Experienced Points

Experienced Points
Bring Your Daughter to Murder Day

Shamus Young | 2 Dec 2014 19:00
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Experienced Points Father Daughter

I know I'm not the first person to notice this, but last year we had this sudden, unexpected burst of AAA games that were built around or explored father-daughter relationships. Given that games generally take years to make, it's not like these were the result of teams copying one another. Several different teams all got the same idea at the same time. The Walking Dead, BioShock Infinite, and The Last of Us were the most explicit about it, where the player took on the father figure and cared for a daughter sidekick. But we also had Dishonored in 2012, although it's a little different from these other games in that you don't really take the daughter-figure with you on adventures. You could even argue that Tomb Raider is also part of this trend, except in that game the player is the daughter and the father-figure is the sidekick.

That's really interesting. Here is an idea that's almost unheard of in AAA games, and then we get several titles in the same year, all exploring the same idea. That seems like a crazy coincidence, but it might just be the natural outcome of a couple of different trends in gaming.

In the last few years, we've had more than a few articles talking about, complaining about, criticizing, or defending the overabundance of 30-something white males with short brown hair as video game protagonists. (I've written some myself.) This usually drags us into social justice arguments, and I'm not interested in going there. But for the purposes of this argument, let's agree that there are an awful lot of these dude protagonists. Some people are fine with this, others don't like it, and when they fight we get internet drama. You know the drill.

But whether you're tired of it or not, I'm willing to bet game writers are tired of it. If you're the one playing, then you might not mind the repetition. If you spend all your working hours slaving over video games, then it would probably get really boring after a few projects. It's like being an accomplished landscape painter and all anyone wants is for you to paint one particular mountain, over and over again. It's likely to get boring and pretty soon you'll be restless and looking for the chance to mix things up.

So developers are probably itching to explore new and different characters, while the publishers and marketing teams are insisting on yet another version of John Dudebro. Which means we need to put that desire to make something new into the supporting cast.

The Last of Us

In movies, we can switch to other viewpoints and have scenes that don't feature the protagonist. In a video game that sort of cutscene sometimes feels strange and unwelcome. There's a (perfectly reasonable) expectation that the story needs to revolve around the player character, and we need to see the world from their point of view. But this means the story can only feature the people we meet on our journey, which keeps the supporting cast kind of small.

As games get more Hollywood-ish, we discover a need for exposition and character banter. You can accomplish this with a radio buddy that talks to the protagonist from some remote location, but if you're looking to make trailer-friendly cutscenes with expressive characters -- or if you're telling a story where the main character isn't going to be chatting with people over the radio -- then the most obvious way to allow us to talk with someone is to give the player an ever-present sidekick.

(I know someone is going to show up in the comments with, "BioWare games have a large cast so your point is invalid!" Note that I'm talking about broad trends here. We're exploring why we suddenly got so many father-daughter games at once, which means talking about the typical AAA game, not the exceptional one.)

So we're making a game with a small cast, a dude protagonist, possibly a sidekick, and a simple story designed to facilitate gameplay. Once you accept this premise, the father-daughter thing practically writes itself.

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