|This type of guy tends to turn up a lot in video games.|
I want you to do something for me. Go to the nearest video game retailer you can find. Bring duct tape.
Don't worry, I'm not asking you to do anything illegal! I'm not asking you to kidnap a Gamestop employee or anything. No, I don't think this is illegal. Though it may get you banned from the store.
I want you to stand outside the store, wrap duct tape around your face until you are effectively blind, and then go inside. Fumble around until you find the game displays. Now select a game, entirely at random, and flail about wildly until you get a sales clerk's attention. (Don't worry, someone who has covered their face in duct tape and is waving a video game around in the air is probably only the third or fourth weirdest person this sales clerk has had to deal with today. Retail is a harsh, unforgiving world.) Now buy the game and exit the store. Apologize if you've accidentally body-slammed anyone during this process.
So now you have purchased an entirely random game. Drive home (please take off the duct tape first) and fire up your console or gaming computer. Pop the random game in and start playing. Now take a good, long look at your player character. What kind of person are they? If you had to describe their personality in one word, what would it be?
There is a 95% chance your answer is "badass."
Finding a badass in a video game is like finding a needle in a needle-stack while wearing needle-seeking gauntlets. And I'm not complaining. I love that I have ample opportunity to play games that allow me to walk a mile in a hardass's intense shoes. But I wonder sometimes if we aren't constricting the possible stories of video games by pandering so thoroughly to the collective gamer id. Isn't there a place in games for characters who aren't so clearly prepared to face their foes? While beefy mad dudes are certainly part of many good yarns, are they all that exists?
They're not, of course. But what are other compelling characters that we could see more of in games?
Here's a few!
1.) The Noble Sad-sack
|Could you imagine turning on your PS3 and seeing a young, forlorn Jon Cryer?|
Sometimes there are good people who are not quite the super-handsome hero types. Maybe they make jokes a little too often. Maybe they come off as a little odd. But they're loyal and they clearly are capable of very pure love.
These people often get screwed over. It's a fact of life. They've got a type of charisma, certainly. But things just don't work out. They're too nice for their own good, they end up being upstaged by a fiery, brooding hero, and they're left alone and, sometimes, embittered.
The wish fulfillment quotient is very low here. Nobody fantasizes about being a really good person who is destroyed by circumstance. But these characters can be heart-breaking, immensely likable additions to a story's cast nevertheless.
One video game that actually has one of these: Metal Gear Solid -- Otacon.
2.) The Good Enemy
|Erwin Rommel: the only Nazi that was sort of baller.|
No, the above is not a picture of another character from Pretty in Pink. It's a photograph of Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox, Nazi Field Marshal.
Listen, nobody who isn't an Aryan Brotherhood copywriter thinks it would have been good if the Allies lost the fight against Rommel's Afrikakorps for North Africa during World War II. This was the first major Allied liberation campaign, and if it was pushed back who knows what terrible price the world would have paid. And I feel pretty okay with the general rubric of Nazi = bad, literally anybody else = good by comparison.
However, nearly all military historians agree that Rommel was a different sort. He conducted his campaigns with skill and honor, his Afrikakorps is not known to have participated in any war crimes (which, for a Nazi outfit, is pretty fucking good!) and Winston Churchill once said something to the effect of, "If I may say so across the havoc of war, I would like to kiss Erwin Rommel on the lips." Rommel was even involved in a plot against Hitler and, when this was revealed, took a cyanide pill to avoid endangering his colleagues and family by association.
While there's nothing like the euphoria of righteously fighting against an utterly evil opponent, it's a very interesting situation to have to fight a decent, skillful opponent who happens to be, by circumstance, working for an evil cause.
3.) The Overbearing Parents
|A Festivus video game is not currently in the works. Why is that?|
The games I remember from my childhood often involved kids as the heroes. Some favorites were titles like Chrono Trigger and Earthbound. In these games the kids started off living with their parents or guardians and soon were called away to adventure by various events. The quests that they went off on involved arming themselves with various weapons and facing sorcerers and robots that wanted to kill them.
Their parents were totally okay with this.
I understand that if the hero is a kid living with their folks, it's necessary to either kill them off ("Link? I told you to stay at home. Well, fuck it, here's my sword, hold "B" to charge it, it's an ancient technique of our people or some shit, uuuuuuggggghhhhh...") or make them not care in order to send the kid off on an adventure. And in some cases (Earthbound) the parents' laissez-faire style is charming and humorous.
But wouldn't it be kind of hilarious if there were games where you, as the young adventurer, leave the safety of your home and set out to save the world... and your parents will not leave you alone. They call in the middle of boss fights and leave fifteen-minute voicemails. They show up in random inns along the way and ostracize you for your choice of companions ("I mean, not that I'm judging, but could she maybe put on some clothes?" "MOM!"). Endless possibilities here.
4.) The Competent Fat Person
This one's tough to find anywhere in TV, movies or video games. When it does crop up, the plus-size person is either relegated largely to comedic bits or a big statement is made about their weight and how "it's OKAY and they're a PERSON TOO."
Now, I'm just as shallow, if not more so, than the average consumer. I'm not saying I don't like the fact that our video game characters are modeled after people like Yvonne Strahovski. And I understand that in certain settings (military games, for instance) it's more or less realistic to exclude characters who are obese.
But I do think it's weird that the only living beings in video games with more body fat than your average model are gross aliens. Would it be so hard to include a bigger character, and not comment on it too much, or make them super hilarious, but just have that as one body type in the vast range of human possibility?
5.) The Person of Faith in a World Where God Isn't Obviously There
|After this prayer, she did not receive, directly from God, a +3 to her agility.|
Video games are pretty good at including depictions of priests, monks and other pious men and women. There is no shortage of spiritual people in many titles, both currently and back in the day.
However, these spiritual people are often spiritual because they have directly witnessed miracles occur before them, or because they can cast God-given magic spells that act as irrefutable evidence of the divine. People who doubt the existence of higher powers in these kinds of games aren't so much skeptics as they are idiots.
I always thought the cool part about faith was that it was an admission that while you cannot know something based on evidence or facts, you choose to believe because it makes you humble, happy and good. Doesn't it kind of take the charm out of the whole thing when you're believing in a god that gives you a strength bonus if you worship at his shrine? Wouldn't it be cooler to have a very devout priest in a game whose god never gave him any special powers?
I wonder, dear reader: do you have any ideas on this?
Aaron Matteson writes a weekly column for Joystick Division called Dangerous Physical Appliances 2000. You can follow Aaron on Twitter @AaronMatteson if you want.