Would Somebody Give That Girl A Damn Hug?!: Character Resonance In Video Games

Elize_002

So a video game is a fictional world,yes? Those worlds can have entirely different ways of life than the reality we all know and as such common sense might differ from our mindset, we can all agree to this I believe. I see them face a moment with a simple decision to do from even a purely logical standpoint and… what did I just watch? Did they seriously ignore that point? Wait what are you doing now you fo- oh come on can we please get someone with some common sense behind the steering wheel of this plot, I’m gonna burst a blood vessel or 50. What is it with characters in games and to some extent media as a whole that just do or don’t do the simplest of things?!

I understand that there are some plots that only exist as an extension of a lack of logic, horror movies often rely on people doing the stupid thing to not only get to the premise but also push the narrative forward at each corner. Sometimes having people do the logical thing or the sensible thing would destroy the flow of the narrative, but then I feel there is something inherently wrong about that. If you need people to be stupid to get anything to happen, what stakes do I hold in this story if the only reason bad things happen to you are because you are an idiot? Is my whole motivation for this ragtag band of characters to fight against basic karma, that when you do stupid shit had things happen to you? I’m not buying it sir, this concept leaves a bad taste in my mouth and I know we can do better, just look around at all the others creating tension and drama in a situation where the characters and audience are as surprised as each other. There is a strong bond formed between people who meet with similar minds in real life, I get along great with some friends because we just seem to match trains of thought so well.

Some of my favourite characters are ones who react to each situation as I feel I might, where they are subject to the the world around them rather than the bane that is their cognitive processes. I bring all this up after I had a recent talk with the previously mentioned friend about the moments in games where we shouted at the screen, whatever reason it may be. My mos prominent memory? During a JRPG known as Tales Of Xillia, there is the little girl pictured at the start called Elize. She is a bit of a socially shy character although she shows comfort around the main party rather well, much of her plot focuses around not knowing what is the situation with her parents. Throughout the game we find small clues and drops of critical information that finalize as Elize discovering from the character who she saw as her carer before the story that they are dead. Worse still? It was his doing (it wasn’t as active as he phrased it, but he saw it essentially as doing it with his own hands). Suffice to say, she is distraught with a feeling of loneliness and emptiness in her life, it is clear to absolutely everyone she had been holding out hopes they might be alive and the news has struck her deep. So what does everyone around her do? Eh, we push the problem to the side for a bit, don’t confront it and just sort of….watch. My initial reaction to everything I was seeing? Well it was basically the post title, I don’t care what excuse you need to make or what have you, GIVE THE SAD GIRL A FUCKING HUG YOU NEANDERTHAL.

Is it just me? Am I the only one who reacts to seeing someone I care about upset with a insatiable need to go comfort and hug that person? I know I am a very uhh… “huggy” person and I really enjoy expression of physical affection, nonetheless it absolutely cannot be me. I can think of a multitude of reasons why they didn’t have them hug honestly, some of them rather sound reasons. It is only a PS3 title, I don’t think we have the technology to have two computer models embrace each other in a way I might register as anything other than clipping issues and awkward floating hand placements, especially on a console. Give it some time and we might have some fantastic model work that can be run in your front room at a reasonable price. There is also the point that these characters weren’t particularly close, hell the whole party seemed like friends without the physicality of being friends, I know not everyone can feel comfortable like that with everyone of their friends.

I have also considered one main point that keeps nagging at me: cultural differences. I don’t pretend to know much about Japanese culture and social norms and I likely never will but I’m pretty sure they have some sort of differing perspective on public displays of affection, whether or not this applies as far as say a gesture of comfort is something I couldn’t know. Even with that in mind, there isn’t much in the area of physical affection and loving cuddles or any of that kind of thing from Western games, nothing from America in recent memory really applied itself to some affection. Perhaps there is something I’m missing, maybe there is still a bit of a strong belief that showing care and love is a sign of weakness? I doubt it but some people are stubborn, you can never be sure.

