Depends somewhat on the game, but mostly, yes, they are.
So, I was returning from Manchester from my holiday, and I had been reading short stories by Kafka through most of the trip. I needed something a little less dense. So, I picked up a book called The Good Psychopath’s Guide to Success. Seemed interesting.
On hindsight, it was a bit obvious that this is a self-help book. I despise self-help books. On the other hand, its different. The other self-help books are written by psychopaths, who don’t get it. The writer’s of this one include on “good psychopath” and one professor of psychology, who studies these people. The former is Andy McNab, who some might have heard of (a pretty famous former SAS member, author of both fiction and nonfiction, and sometime expert on films, among other things), the latter is Kevin Dutton, who has apparently written other books on pretty much the same subject, but without the self-help angle.
It’s a pretty easy read. I read through most of it already, although I purchased it less than six hours ago. Its well-written and blah-blah-blah. Anyway, the first part of the book explains what a “good” psychopath is. And from what I can tell, if the rules don’t force players to act otherwise, all PCs are basically good psychopaths (unless they are bad ones).
Basically, when shit hits the fan, the good psychopath doesn’t panic. He becomes focused. Emotions are pushes aside and the psychopath concentrates on the goals before him. Decisions are as easy or easier than normally. Conscience isn’t an issue, and the psychopath is ready to do whatever needs to be done. We need these people. We don’t want surgeons, that can’t cut into people, because they feel empathy for the person they are about mutilate.
The difference to a bad psychopath is that a good one can “dial” these characteristics to what they need to be. Bad psychopaths have one or more of the characteristics always turned to 11, whereas good psychopaths can feel empathy if that is what the situation requires. The good psychopaths will act purely out of self-interest, but will not be malicious just because.
Many RPGs are pretty good simulations of this. When in combat, the character has a clear idea of what he wants to do. He understands the situation well and can act based on it with forethought. They don’t feel fear and can remain as cool as needed. All characteristics of psychopaths.
And its actually pretty believable. After all, as I’ve written before, its not out of the question that all adventurers are more or less psychopathic.