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?

Damn You, Nook!

Gaming is one of the most ultimate forms of relaxtion. Putting a game on helps you forget about your problems and the world around you. You’re transported into different worlds and take the role of heroes or villains and get to do whatever tickles your fancy.

For me, though, my personal favorite game to relax with is “Animal Crossing: Wild World.” While I may prefer Zelda or have a huge fondness for Metal Gear, neither franchise can compare with the tranquility and solitude that Animal Crossing provides.

The game gives you small tasks, but nothing that you can ever truly complete. You pay off loans on your house, help neighbors with fetch quests and collect fossils and bugs. It all sounds rather mundane, but that’s actually the whole glory of it.

It’s so damn amusing to travel through town and meet the different animal inhabitants. My personal favorite has to be Portia, the Dalmatian. Her perky attitude always kept me coming back for more.

When you spoke with your neighbors enough, sometimes they’d ask for nicknames or catchphrases. I constantly put in ridiculous words just to hear the animal gibberish language garble it up.

Anyone who’s played Animal Crossing will know of how dastardly Tom Nook is. That bastard hits you up for rent money all the time. The tasks you need to perform to pay him back often require you dig into your own pockets first, making the whole cycle of debt even more dramatic.


Damn you, Nook!

While previous entries existed, Wild World is what really drew me in. I used to love talking to my friend about how my town was blooming, but actually having him able to jump in with me and mess around was unparalleled. Not only that, but the DS version supported Online Play, something the Gamecube could never do.

Now I could finally come home from work, boot up my DS and grab my friend for a game. It was fantastic and it allowed me to take my town with anywhere and be connected at any time. It was so liberating to not have to be tied to a console.

My friend and I would often sit on AIM while playing just so we could chat. We’d make comments about how Nook was a bastard or plot how we could get every type of fruit in our village (something that requires more than 1 friend). It was a bonding experience that kept us friends for quite awhile.

What made it better, though, was my mother’s interest in the game. She saw me playing it one day and got herself a DS and a copy of the game to play with me. Her and I have traded fruits, fossils and items and played online numerous times while I was away at school.


Online MP is so sweet.

Our summers were punctuated with races to see who could snatch up a shark first. We even got my sister in on the action and found it hilarious when she was mauled by a scorpion. The three of us have never been closer and this game made it all happen.

Even without multiplayer or online, though, Animal Crossing is just so much damn fun. The idea shouldn’t be fun, but having a game world where I’m not required to do anything is great. I feel like I can just pop in the game and waste hours for no good reason, but still accomplish something.

Here’s hoping the 3DS version remains just as fun.