A player character or playable character (PC) is a made-up character in a role-playing or video game whose actions are chosen by a player of the game rather than the rules of the game. The characters that are not used by a player are called non-player characters (NPCs). The actions of non-player characters are generally chosen by the game itself in video games, or based on rules followed by a gamemaster in tabletop role-playing games. The player character acts as a fictional, different body for the player using it.
Most video games have one player character for each person playing the game. Some games offer a group of player characters for the player to choose from, letting player control one of them at a time. Where more there is more than one player character to choose, the characters may have different abilities, strengths, and weaknesses to make the gameplay different with each.
A player character may sometimes be based on a real person, such as in sports games that use the names and looks of real sports people. Historical people and leaders may sometimes appear as characters too, such as in strategy or empire building games like Sid Meier's Civilization series. These characters are avatars rather than true player characters, because the player character's name and image have little or even no effect on the game itself. Avatars are also often seen in casino game simulations.
In role playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons or Final Fantasy, a player generally makes or chooses a character that may be nothing like themself. The character is usually of a race and class (often not real) such as zombie, berserker, rifleman, elf, or cleric, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. The skills of the characters (such as magic and fighting ability) are given as numbers which can be made better as the gamer plays through the game and gains experience points through doing quests or fighting enemies.
In many video games, the player character is a "blank slate" who has no given personality or backstory. Crono, Link and Chell are examples of such characters. These characters often do not speak. In strategy games the player character is often not shown and called by a title such as "Commander" or "General", so that the player can imagine themself in the character's job.
Fighting games often have a large number of player characters to choose from, with some basic moves that all or most characters can use and some special moves only used by one or a few characters. Having many different characters to play with, all with different moves and abilities, makes the gameplay of fighting games more wikt:variety:varied and difficult.
A secret or unlockable character may be a playable character in a video game available after finishing the game or doing certain tasks. In some video games, characters that are not secret but appear only as non-player characters like bosses or enemies become playable characters after beating them, doing certain other things, or sometimes cheating.
- La Farge, Paul (September 2006). "Destroy All Monsters". The Believer Magazine. Archived from the original on 2008-10-04.
- TSR Hobbies, Understanding Dungeons & Dragons, 1979. Quoted in Gary Alan Fine, Shared Fantasy: Role-Playing Games as Social Worlds (Chicago: U Chicago Press, 1983)
- Waggoner, Zack (2009). My Avatar, My Self: Identity in Video Role-Playing Games. University of Michigan. p. 8. ISBN 978-0-7864-4109-9. Retrieved 2014-11-12.