I can play a game and not love the story but I’d be a horrendous liar if I said it doesn’t hamper my experience. It could arguably be a boring plot as long as there are characters I can believe aren’t pushing each encounter forward with sudden losses of logic and common sense. I still to this day get that little vein on the top left of my skull popping out when I think of the 3 or 4 scenes they just ignore someone in distress. I feel very comfortable saying that I am generally the kind of person to jump at the sight of someone in distress, assuming I don’t have reason to think they deserve it of course. I think I can also state that myself and many gamers would have gone a different route in many game plots and the fact that there is this disconnect between who I am and who I’m supposed to be can damage the experience.

I think there may be too much of a movie mentality sometimes for some developers, more so in the idea that some are jealous of the kind of praise and maturity that focuses around a movie, often resorting to size and flare, misuse of the word “epic” to the point most just sigh at the sound of the word. Gaming is an experience, an experience is far much more a sociological and psychological endeavour. I remember Boom Blox and the simple idea behind it was that it picked up on a mentality most children go through: piling things up and knocking them over. Personally I believe there were issues with the game but I praise this sort of thinking. I expect games to exist where you play with sand moulding castles. Games need to become more about the player and the characters moving forward in my mind, we gotta stop falling back on story tropes as old as some of the first stories, at least not in such a straight and simple format. I want to see far more characters I can feel are people rather than characters, who do what I do, say what I might say and beyond. I look forward to making new friends in fiction.

When was the last time you just stopped getting along with a characters odd decisions? Do you think that a plot based around stupidity can have merits? Who are the characters you really resonated with during play, who really felt like a someone rather than a fantastic array of polygons and particles? Thanks for the read and I’ll see you around.

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  1. #1 by mathie on November 27, 2014 - 11:46 pm

    In my mind the characters don’t have to be exactly like me for me to like them for feeling more realistic. They just have to be logically consistent enough. If somebody didn’t get a lot of hugs as a kid I would expect them to be either non-huggy adults or OTT huggy to make up for what they were missing when they were younger, but on average I wouldn’t expect a middle ground. Extremes in background breed extremes in characters, and the more balanced the childhood, the more balanced the adulthood is the general rule of thumb.

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    • #2 by A Voice on November 28, 2014 - 12:25 am

      (1) By OTT do you mean over the top? If so, why not type it out? Using acronyms of that sort in sentences is…it looks lazy.

      (2) I’d agree that extremes in background are likely to build extremes in character, however I’m not convinced about ‘balanced’ due to what we may or may not want to include in the term, viz. just what would we include in ‘balanced’ and why, what trait pairings. There’s not much reason to unpack that so I’ll just leave you with that bit of food for thought.

      (3) You’re right on the mark with ‘logically consistent’ characters. If a character makes sense we’re able to accept some pretty outlandish things, much like in any other part of a narrative, because there’s a deep-seated connexion to reality. When it comes down to it this is the case for even purportedly one-dimensional characters that are oft-criticised because, truly, a lot of people are really…wooden, that may be the right word.

      A connexion to reality and coherency within the gameworld is the way to go when it comes to characters. This is why the example I gave of Resident Evil is so mind-boggling. It just doesn’t make sense and the narrative really has to make sense of the potential player actions and give them a reason to play. Gameplay and graphics are important, but character and narrative are absolutely vital to many titles/genres.

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    • #3 by mathie on November 28, 2014 - 11:19 am

      Due to the difference in time zone I often comment late at night. So you may just have to forgive me if I abbreviate or use acronyms (at least for common and well known phrases). I assure you it’s not laziness, it’s simply being tired. My replies have a nasty habit of turning into mini essays as it is, and logically the less I have to type the less chance of you having to slog through reading my late night typos.

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    • #4 by A Voice on November 28, 2014 - 12:34 pm

      That’s fair enough for me.

