According to studies of male ice hockey players, one of the earliest articles on Glowing Monkeys — posted September 13, 2008 — pointed to a tendency for wide-faced men to be more aggressive. But that is neither the first nor the last reference to the facial ratio carrying weight in judging personality characteristics.

Of course, this could have everything to do with the Nightmare Face scenario. But, much cultural folklore hangs from the shape, size or position of facial features, and we each have a range of expectations driven by our environment and individual experiences. Or we might fall under the sway of clever magicians and mesmerists.

However, studies after the article’s original publication suggested that facial ratios were associated with selfishness and financial success in business without a clear indication of what factors led to this correlation. A 2015 meta-analysis of research indicated a connection between facial ratios and perceived threat and dominance.

What’s the relevance here and now?

Describing your characters in any narrative can be a challenge. If you want to give a sense of the sort of person they might be, you need to exercise caution not to fall foul of stereotypes. That applies to physical appearance but also facets like accent, especially where that feature is not something you, as a game runner or player, do not share.

It’s better to describe a feeling rather than a source. If you say a character makes you feel comfortable or threatened, do that without an anchor — the player doesn’t need to know the specifics, just that their feeling, practically based on a skill check or similar challenge, leads them to an outcome.

That disconnect between specific descriptions aims to convey a sense of what’s felt without specificity, which might not work if you make assumptions. The players themselves might have a very different view of the character, so communicating how the character feels works more effectively and avoids potentially causing offence or confusing the real world with the fictional.

Portrait group of happy young best friends enjoying together outdoors by Xavier Lorenzo from Noun Project (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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