Several years ago, over at the now-defunct Villains & Vigilantes-themed blog The Hero Alliance, Tymothi Goss wrote an inspirational piece about an aspect of superhero roleplaying that I feel is often overlooked (it certainly was by me 'back in the day'): motivation.
What drives your character to pull on a Lycra outfit, a domino mask and a cape and beat up similarly attired bad guys?
Tymothi cited Captain America's patriotism, the Hulk's desire for solitude and Batman's quest for vengeance, but how many of us - and I am guilty as the next man - have roleplayed a superhero simply because we were playing a superhero roleplaying game?
Thinking back, my original V&V character, the Acrobatic Flea, had no deeper motivation for blasting supervillains than "it's fun". I enjoyed it as a player and never thought to give him any more nuanced character development beyond the fact that we were playing V&V therefore I would be a hero because it was "what you did".
For a time I saw this as a 'flaw' in his backstory, coming as it did from the fact that the Flea was simply me as a teenager, as we were playing the core V&V "your character is you" rule. And honestly, I had no real motivation to be a superhero when I was a teenager.
I didn't come from a broken home, my parents weren't murdered by gangsters, I wasn't in the armed forces, I wasn't the last surviving member of an alien race - so if someone suddenly gifted me the ability to leap around like a human-flea, fire energy blasts from my hands and regenerate damage, I'd probably go out and have some fun with those powers!
In fact, it was probably just a twist of fate that the Acrobatic Flea didn't turn out to be a supervillain himself!
I mean, come on, you give any real teenager superpowers, you can't honestly expect him to become a paragon of virtue like Superman, can you? Have you seen Misfits?
But I now see "because it's fun" as valid as a motivation as any other. I just didn't realise it at the time.
Hopefully, if I ever get the Icons campaign I've been dreaming about up-and-running (probably next year at the earliest), I will think to ask The Tuesday Knights - once they've have randomly generated their superheroic persona and backstory of their characters - the simple question: "But why are you doing this?"
How much emphasis do you put on 'motivation' in your games? Or are the characters simply taking part in events because that's what expected of them?