Almost everyone has at least one friend, unless you’re a videogame character, of course.
Friends are an important part of fiction, and strong support characters can make a story come alive. Sherlock Holmes wouldn’t have been quite as compelling if he hadn’t had Dr. Watson to lecture and bounce ideas off, and without Alfred, Batman is a crazy, violent man in an odd costume.
But videogame developers don’t seem to have got friendship memo, and in Issue 298 of The Escapist, RPG writer and novelist Chuck Wendig looks at the one of the curious narrative twists of videogames, where the lead characters somehow manage to get all the way to adulthood without ever forging a connection with a single other person.
[V]ideogame characters are often alarmingly friendless. They are detached from the greater ecosystem; they act as rogue elements, as weird loners or roaming Ronin warriors. It’s as if they’re birthed into the videogame world the moment you press the console’s “on” button, except instead of a squalling infant riding on a wave of amniotic fluid, you’re a whole, grown-up character manifesting straight out of thin air.
A character without connection? That’s a no-no in any other storytelling medium – which is what a videogame happens to be. Most videogames serve as a storytelling medium in much the same way as novels, films, or television shows – it’s just that they offer an intense interactive element as well. This interactivity is, in fact, what makes it all the more alarming that the characters often possess no friends within the game world. You as player are expected to interact with the world, but it fast becomes clear that the character that represents you has done hardly any interacting with the world.
If you did that in a novel, the reader would put the book down. If you tried that in a movie or a television show, the audience would shrug and wonder, “Why do I care?” moments before switching the channel.
Not every game falls into this trap of course, with some giving the protagonist a place in the world beyond the one that the player carves out. You can read more about it in Wendig’s article, “Who Needs Friends?“