Unlikely heroes: relatable game characters

More and more people are drawing parallels between movies and games. I happened to be one of them when I watched Stardust last night. The movie follows a small-town boy who goes on a great adventure, overcomes evil, and wins everything you could imagine winning in a fantasy story. The story fits together tightly, like pieces in a puzzle, and everything pays off in the end. And, unfortunately, it all falls rather flat.

One of the biggest problems with this movie is the main character. He doesn’t struggle over great moral issues; he doesn’t make tough decisions. At the beginning, he’s a good man in poor circumstances. At the end, he’s a good man in rich circumstances. The only difference between the two extremes is that he has grown in competence. In short, he goes through some mid-movie grinding and levels up enough to win the game.

I’m sure we’ve all played games where the character we play is a badass and can easily handle any situation with a snappy comeback or a loaded rifle, like Solid Snake from METAL GEAR SOLID. Unlike Solid Snake, however, many of these characters change very little — either due to the linear story you’re playing or through lack of meaningful choices in an interactive narrative. These types of game characters are born from the logic that everyone wants to be a hero.

But a hero doesn’t have to be someone who gets everything right. A hero can also be someone you relate to. A couple weeks ago, Comic-con held a panel for the TV series Heroes. They introduced the cast one by one. The hot and badass actors were introduced to decent applause. But what really brought the house down was the appearance of Masi Oka, who portrays Hiro. Although Hiro is one of the few characters on the show to heed the mythic call to adventure, he is flawed in his lack of sophistication and somewhat geeky nature. However, these “flaws” actually make him one of the stronger characters on the show — people relate to him and he is their way in to the more fantastical aspects of the show. It is his flaws and his choices that make him relatable and bring the show to life.

Unfortunately, Stardust failed to make its perfect hero relatable. Now don’t get me wrong. Everyone wants to be James Bond every now and again, but sometimes you want to be a Hiro. What do you think? Is there room in the game industry for flawed, relatable characters like Hiro? Or is there only room for flaws in the level design and the player’s skill?

Question Mark Guess that game dialog! Today’s line: “Maybe I should write a horror novel on passive resistance instead.

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6 responses to “Unlikely heroes: relatable game characters

  1. Pingback: Essential RPGs: A list in progress « Writers Cabal Blog

  2. If you’re asking, should we play flawed heroes, my answer is NO. It’s one thing to empathize with them in a movie or other passive entertainment. It’s another to BE one in an interactive environment outside MP.

    For instance, Nameless in PS:T is not a likeable person, and that’s one reason I didn’t care so much for the game. It’s also why I didn’t like Infocom’s Infidel, where you play (or manuever, this being an adventure) an unpleasant character to the conclusion of being buried alive in a pyramid.

    If there are any flaws in the characters I play, I want them there by my design, not someone else’s. Which is why computer RPGs will never be as good as the real thing. At least not so far as SP goes.

    While it might be possible, at times, to do a “flawed” character in SP, you’re just there with a bunch of pre-scripted NPCs, and there is no satisfaction in that.

  3. Idetrorce

    very interesting, but I don’t agree with you

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  6. Langdon

    I agree that characters should be flawed. If they have no flaws then there’s no emotional development in store for the player. I believe that games have plenty of external conflict already. (save the princess, defeat the enemy, get revenge, etc.)

    Take the tv show Lost as an example. Every major character gets a back story, and all of them are flawed. Through the course of the episode (external conflict) the character flashbacks to their past and overcomes their internal conflict.

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