Character’s Freewill

As gamers, we never stop to really question why. Why are we mowing tons of enemies down? Why are we progressing left to right in a seemingly endless fashion? Why are we tapping rhythmically to floating notes?

More than the why, I question the what if. What if your character doesn’t want to proceed? What if your motivation for completion goes against the character’s will to survive? This is something that rarely gets touched on in games.

Murasaki Baby actually has a small segment that inspired this blog. The game is an indie platformer for the PS Vita that makes heavy use of the systems features (in that pretty much every feature is used). The basic mode of transportation to by grabbing your characters hand and yanking it to move forward.

The game follows some weird looking child on a search for her mother. Your bar of health is a single balloon that must never pop. Other than that, it’s basically solving simple puzzles that require touch, are time sensitive and sometimes make you tilt the whole system.

It’s a neato little game, but the part that struck me most was about mid-way through. The main character has been through some major stuff at this point and becomes scared to proceed. You have basically failed at your job keeping her safe, since she has had a few near death experiences.

Until you manipulate the world around her, your character will not move. Yanking her hand fails to produce any action. She simply stands her ground and refuses to listen. She doesn’t like what you’ve done so far and isn’t going to blindly obey anymore.

While Murasaki Baby never comes back to this, it got me thinking about how some characters may not actually believe in the gamer’s goal. Why would they want to senselessly murder hundreds of people? That makes them look like a sociopath.

I remember awhile back reading about how Dom Santiago from Gears of War was supposed to be the voice of the player. In the sequel, he was constantly shouting about how pointless the war was and how killing the Locust was fruitless.

While I don’t agree with the statement of him reflecting my views, it makes for an interesting idea. Dom in Gears of War 2 is ready to die. His wife is more than likely destroyed and he’s got nothing to return home to. While he may help the battle, once the war is finished, what will he fight for?

In that regard, the player controlling him and making him kill isn’t so much representing Dom coming to terms with his eventual mortality, but outside pressure making Dom react in a way he doesn’t want to. War is controlling his mind and he’s, basically, a cog in the gears of war (pun intended).

Grand Theft Auto IV also had a little of this, though the plot is far more convoluted. Niko Bellic wasn’t a heartless person. His past was dark and vicious, but he simply wanted a new chance and a new life.

The criminal underworld of Liberty City does not allow that for Niko. Since killing is his business (and business is good), Niko gets roped into a conflict without his consent. That his cousin is a big failure contributes a lot to Niko’s failure to live his “American Dream.”

At the same time, Niko isn’t really going against what he desires. The whole point of the plotline in GTAIV is that you cannot escape your past. Eventually, you will have to answer for the sins you commit, either in life or death. Niko falls back on a skill he knows because it is the easiest thing for him.

He also throws away his desires to reform himself when his family comes under fire. After time Roman is captured, Niko goes on a literal killing spree. He doesn’t gun down innocent bystanders (unless you make him), but he doesn’t pull punches on his “enemies.”

His kind of dichotomy makes Niko one of the most interesting protagonists in the Grand Theft Auto series. While Rockstar wrote the rest of the script without much thought, Niko was well fleshed out. He, ultimately, represents the idea I’m talking about.

An idea like this is mostly why games don’t try to focus on the inner humanity of a character. If you are forced to not do something, suddenly the game is becoming a scripted plot. Without player input, why even bother making a game?

Tomb Raider (2013) had a major problem with this. Lara Croft was traumatized by killing, but she eventually employs the same tactics her enemies do. That doesn’t make a lick of sense. She shows no remorse, either. She just happily plunges axes through her victim’s necks.

Spec Ops: The Line reveled in this. It made you, the player, want to try a different method. Your enemies don’t deserve the punishment that Cpt. Walker doles out on them. His mind breaks due to the trauma of war, so he feels every action is justified. It’s a reversal of what this blog is talking about.

For the most part, you won’t find many objecting protagonists. For a game to make the most sense, the main character must want the end result. Since a lot of action games focus on killing, trying to have a person abstain doesn’t make for an intriguing game.

Then again, I always play Deus Ex without killing anyone, so maybe I’m the weird guy?

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Afterthoughts – Catherine

Months ago, I wrote a preview blog detailing how I thought “Catherine” was doing sex in video games a service. To me personally, most current games with sexual themes tend to waiver between extreme silliness and pointless gratuity. Well, you’ll be happy to know “Catherine” does neither in my eyes.

I have to say, the awareness of anything sexual came from Atlus’ advertising (and even the box art). They billed the game as a Horror-Romance game with overt sexual themes. I was intrigued as it looked like the game was going to explore how sex and cheating can ruin a man.

While that is somewhat true, the game actually doesn’t show any kind of sex whatsoever. I doubt the American release is edited much, other than voice acting, so this is sort of a fault in my eyes. I definitely dig the narrative and how the protagonist is in pain over his negative actions, but what else is going on?

If Atlus has marketed the monster-esque plot, more, instead of leading me to believe it would be entirely realistic, maybe I’d have unflinchingly accepted the lack of sex. This is a first for me, but I really wanted to see something more.

In any scenes that contain fully naked characters, the views are tastefully obscured. While it’s nice from an artistic perspective, it seems like a copout considering what Atlus had promised. Hell, the box art is more revealing and it doesn’t even show anything.


No harm, no foul I suppose…

What I will say I enjoyed was the dialog. Even though the English voice overs sound a bit stilted, they do sell the great the story. Catherine makes a lot of moans and sounds positively engulfing. I’d probably lose myself if she came around.

The interactions between the protagonist and his friends truly represent our modern day. While I wish they spoke less swear words, I can’t deny that I curse on a consistent basis (I drop F bombs with extreme regularity). Even the use of cell phones and picture messaging are fairly intouch with modern youth.

In fact, the picture messages are where some of the most sexual things come from. Catherine sends you a few during the game and they are the sexiest thing throughout the whole narrative. The protagonist even mutters things like, “Holy shit!” when staring at them, enraptured by the pure sexuality of Catherine.

If nothing else, Atlus definitely did creature a character worth lusting over. I do feel a bit bad in saying that I can’t even contain myself, but Catherine is a wonder to look at. Her personality reminds me of a girl I once knew, though she also seems a lot more forward. She’s meant to be the embodiment of fantasy, though, so that makes absolute sense.


Pictures like this actually get more explicit as you pick different choices in game.

I can’t say that I’d prefer if this game had interactive sex scenes, but I still would have liked to see one. Catherine makes a joke about how the protagonist makes her do something one night. She claims it was her first time and then teases him for being kinky in the morning. I really wish I knew what happened.

I can’t speak much about the endings, but mine gave me absolute freedom. While I was aiming to see the Catherine related ones, I somehow messed up and lost both girls. I didn’t get the negative one, though, so the protagonist was extremely high spirited and very jovial at his loss.

I spent the rest of that night at a bar, pondering what I had just played and drinking myself to a stupor. I felt liberated at his speech and thought I should probably take his advice to heart. His quote was, “Living a life without doing what you want; that’s a recipe for disaster.” You’ve definitely got that right.

In the end, “Catherine” was a breath of fresh air for me. While I was expecting more from the sexual side of the game, I do have to say that this was a great step in the direction of depicting sex in gaming. Hopefully other developers will take notice of Atlus’ title and push the boundaries some more.


Until then, keep staring at those phones.