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Pirates Are Way More Interesting Than Elves

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 22 May 2012 16:00
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A lot of that comes down to motivation, and being so focused on keeping the story and gameplay flowing that they forget to satisfactorily establish why characters - especially protagonists - are doing what they're doing. So in the interests of addressing that I'd like to conclude (read: pad) this column by listing off a few examples of character motivations that do not in the slightest bit count as an interesting personality.

Because the World Must Be Saved!

Okay, fair enough, you can't say a character has no stake when the world they live in is about to blow up, but I'd still like to know what's driving them. You and I get told the world is going to end every bloody minute, either by terrorism or nuclear war or people not recycling, but none of us have left our comfortable routines to sort shit out, because the concept is just too big for us to get our heads around. There's got to be something more behind the character's decision to set off on the grand adventure. Do they have something to prove? Do they just really hate living with their mum?

Because an authority figure told them to.

Even if the King of Bumfuckia (or, come to think of it, the commander of your military organization in the plots of most shooters) is a noble twinkly-eyed benevolent guardian and teacher of his subjects, blindly following his every slightest command is still rather unhealthy behavior. Such a character has no personality because they have no mind of their own. One thing about Risen 2's story I liked is that, while the protagonist is initially sent by the Inquisition to go undercover as a pirate, I get the strong impression as the game proceeds that he's gradually becoming the mask and increasingly inclined to tell the Inquisition to go suck a crow's nest.

Because they're just "good".

Usually offered as a reason why the character goes out of his way to rescue the imperilled wife of some bloke he's never met and will never meet again, or indeed save a kingdom they show no sign of familiarity for. Anyone who risks their own life and expends potentially vital resources to save something they might not have any stake in simply because they were asked nicely is probably a complete arsehead. And it's not even being "good", strictly speaking. It's like giving money to random charity workers canvassing on street corners. That doesn't make you a good person. You wouldn't have spared a single thought for the orphans if you hadn't been badgered about it. You're doing it to temporarily feel good about yourself, a sort of moral masturbation. And if a wandering adventurer doesn't take time out to rescue every imperilled wife in the kingdom then he's clearly only taking on an isolated case to gain XP and a pair of the husband's old armoured trousers.

Because it's the only way to proceed in the game.

Hopefully this one's self-explanatory, but there's one fairly big exception, and that's Bioshock. That's a very, very isolated case, though. Is your game story actively deconstructing the very concept of linear gameplay? No? Didn't think so. So shut up and give your hero daddy issues or something.

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.

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