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Parcheesi as a model for character emotions

Posted in Characters

Let's see if I can make sense of something I've recently observed.

If you don't know the rules of the game of Parcheesi, don't worry about it. There are variants, but I'll just stick with one version. Here's the part that matters to this discussion:

  • You have up to 4 moveable pieces that have to go from a starting point all the way around the board and into the center. If they are “killed” (an enemy piece lands on their space), they are knocked back to the beginning.
  • You have up to 3 opponents trying to do the same thing first from their starting point.
  • You can send someone else's piece back to the beginning by moving to its space, unless the space is protected.
  • Some spaces are protected and pieces on them can't be knocked back to the beginning.
  • A space can hold no more than two pieces. Any space with two pieces is a barrier and can't be passed.
  • You roll a die (in some versions two dice, but we'll stick with one for this example) to determine how many spaces you can move one of your pieces. You can't refuse to move. If it is not possible to move that many spaces, you lose your turn.

Whew! So, here's the stuff that guides your thinking every time you take a turn…

  • When you roll the die, you have a 1/6 chance of any particular value.
  • You have to pick which of your pieces to move (and not all may be moveable that many spaces).
  • You have to pay attention to where the other players' pieces are, in case they roll a value that could eliminate one of yours.
  • You have to be conscious of which players are closer to a final win in case you can preferentially knock one of their pieces back or block them.
  • You have to consider which of your own pieces are closer to the end (and have come the longest distance), making it more expensive to lose them.

Now, like all games that include chance as an element (unlike, say, chess), the emotions of gambling manifest. Before you roll the die, there's an ideal outcome, and before your opponent rolls, there's a worst possibility. So, at every die roll you find yourself cheering for one outcome and dreading others.

Of course, whatever you hope for, there's only a 1/6 chance of any particular value every time the die rolls. Your wishes can't influence randomness, but still you feel lucky or unlucky accordingly — you can't help it. You can train yourself to be rational in your behavior, always playing to the cold odds like a professional gambler, but it's much harder to train your emotions that way — I'm not sure that you can, though you can probably learn to ignore them in some contexts.

And, then, it's difficult to refrain from crediting your opponents with supernatural powers (whether or not they're digital rather than people). You're not just unlucky when you get a bad roll — they are somehow causing it. It's not fair. The gods are against you (or, alternately, have granted you a favor.)

These are very human emotions. Almost inescapable. If you pay attention to your own emotional responses while you play this sort of game, in spite of the rational odds you know to be operating, you will notice how difficult it is to refrain from turning impersonal opponents and dice into villains. In fact, that's part of the thrill of playing — defeating your enemy.

These are emotions that your characters should feel. They should make plans that have an element of chance about them, and feel vindicated or abused accordingly, regardless of the actual rational odds. They should feel those elements of unfairness or supernatural support/opposition that are part of our emotional nature, part of the thrill of the struggle. They become gamblers, after a fashion. And others should see them that way.

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One Comment

  1. Definitely two gamblers and one afraid to take a chance again.

    But one of the gamblers will lose.

    Interesting way to look at things. I like it.

    July 4, 2022

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