Research Post 10: Character Develepoment in Video Games

From my research I think it is clear that type of narrative can exist with in video games. But what is not at all clear is if compelling narratives can be developed in video games. To this end, what I think is missing from the academic work on narrative within video games, is a treatment of characters within games. Two significant questions which I think have yet to be investigated properly are how does narrative add to a player’s relationship with the character in the video game and how are characters developed differently in this narrative form. (This idea was sparked by the article below which pointed out that a player’s relationship to characters in video games is more often one of epistemic disparity then in other narrative forms. That is, the characters’ often know more than the player’s.)

So much of the quality of narrative forms is based upon character development, and producing characters with enough depth that they can be relatable to an audience. Texts, cinema and theater have all produced unique and interesting ways to convey to the audience information about the characters internal states. Video games don’t seem to have their own unique way of developing character, partially because the character development that occurs in video games needs to happen in cut scenes, or scenes where the player has no control over the character (otherwise the character won’t be developed, the players influence over the character will be developed) and such scenes are basically just mini-movies. Moreover, I think it a fairly uncontroversial claim that video game characters are the thinnest of any medium. We all love Mario, but I don’t think anyone believes his complexity is in the same league, nay, sport, of Holden Caulfield or Hamlet.

The lack of character development in gameplay seems to be due to the fact that a player has control over the choices of the protagonist, and this has certain common sense logic to it. The character isn’t entirely separate from the player, so there is no need to make the character with real life complexity so that the player can connect with him, her or it on an emotional level. The player is already connected with the character on a practical level. The player already wants what the character wants, since the player’s purpose determines the character’s purpose. This isn’t exactly a challenge as to whether video games can produce narratives, rather it is a challenge to video games producing compelling narratives.


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