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    • #5 by yousifmq on February 14, 2015 - 12:39 am

      Well, iam actually a person who hadn’t been hugged a lot, i mean for sure my mom did hug me a loooooooooot especially in my childhood, but i really really like to hug people but at the same time i do not like hugging random people, i like to hug people i like only, especially females (since iam a male) if it is not a person that i like or especially not a female, the hug gets….. i dont know gets kinda… i dont know how to explain it but it is more like a Feelingless hug and kinda awkward, i sometimes try to hug normal people when they cry but … i just cant, well i dont know maybe i have forgotten how to be soft (i havnt cried for 9 years, not a single tear, i stopped crying since i was almost 11 years old cuz 1 day when i cried i felt like a coward and humiliated by the idea of me crying) do you think that kinda made me more cold hearted? I loveeeee hugs but i just cant give them to anyone that i dont like or not a female that i respect and like 😦 what should i do?

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  2. #6 by A Voice on November 27, 2014 - 4:06 am

    (1) Generally speaking, most people either incredibly inattentive, quite stupid, or just don’t care enough and there are too many reasons as to why this is the case. Exaggerations of this are what we often see and decry in, using your example, horror films, however it’s important to recognise that those exaggerations aren’t so much a stretch as we’d like to think. We’d all like to think that people are better than this, I’m sure, but the reality is that it’s just not the case. Most people are either incredibly inattentive, quite stupid or just don’t care enough to do any given thing and that’s the way of it.

    What bothers me are nonsensical game design decisions that make characters seem unrealistically stupid. Take Resident Evil for example. The STARS unit is arguably the equivalent of SWAT, at the least, and it doesn’t make sense that they’re so ineffectual. Sure, zombies may be a very new thing to them but after that opening showing them running to the field to the mansion…well, we can no longer suspend disbelief. They may be out of ammunition but they’re trained in hand-to-hand combat and know how to use their eyes and brain, yet somehow and not simply because their movement controls like a tank, they are just ineffective at most everything they do.

    A zombie gets near them? There goes their health because they’re not stronger than a corpse. A zombie grabs their ankle on the floor? There goes their health, again, because they’re not stronger than a corpse and because they didn’t use the toe of their boot to check the body. And all of this, too, because they’re somehow incapable of meaningfully using their knife. Resident Evil presents the player with seemingly badass characters then pisses all over them by using gameplay mechanics that destroy the integrity of the narrative.

    (2) More than stupidity, using deus ex machina and PC/NPC as a crutch to move the narrative forward is another and recent irritation of mine.

    There is only one solid Final Fantasy tile in the first five games and that’s Final Fantasy IV and, with the first title set to the side, that’s because the story doesn’t develop naturally. PC/NPC death was introduced in Final Fantasy II and when that character died it was a really fantastic plot point, something I didn’t expect to see in such an early title: but it happened and it was moving. Then it happened again and again, at each time there was seemingly no other way to move the plot forward. Then it happened in the next game and the next and the next, where it was a toss-up between characters actually not dying, being miraculously brought back to life, or remaining dead. In those deaths or pseudo-deaths there was something that came from off-screen, insensibly, at just the right time to move the story forward.

    This, too, destroys the integrity of the narrative and strips characters of any real tie to reality. At this point the game and game mechanics is all too real, we’re no longer ‘in the game’ or ‘getting in the game’ but painfully aware of how little it all makes sense.

    (3) First, I’ll toss up a perhaps contentious example of the Ben and Dan in Ben There, Dan That! and Time Please, Gentlemen. From my perspective they were absolutely brilliant and fit the gameworld and game design perfectly. Second, would be the various PCs and NPCs in Path of Exile. Despite being a game of debatable integrity (desync and compounding RNG is a huge issue), the various characters and world are tied together seamlessly and topped off with incredible voice acting that makes them all come alive.

    There are plenty of other and better examples, I’m sure, but these two are what spring to mind immediately.

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