Author Topic: On Player Characters  (Read 2538 times)


  • Administrator
  • Full Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 201
  • The Admin
    • View Profile
    • Adventure Cow
On Player Characters
« on: September 06, 2013, 07:05:24 PM »
The basic thesis here is that projecting stories onto player characters in games doesn't work well because we remain ourselves when playing a game. Some quotes:

When Clint Eastwood picks up the gun in Unforgiven, it is meaningful in a story context. Modally it is the same sort of drama that goes back further than Shakespeare ("Is this a dagger I see before me?"), but Clint is a master performer. His performance interprets this moment anew, for this story, and is of characterful signficance which resonates with our deepest archetypal selves.

Doing it yourself in Red Dead Redemption, on the other hand, is very different. It's a straight choice of fight or flight, which weapon will you choose and what's your strategy for killing these six bandits approaching on horseback. It's win or lose, fair or cheat and all about you. You would probably refer to John Marsden (the protagonist of Red Dead Redemption) as your "player character" but you are not him. You are you.

...The duality of character and doll is perhaps most starkly illustrated by Heavy Rain. There are two Ethans. Character-Ethan is the grieving father having already lost one son, now tasked to find the other. His marriage is broken down, his life is a mess, everything he says or does is affected by a deep and painful sadness.

Doll-Ethan, on the other hand, is an android. He (you) wanders around his own house opening drawers to find out what's in them and talking to people (such as his wife) to find out who they are. He plays swings with his children, but it's a dislocated experience because he has no idea of his relationship to them. He talks to his remaining son in a playground like a machine, polling him with questions for answers. He even walks like an android, perfectly straight and turning clockwise or counter-clockwise on a dime.

Game makers like David Cage believe that the interplay between dramatic scenes and control strengthens the connection, in a kind of movies-plus-doing model, but my contention is that this is not so. Though lavish, Heavy Rain is modally no different to Jet Set Willy, and the same creative constant of self applies. Interposing duality mostly weakens the parental connection with the self-expressed doll and relegates it to play-time/story-time. "It's okay," says the game. "You just press buttons when you're told. I'll handle the emotional part."

And so you get interminable cut scenes which just don't seem to matter to the literal game. That's why (no matter how well written) a cinematic-story led approach to games always feels oddly cold. It's also why storysense works.

...I see a similar situation in games, except where cinema used many of the conventions of theatre, games use many of the conventions of cinema. We're passing through an era of "filmed games", just as film passed through its era of "staged films". And just as the lesson to learn in film was "Show, Don't Tell", the lesson in games is "Play, Don't Show".