One of the things I'm really bad with when making characters is goals and motivations. I can make the stat line. I can make the character. I can make the backstory. I can put all those together. I can even probably give you a sense of who the person is. However, when it comes to what their goals are, or why they do the things they do, I struggle.
Some games make this easy, at least to start. For example, in Shadowrun you can just make someone who has a specific set of skills and a need to eat and pay rent with dreams of being so rich they don't have to work for that in the future. Easy peasy, you have the default motivation of every other shadowrunner and it doesn't need to be deeper than that.
More open games like D&D? (yes, I just called D&D open) and I kind of struggle. You put "Goals and Motivations" on the sheet, or ask me to answer them and I may be able to give you some really big goals, but probably not. I am more likely able to give you shorter term goals (i.e. "I want a bucket." to steal one from a friend.) but the problem with short term goals are they are easily fulfilled and then what? What do you do when three adventures in and some lucky loot rolls you have enough to buy that tavern?
Fortunately, the GM usually has a plan for what is going on in the game. Then, being a good player I can just get involved in the plot. Eventually, through interaction with the game, my character has that as a reason to conitnue forward. This works in quite a few games, but not all of them. Sometimes the game becomes more PC run, with the PC goals deciding what is going on. At those points, my character is often at a loss. Which leads to less interaction. Which can lead to less play, and - potentially - less fun. Worse, even if it is fun, it can look to the GM like I'm not interested/involved, which then makes them wonder what they're doing wrong. Only, the problem isn't them. The problem is my character has no goals because I am bad at setting them.
Which is where the topic of this post comes in. My firm belief as a GM and as the writer of this blog is that it is not a failing of the GM if someone doesn't engage with the game. It could be a problem with what the GM is doing, but being involved in the game - an active participant in it - is as much, if not more, on the player than the GM. The GM has to run the game, manage all the PCs, and take care of all that other stuff. The player is supposed to manage their character, and part of managing that character involves them having a reason to participate.
Because of this belief I have told players at the beginning of my game that it is on them to make a character that wants to be an adventurer/shadowrunner/superhero/whatever the game is about. And that it is on them to make a character that wants to be part of the group. Anyone who doesn't handle this could very well find themselves twiddling their thumbs because I'm going to focus on the players who made characters for the game I'm running, not one that is only tangentially related.
I ask this question because I've had some very poor experiences with games as a GM where people did not do this. I'm running a super hero game, but half the group aren't playing heroes they're playing people who don't want their powers, and certainly don't want people knowing they have those powers or can use them. They ran from problems instead of towards them. Which also meant they never grouped up. Which made the game both very hard to run, and not very fun. I ended up killing that game because I found myself actually hating it to the point every session I had to convince myself to not cancel it, and then wondered after why I didn't do that.
What happens when I turn the question around though for my own characters? Ultimately this is just "motivation" for the character, but phrased as this question it can be broken down a bit more.
For example in D&D instead of "What is your motivation?" you can ask "Why is this character an adventurer." This then further expands to "Why does this character go out into the wilds, fight monsters, go into the monsters home and fight them there, and loots those places?"
This question is a lot more direct. Because a motivation could be "to prove the value of this school of martial arts" but being an adventurer doesn't necessarily do that, and what constitutes proving it? However, answering the direct question tells you why you are doing exactly what the game is about.
If you can't answer this right away, it is worth discussing it with your GM. Ask what type of stuff is coming up in the game. What kind of characters are needed. And see how you can shape your idea to meet that. Ultimately though, ask yourself that question for every character you have. "Why does this person adventure?" or "Why does this person get involved in adventures?" (to have a more generic version for all games.)
Once you have that you can try to answer other questions like what do they want to get out of it, what do they hope to accomplish. But start with what makes them the kind of person that hears about ghost ships appearing in the harbor, the undead walking the graveyards at night, or a dragon attacking small towns and think to themselves "I should go there and look into that!"