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: the act of describing the character or qualities of someone or something
: the way a writer makes a person in a story, book, play, movie, or television show seem like a real person

– Merriam-Webster dictionary

Pathfinder Card Game: Valeros the fighterCharacterization is a writing term (well, a narrative creation term). Characterization is what sets fictional people apart from each other. Sherlock Holmes is tall and eccentric, Dr. Watson is short and down to earth. Brer Rabbit is fast, Brer Turtle is slow. Zombies like brains, Superman doesn’t like kryptonite.

Characterization, together with plotting and world building, is a central aspect of narrative fiction and narrative non-fiction. It exists in games and the stronger the narrative aspect of a game the more characterization it generally has. Pathfinder the RPG has more characterization than Pathfinder the board game which has more characterization than Mr. Jack the board game which has more characterization than No Thanks!. But what happens if a game has no narrative structure?

Here’s the interesting thing: you can still use characterization in non-narrative games, but it must then work on game mechanics rather than theme. (more…)