The 8 lead characters that all games use
When was the last time you really engaged with a game’s protagonist? In recent times at least, the spectrum of lead characters in most action games ranges from ‘Vin Diesel with guns’ to ‘Vin Diesel with guns/powers,’ and with all respect to the esteemed actor, that’s not enticing company to spend hours on end with. Other genres are just as guilty of wheeling out gaming’s go-to guys, from RPGs to adventures. So next time you insert a brand new game in your PS3, ask yourself: ‘am I playing as…’
1. Mr Badass
Prime examples: Duke Nukem, Rico Rodriguez (Just Cause 1&2), Kratos (God of War series)
By far the most commonly found video game lead, Mr. Badass wears muscle-tight clothes you’d never dream of wearing to pop down the shops. He never listens to music that a pro wrestler wouldn’t happily march out into an arena to, and he rarely passes up an opportunity to make a glib remark about the poor sod he’s just shot to death.
It’s easy to understand why so many games fall back on Mr. Badass as a protagonist – shooting down choppers in Just Cause 2 wouldn’t be so much fun if Rico took to one knee and grieved for the loss of a brave pilot every few minutes.
Action game characters inevitably end up with much more blood on their hands than their counterparts in cinema and literature (though Edward Cullen does have a lot to answer for) so to avoid turning the experience into a harrowing and miserable ordeal, writers use a macho, wise-cracking player character to cartoonise the violence, and keep the tone light.
Since games weren’t always about braining rooms full of guys and thrifting their twitching corpses for ammo, Mr. Badass was a relative latecomer to the gaming scene; 1987 arcade classic Bionic Commando was probably his debut.
Some games hit the nail on the head by making you the player feel empowered but not morally bankrupt as Kratos demonstrates in the God of War series. Others…well, let’s just say Duke Nukem Forever.
2. The mute
Prime examples: Claude (GTA III), Gordon Freeman, Chell (Portal 1&2) Gary ‘Roach’ Sanderson (Modern Warfare 2)
‘Hey kid, good to see you again. Listen, there’s a problem I need taking care of down tow- kid? Are you even listening to me? Hey!’
Quite how GTA III’s main character managed to engage in hours of dialogue with dangerous, short-tempered criminals without saying a single word and still keep his kneecaps is beyond us, but his utter refusal to utter so much as a word to anyone in Liberty City is typical of so many player characters that are inexplicably mute.
Gordon Freeman blanks dozens of scientists and security guards whose only desire is to aid him with health or backup, often stoving their skulls in with a crowbar in place of small talk. If you’re about to blame his sociopathic behaviour on the traumatic events he endures, he even ignores his colleagues on his way to work before the disaster even happens.
Continuing the Valve tradition, Chell takes part in the world’s most one-sided conversation with GLaDOs throughout Portal 1&2. Next time you’re thinking about what a bitch that cranky old computer is, remember Chell never even gave her a ‘hello’ the whole time. How would you react?
The mute player character is largely the result of technological neccessity rather than artistic bent. In the late nineties developers were keen to emphasise that adding a voice makes a character feel less like the player and thus ruins the immersion, but one suspects they would have struggled to fit all the neccessary audio files on CD-ROMs.
The earliest example of the mute dates back to 1983 interactive novel Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken, in which the player rudely ascertains evidence about a murder in complete silence.