A player character or playable character ("PC" for short) is a fictional character in a game, usually a role-playing game (RPG), that is controlled by one of the players. It is usually represented by a collection of statistics, numbers stating the degree of certain attributes of the character, such as strength or intelligence. In tabletop RPGs, the player uses these in imagining the way in which that character will act and, within the imagined world of the game, describes what they do. In a computer-based RPG, they inform the game program what actions their character will take and the computer simulates their consequences.
When creating a character, a player usually either imagines a character and then selects these characteristics deliberately, or chooses the characteristics randomly then describes a corresponding character. Most games use the former method, but a number of Dungeons & Dragons-derived games allow or require random character generation.
Most role-playing games have a system for the selection of the numbers mentioned above with intricate rules and many choices. Attributes represented can range from fundamental (endurance, social skill) to the trivial (favorite color, height) depending on the nature of the game and the degree of detail the players want to go into. These attributes describe the way in which that character will typically act and what the character is capable of doing.
In tabletop and live-action role-playing games, there is little advantage to be had by selecting consistently high attributes, as a gamemaster can make enemies and obstacles that the character must face more dangerous, or make the statistics irrelevant in other ways. More commonly, they will simply not allow the player to have high statistics. Also, role-playing can be about social interaction and imagination. Purely played on the basis of the numerical mechanics, it is a narrower activity, though many still enjoy this aspect. Many such players tire of this method of gameplay and either move on to more three-dimensional and realized characters or abandon the hobby entirely.
There is some skill to the selection of plausible numbers for attributes that will be "advantageous" to the player. Players, gamemasters and settings vary widely in how important they regard plausibility and "advantage".
A character's attributes usually don't correspond to those of the player. Their personalities more often do, but not always. A common cause of friction amongst players can be the confusion of the character and the player.
A player character provides the player a chance to do things that, in real life, could not be done or would have unwanted consequences. That is one of the attractions of role-playing. However, excessive actions by characters attempted by some players can spoil a game for the other players. The expectations of the other players need to be respected or the social cohesion of the playing group can break down.
A collection of PCs is often referred to as a "party".
Contrast with a non-player character (NPC), a character controlled by the gamemaster or, in the case of games that do not use gamemasters, by the game itself. In computer role-playing games, player characters and playable characters are also known as avatars, and almost always serve as the game's protagonist.
See also alternate character.