Building Playable Characters in Games: Lee, That Guy Has Character!
Don’t worry ****SPOILER FREE**** happy reading and playing.
We are all aware of the problems that come along with games that want well rounded character AND also wanting some player input into the arc of that character. We all also know that Telltale Games didn’t seem to think that was as much of a problem as we did, because suddenly there is Lee Everett.
(In my head Telltale just walk up all cool and are like ‘Oh! You guys were looking for this. We had this guy just lying around.’ Then they just walk off and I let out a single tear of admiration.)
Anyway lets start to break this all down generally video game characters seem fall into three rough categories:
This means more than it lets on and is not, as it usually is when talking about film or literature, a negative comment. These are, for lack of a better term, The Bethesda Characters; Fallout, Elder scrolls etc. If you choose the gender, name, attributes, political views and toilet habits its a blank slate.
Like I said though this is not a bad thing. In fact its there malleability to take on your attributes through the way YOU experience the game that makes them so suited to RPG’s (where they are often found). We get attached to these characters because they are very much us in every way just with a sword or a repeater rifle not a controller. They’re stregnth comes from this and they are more vessels to explore worlds and experiences which is why we often talk about RPG stories in terms like ‘So I was caught out in….’ or ‘Me and my companion had just….’. Even if you named them Farts McSnotty, that’s still you in that world and that scenario. You named yourself Farts…. well done.
Going with the Developer theme we can call these guys and gals, ‘The Fellows of Valve’. Gordon Freeman and Chell are good examples of this (those two should get together by the way) they are characters in the world with names and assumed identities before you started playing and you simply assume control for a short time. They do not though have a deep sense of character though (again that is not an insult). This is generally shown by having a mute man/woman with whom the other characters interact with but who generally doesnt interact with them outside teh players mechanical actions. Link can fall in and out of this catagory depending on what game your playing, so lets steer well clear of him.
Your More Traditoinal Characters
Nathan Drake, Solid Snake and even characters like Booker DeWitt. Regardless how you play the game ultimatly these characters are very much like the NPCs or protagonists in movies or novels. They have a fixed character, which again is not a bad thing, it is not a handicapp to know have a rigid character description in a game. It simply means you are not telling the story in the way the Blank Slate characters are, variety is good and varied playable characters are too.
And then there’s…
So up until the Walking Dead games and Lee Everett I assumed this was really the only three ways characters had been done. I am also aware though that games like Infamous and Deus Ex had and have been doing similar things but I also think their character do not resonate like Mr Everett.
Now Whats interesting is I have in my mind a very fixed idea of the type of person Lee, his charcater is strong and memorable and (if you have played the game) I’m sure you too have an image of Lee too. The amazing thing is that these too people could be radically different and yet we would still think we were seeing the true and only Lee. The large amount of player choice in the game hasn’t taken away from Lee as a character becuase he already had a vivid backstory and a complex character too begin with, what we as the player did was allow the different facets of his personality show moment to moment.
I think the difference is this. Lee is like a Blank Slate polished so fine as to become a mirror fro us to see ourselves. Lee (not us) is the main character always we feel more like his subconoious allowing him be expressed differently depending on whose playing. Thats something I havent felt before and TellTale should be commended on achieving it.