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A player character or playable character (PC) is a character in a role playing game whose actions are directly controlled by a player of the game and is typically a protagonist of the game's story. The characters that are not controlled by a player are called non-player characters (NPCs). The actions of non-player characters are typically handled by the game itself in video games, or by a gamemaster for tabletop role-playing games. The player character functions as a persona of the player controlling it. Player characters are often also metonymically called players.
Video games typically have one player character for each person playing the game. Some games offer a group of player characters for the player to choose from, allowing the player to control one of them at a time. Where more than one player character is available, the characters may have different abilities, strengths, and weaknesses to make the game play style different.
A player character may sometimes be based on a real person, especially in sports games that use the names and likenesses of real sports people. Historical people and leaders may sometimes appear as characters too, particularly in strategy or empire building games such as in Sid Meier's Civilization series. Curiously, in the case of Civilization, a player's chosen historical character is the same throughout the course of the game despite the fact that a campaign can last several hundred years before and after the lifetime of the real historical persona. Such a player character is more properly an avatar as the player character's name and image typically have little bearing on the game itself. Avatars are also commonly seen in casino game simulations.
In role playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons or Final Fantasy, a player typically creates or takes on the identity of a character that may have nothing in common with the player. The character is usually of a certain (often fictional) race and class (such as zombie, berserker, rifleman, elf, or cleric), each with strengths and weaknesses. The attributes of the characters (such as magic and fighting ability) are given as numerical values which can be increased as the gamer progresses and gains rank and experience points through accomplishing goals or fighting enemies.
In many computer adventure games, and especially first-person shooters, the player character is an anonymous person with no character history or backstory. Typically, this is intentionally done by the game creators so that the player may simply imagine themself in the adventure without being required to play a character who is of a different age, race, gender, or background. The Stranger in the Myst franchise is such a character. In most such games, the player character has no onscreen dialogue and non-player characters will typically address the player as though they don't expect a verbal response. They will never call the player character by name and will always address the player in a gender-neutral form. This is also frequently found in real-time strategy games such as Dune 2000 and Emperor: Battle for Dune. In such games, the only real indication that the player has a character (instead of an omnipresent status), is from the cutscenes during which the character is being given a mission briefing or debriefing; the player is usually addressed as "general", "commander", or another military rank. In gaming culture, such a character was called Ageless, Faceless, Gender-Neutral, Culturally Ambiguous Adventure Person, abbreviated as AFGNCAAP (pronounced "afgan-cap"); a term that originated in Zork: Grand Inquisitor where it is used satirically to refer to the player. Such games are also known for lacking mirrors that a player may directly look into.
Games such as fighting games typically have a larger amount of player characters to choose from, with some basic moves available to all or most characters and some unique moves only available to one or a few characters. Fighting games often have no unique levels to travel through only combat, so having many different characters to play with and against, that possess different moves and abilities is necessary to create a larger gameplay variety that other games may get with different levels.
Non-player and secret characters
In contrast, a non-player character (often shortened to NPC) is a character in a game whose actions are not under the player's control. Non-playable characters may be bystanders, competitors, bosses, or may exist to aid the player's progress in the game.
A secret or unlockable character may be a playable character in a video game available after completing the game or meeting other requirements. In some video games, characters that are not secret but appear only as non-player characters like bosses or enemies become playable characters, after completing certain requirements, or sometimes cheating.