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JSwing

Perfect Protagonists?

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Writing 101 says that in character-driven stories, the protagonist should have flaws in order to be sympathetic to the reader. But in most (all?) video games, the protagonist doesn''t have any character flaws. At least, not that I can tell. Does this mean that video games are unable to tell character-driven stories? That''s not to say they don''t try to tell character driven stories. Some games include a storyline as an addon (through cutscenes, for example). The player has no control or impact on the story, and the story is just an interlude between sections of gameplay. I want to exclude those games from the discussion and focus on games where the player moves through the storyline by playing the game. Adventure games, RPGs would generally count, StarCraft wouldn''t. So if I look at Adventures, Action-adventures, RPGs, I see plenty of examples where the protagonist has limits (physical limits for example), but few where the protagonist has character flaws. Planescape Torment comes close, but the player is given a convenient clean slate from which to act. The character''s history is full of flaws, but the character, while under the direction of the player, doesn''t really have any. This seems to be a conflict rooted in the control over the protagonist. If a player controls the character, then they are not required to behave consistently. Nor are they required to choose a dramatic decision instead of an expedient one. Since the writer cannot control the player, stories cannot be written that depend on the character behaving in a certain way. Thus no internal character development. Maybe we don''t need a flawed or sympathetic character in video games. Since the player directly controls the protagonist, that might be a sufficient hook in and of itself. No additional involvement required. But this also removes the possibility of the drama that occurs in other media (books, plays). I''m not ready to give up on that yet. Maybe someone can come up with a good counter example, and I''m way off base. I''d also like to point out an example of a (paper) RPG where the rules reinforce a particular character driven behavior. Nicotine Girls. There doesn''t seem to be any replay value, but it''s an interesting idea. It sidesteps the writer directed narrative by creating a (game) system that reinforces the character behavior. Would something like this work better than linear narrative? JSwing

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Mabye we need to create a way for the player''s flaws to be shown through her control of the protagonist.

Same with character development. In my opinion, the solution is not to create some complex algorithim and data structure that simulates change in personality. I think it is to put the player in a situation where she is encouraged to lust for revenge, or care about another character. Or stop trusting anyone in the game world. Players will change the way they play the game in response to events, and this can come across as internal development. That all just my opinion of course. Does that make sense?

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I think part of the problem is in the writing style used in games it really is closer to soap opera writing then novel writing. Also generally all computer games have protagonists that are larger then life. Able to wipe out whole armies with their bare hands. Its hard to impose flaws on these kinds of characters. Espically since from the gamers point of view flaws are usally annoyance that make them go why can''t I do that?


I did have one interesting idea for how to incorpate flaws in one of my older game designs. The concept was based on greek hero''s. The the main character would be a normal person except they the player would choose a heroic quaility and flaw. These are wake them exceptional and diffrent from regualer people. For instance Hercules had unbelivaple strength however he was afflicated with ocasional boutes of insanity, which even caused him to kill his own family.

Of course this isn''t an easy thing to include in a game, the only method I could see to include flaws in a game would be with heavy scripting.

-----------------------------------------------------
Writer, Programer, Cook, I''m a Jack of all Trades
Current Design project
Chaos Factor Design Document

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Raymo:

You suggest acting, basically. Give the player scenes, a motive, and some other characters to interact with and let them run with it. I don''t think this works for video games.

There are minor problems with the unpredictability of game players, whose mood might change between gameplay sessions. And there''s a minor problem of making sure the player gets ''hooked'' on the opportunity you provide. But I''ll assume that this can be handled by excellent writing and presentation.

The real problem is that what you describe is only good for generating external conflict. There''s no incentive to create character flaws, or to reflect the external conflict with an internal one. A player will be willing to take revenge (an external conflict) because he only stands to gain from it. But if you give the player the choice to be so obsessed with revenge that he (nearly) destroys himself or someone he cares about? The player won''t take that choice, because they don''t suffer from the blinding rage like the character is supposed to. The protagonist remains flawless.

