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A player character or playable character (PC) is a character in a video game or role playing game who is controlled or controllable by a player, and is typically a protagonist of the story told in the course of the game. A player character is a persona of the player who controls it. Player characters are often also metonymically called players. Some video games only have one player character, others, especially two player games have two, or another small number of player characters to choose from, one for each player. Where more than one player character is available, the characters may have slightly or completely different abilities, strengths and weaknesses to make the game play style different. 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.
A player character may sometimes be based on a real person, or non-fictional character 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 warrior or magic user), 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 in first-person shooter games, 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 himself 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.
By 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 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 using cheat codes.