Bringing Characters to Life (Spoilers)

Games fan Tom Richards believes that characters make a huge impact on a story and overall feel of a great game, but it’s where and how the characters interact that the fun happens.

Characters are the lifeblood of a good story. In books, readers develop a love for a character and cheer them on for the rest of their journey. Characters can be funny, dark, mysterious… characters can be anything. In games this is no exception. A good game can tell a story that’s enjoyable and intriguing and often it is easier to develop an affection for a character, especially if it’s the character they’ve been with for the whole game, than in a book or on TV.

For example, in my favourite game, ‘The Last Of Us’, I grew to love the main protagonist Ellie so much that when she was captured by cannibals, I couldn’t put down the controller until I had ensured her safety. However, one of the only things that can make these good characters even better are the relationships between them. Whether the characters can’t stand each other, are in love or have an unbreakable friendship that might even come under strain as the story progresses.

Ellie is captured by a group of cannibals led by David, who she later kills.
Ellie is captured by a group of cannibals led by David, who she later kills.

Throughout the game, the player controls two different main characters, Joel and Ellie. While Joel is more serious and short tempered after the death of his daughter Sarah, 14-year-old Ellie provides the comic relief, making jokes and sarcastic comments. While the two are very unlikely companions and untrusting of each other at first, the bond that grows between them as the story continues eventually drives Joel to sacrifice the future of humanity to save his new adopted daughter.

Joel and Ellie from The Last Of Us.
Joel and Ellie from The Last Of Us.

Rockstar’s Wild West sandbox game, Red Dead Redemption represents another unique relationship, which takes place between the main protagonist John Marston and his friend-turned-enemy Dutch van der Linde. Throughout Red Dead, John is tasked with taking out three of his old friends and fellow gang members. After he has killed two of the three, Javier Escuella and Bill Williamson, he goes after Dutch, the former leader of the group. After chasing each other over New Austin and West Elizabeth, the pair ends up on the edge of a cliff, Dutch having given up and John pointing a gun at him. Dutch gives up and tells him that they are “a dying breed” and that when he’s gone, “they’ll just find another monster.”

Red Dead Redemption; Rockstar's wild west sandbox game.
Red Dead Redemption; Rockstar’s wild west sandbox game.

What makes this relationship especially interesting is that John can’t find the strength to shoot his old friend, even after the times that Dutch left him for dead and tried to kill him. Rather than being shot, he jumps off the cliff and kills himself after saying the words, “Our time is passed John.”

 

"Our time is passed John."
“Our time is passed John.”

The hugely successful indie game Gone Home tells a story through the eyes of Katie, who has just returned home to find her family’s house empty. After looking around, she finds a note under Sam (her sister)’s door telling Katie not to try looking for answers as to where she is. Since there’s nobody else there, Katie looks around to find where everyone else is. As the player explores, they pick up audio tapes left by Sam. The tapes begin with her talking about her school life, how she’s referred to as the ‘Psycho House Girl’ after the previous owner of the house and her passion for writing. They also talk about a girl she sees in the senior year, wearing army uniform, called Lonnie DeSoto. What starts as a friendship between Sam and Lonnie who simply just “wanted to see the Psycho House” gradually changes into something more.

Lonnie DeSoto from Gone Home.
Lonnie DeSoto from Gone Home.

Through exploring, the player finds letters and notes passed between them, talking about the both of them sneaking off to gigs together, ghost hunting and playing video games. Then the player picks up audio tapes where Sam talks about Lonnie telling her how beautiful she is, how much she likes her, and finally, kissing her. From that point in the story, notes talk about meeting up with each other or sneaking up to Sam’s darkroom when her parents aren’t around.

The game ends with two audio tapes. In the first, Lonnie leaves to join the army and Sam doesn’t know what to do with her life. But in the final tape, Sam apologizes to Katie and tells her why she’s missing. Lonnie has decided that she doesn’t want to go through with the army and asks Sam to run away with her and she says yes. The final line in the game is: “I love you so much, Katie. I’ll see you again. Someday. Love, Sam”. This is a much more different relationship to those in other games because it not only tells an amazing story, but it’s also about a homosexual relationship of which there are few in gaming.

Fullbright's Gone Home received extremely high praise from critics.
Fullbright’s Gone Home received extremely high praise from critics.

In order to engage its audience, a game needs good relationships between characters. Relationships are often the deepest and most interesting part of a character and when they are convincing, the story, and the game come to life.