You might be able to make it work if the player has an audience of real people to observe and appreciate the drama. Otherwise you have to either force the player to do something, or trick him into doing something. Neither of which is satisfactory, because you want a player to actively participate.

Or maybe there''s something I''m not seeing.


TechnoGoth:
Umm, what? Your post is a bit confusing. Soap opera writing is all character-driven drama. How to convince a player to create a character that has to battle alcoholism, or to love someone who won''t love them back, or to betray close kin?

The power level of the character has nothing to do with it. You can have drama amongst the gods (like you Hercules example) or amongst a normal family.

Heavy scripting is one solution, but it tends to make the stroy an addon (I think).


JSwing

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I mean by soap opera writing that the story is usual filled with cliches and melodrama. Most games usually have plots like kill bob, rescue betty or find the magic spoon.

as for the second part if you study any of the heroic legends heros have a quaility that makes them heros seperating them from ordinary people, as well some kinda of flaw, that causes their eventual downfall.

Since its game then the drama has invlove the main character, there can be smaller drama involving other charcters but the main story must center around the main character otherwise it become background noise.

As far as heavy scripting making th story a by product I disagree completely. Since the scripting allows you to alter events in the story depending on the flaws. For instance if you have seen where a character has to cross bridge over a chasm while being chased by wolves. If the character posses a flaw such as fear of hieghts. Then that event will be diffrent then it would be for a character who has no fear of hieghts.


-----------------------------------------------------
Writer, Programer, Cook, I''m a Jack of all Trades
Current Design project
Chaos Factor Design Document

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JSwing - I see what you mean. You are speaking of strictly internal flaws. Self destruction is a good example of something that might not be achieved with my suggestion. Then again, if someone was clever enough to write the right amount conflicting interests for the player. For example the player is put in a situation where he must choose between destroying his enemy, or saving his love. If it was written very very well, the player could go either way.

On the other had, could you get the player to become an alchoholic to escape the anguish of his internal conflict? Probably not. Then again, you could write the story so it begins after he had become an alchoholic and has thrown most his life away from some deep guilt he keeps from the past.

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There''s another method of creating character flaws without denting the dental plan smile of the perfect protagonist. It''s antagonist design.

Often, a sinister enough, powerful enough and practically insurmountable antagonist is intimidating and daunting enough for the most well dressed protagonist, and simile of flaw by doubt about overcoming the opposition, a realistic expression one can create either through dialogue, action or stage business by the character is a great tool to use when you don''t want your character to look like the limping guy from Blade.

There are restrictions dramatically as to when to use this, for instance, flaws of character can be represented as simple human compassion, such as: Judge Dredd returning to pick up the weasel guy who fell down and is about to get burned to death, or, going back to get the girl when surely you will get caught.

"Flaw" can be just as easily portrayed as human frailty, that has nothing to do with restricting the capabilities of the protagonist. Even Frankenstein, the antihero, had a moment of goodtimes with the cute little he stumbled upon. I think she gave him a flower or tried. This technique also works well with the bad guy, who has to have at least one human dimension, even if it is strange, though moreoften writers choose the antagonist to display humor. This is usually done with the bumbling henchmen.

Addy

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One of the main characters of a good book, show, or movie is that you become part of the it. This is why flaws work in those systems because they become your flaws, and not just another characters. However this does not happen in games the characters always seem just to be characters and even though you have far more control then you do in a book or on tv.

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I think supporting characters in games should have good and bad points; no one should be pure good or pure evil. But as for the player him/herself, that''s trickier... because unlike reading a novel or watching a movie, you are an actor in the game, so should the game really tell you you''re flawed?

Essentially it boils down to whether the player character should be a shadow of the player itself or a fleshed-out character in the game universe. The GTA3 PC said not a word, but in GTA3:VC they decided to give him a voice and personality. Roleplaying games usually let the player determine their own identity...

Anyway if you do decide to impose an identity onto the player, then flaws would add color to the story, in my opinion.

~CGameProgrammer( );

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