Character Conclusions

Sunday, March 15, 2009
The results are in. The post is late, and I've been scrambling to come up with some conclusive answer to the question I posed last week. So, who is the more memorable, developer made or player made characters?

Given the responses, there is a definite trend towards the developer created characters. For Earthborn, the old (and awesome) characters he grew up with are the most memorable. Elementalist too felt that the characters encountered in his gaming infancy were the ones that stuck in his mind.

Characters like Frog or Tellah stick with us for many reasons. It is my belief that these early characters create the archetypes for future characters. These leave the first and most lasting impressions in our mind. Terra is the sage, the wise man who guides our heroes. Frog is the burdened hero, fighting to right a past mistake or failing.

Once these characters are established, we begin identifying similar characteristics in later games we encounter. We identify those resonant characteristics in different characters from game to game. We see bits of the sage in Cortana (Halo), we see the burdened hero in Thrall (Warcraft III).

Other characters last because of the time spent with them. Like a good friend, these characters are our companions through the game. Their fight, whether it be to become a pirate or repairing the Funktronic becomes our own. These characters, though player controlled, take on a more voyeuristic feel. We aren't a part of the character, but an ally. In this way, characters like Guybrush Threepwood, Toejam & Earl and even Solid Snake are the closest analogue to film characters.

Closer to the player built character, we run into the likes of Gordon Freeman and the characters from Bioshock, Far Cry 2 and Shadow of the Colossus. These characters, because of their silence throughout the game, give the players an opportunity to implant themselves into the character. We more than sympathize with their plight, we take it on ourselves. The events in the game have little visible impact on the character from a completely objective point of view. Instead, we, the players are the ones who feel the direct impact of the story. To an extent, we are an actor playing the character.

Finally, we come to the player created character. Here we are allowed the most freedom. Here we choose the height weight, look and feel of our character. Some of us, like Elementalist and myself, create alter egos for ourselves in Rock Band, painstakingly recreating our own tattoos and style of dress. Some of us create outlandish characters to wander the wastes, too stupid to speak in anything but grunts and half-words. (On a side note; if you've never played Fallout or Fallout 2 as a big dumb brute, you should. The frustration pays BIG dividends.)

The characters we create ourselves come into the world only with the characteristics we choose for them. Perhaps we play the scoundrel, pickpocketing whoever we can. Perhaps we play the epitome of righteousness and justice, righting every wrong, no matter how small. These characters are our babies. We create and nurture them along, mold them into what we think they should be. Some of us, and by us I mean me, even write back stories for some of these characters, give them strange quirks to enhance our experience. For example, I've decided that my character in Fallout 3 hates raiders and slavers more than anything else in the wastes and will not do anything else until he's found every camp and hideout and eradicated the scum within.

Whether they be created by us or not, video game characters connect with their audiences in a very personal way. Because we exert an amount of influence in their world, these characters are that much closer to us than those of other mediums. Though they have yet to rival (at least in my case) the depth of most classic literary characters, they will always be remembered alongside them as we continue to play.