve puzzles with minor indiscretions.
  • Knowledge conflict. A PC who knows more than the player may be motivated for reasons the player has no access to. Without elegant handling on the author's part, this can easily result in motivation conflict.
  • Poor characterisation. A player may be reluctant to accomodate the mindset of an unbelievable PC, or may not share the PC's stated opinion on poorly-characterised NPCs. For instance, if a love interest is portrayed in a way that causes the player's dislike, the player can easily grow frustrated with the PC's poor taste.
  • Boredom. By default, the player is weakly motivated to follow the character's motivations, merely to advance the plot. There is a limited amount of mileage in this, however; without positive reasons, motivation can grind to a halt on its own.
  • Wrong audience. In particular, a game that strongly endorses a particular viewpoint is unlikely to motivate those who feel otherwise; nobody likes being roped in as an extra in someone else's morality play.
  • Personality conflict. Players may dislike or be indifferent to particular PCs for a variety of reasons for other reasons than those listed above; all things being equal, this will make a player less eager to help the PC accomplish his goals, and the author will need to provide other player motivations to escape a conflict. For instance, in Sting of the Wasp (Jason Devlin; 2004; Z-code) the player is intended to dislike the protagonist, but nonetheless pursue her goals in order to humiliate equally unpleasant characters.


  • 1893: A World's Fair Mystery (Peter Nepstad; 2002; TADS 2). The PC is a detective working with the local police, but ocassionally vandalizes exhibits in order to solve the game's puzzles.
  • The Pickpocket (Alex Weldon; 2000; Z-code). The PC is the victim of street urchin who stole his money. But instead of enlisting the help of the local authorities, the PC decides to prowl the slums at night, and commits theft, assault, menacing, breaking & entering, and vandalism to recover his money.
  • The Incredible Erotic Adventures of Stiffy Makane (Mark Ryan; 1997; AGT). The PC is expected to engage in a sex scene, but the writing is so grotesquely bad that the effect is more disturbing than erotic.
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TODO: examples, common causes, solutions etc