Quest Updated: Craving Characters
One of the things games are supposed to offer us is a sense of personal involvement. I as the player control the fate of the story – my skill dictates whether or not the good guys win or lose.
But so few games offer a real sense of direct control over the events of the story. Sure, I can control how skillfully I assassinate my target, or shoot generic enemies of America, but I have little choice whether or not I even want to assassinate or shoot said target.
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Now I know what a bunch of tl;dr-ers are likely to comment at this point: why don’t you play an RPG then? Call of Dog and Blops and other action-centric games aren’t there to provide you with choices and interactivity. So I can continue jumping around my Commanding Officers with impunity because the game literally progresses entirely without my input anyway. Or else play the next MGS moviegame and lose myself in hours of cutscenes.
But even RPGs can be quite limiting. In terms of providing excellent dialogue and voice acting, Mass Effect has impressed me no end. Lots of opportunities are provided to flesh out the Shepard you want to play. However, there’s the lucrative bonus offered for playing perfectly paragon or riling yourself up to being a real renegade. There’s no reward for being a fence sitter here.
Others are free of the morality slider though, like Skyrim, where instead you are offered the choice to murder the guy or leave to quest unfinished, slay one or more of these people, or go back to a previous save. Which feels like a bit of a cop-out. The Dovahkiin’s reply is essentially irrelevant, and actually makes my intricately-built character irrelevant and equivalent to yet another silent protagonist, mutely following instructions in order to unlock all the content the game has to offer. And while faceless, nameless, first-person protagonists allow me to project my own characterisation into them, they’re also inherently distant and translucent. They lack quirks and the unpredictability of a character that is unmediatedly themselves, even when I steer their actions.
I don’t know about you but I feel like that really takes the R out of RPG. Its not enough to provide me with a choice of race and class and a variety of skills to qualify as Role-Playing. A game that did manage to have an excellent silent protagonist was bastion, because it left my choices, finally, up to me and didn’t dictate why I made them. The Kid was truly me and his entire motivation was mine.
I would like to see a push for greater character-driven stories, where the NPCs and, particularly, the villains aren’t left to carry it forward. Maybe there are a tonne of these games which I’ve missed, and if that is the case I’d love to be pointed in their direction. But until then I’ll be waiting for a game with a rich protagonist that forms an exciting narrative centre (Kratos is a step in the right direction for a character who is key to the unfolding story not only because I’m controlling hero). Or else for a game with a dynamic morality system with more options than cartoon violence manifested as a wanton “kill-em-all” approach and boyscout who always is a paragon of virtue, with no incentive towards realism.
I don’t think it’s too much to ask.