Mary Sue conquers the world. Again.

(See below for a correction)

Maybe you haven't heard the term "Mary Sue"; I hadn't until a few years ago when fan fiction writers briefed me on what the hell they were talking about. The Mary Sue, loosely defined, is a relatively flawless extension of the writer, whose mere presence seems to conquer those around him or her (not bothering to keep it gendered here, it applies to any character as far as I'm concerned), whether that conquering is through battle or just general charisma. The world revolves around the character, and the character can do no wrong.

Sound familiar? Many, many games have us play the role of a Mary Sue, often creepily so. While I haven't played Dragon Age 2, I felt upon reading that you could make any or all companions your sexual playthings to be disturbing, not because I'm opposed to the old in-out in-out, but that it seemed like the characters had no wills of their own. Other Bioware games tend toward this, but it's not unique to Bioware of course. Many, many games have us somehow being better than the rest by default, and sometimes they contrive reasons for us to be so because otherwise it would feel ludicrous in a world where everyone else seems relatively fragile. You probably have a few in mind right now.

Perhaps it's down to taste, but I tend not to feel very fulfilled if these sorts of accomplishments feel preordained. Maybe that's why I like it if the game is tougher; the challenge forces ME to be better, rather than the game simply rewarding me for following the training it gave me. It's also an argument in favor of emergent situations I think, because it prevents the designers from anticipating that we want a predictable ladder of empowerment as our only reward.

There is a bit of empowerment in just about everything. I probably can't shoot as straight in real life as I do in Borderlands, and I certainly can't get shot then take a bit of a breather and be OK again. This is fairly common in games that don't instakill, and they let us experience stuff that would easily wipe us out if we tried it for real. It's that point that many game critics miss; we do it because we KNOW it's bad to do in real life, yet don't mind trying it out, rather than we're training ourselves to do it later.

Yet taking that empowerment too far seems to bring a falsity to it all. Part of the pleasure of games is the unique stamp we can put on it, and I think that's why some degree of character customization is frequently the standard, even in games where the protagonist is already defined. But we're smart enough, usually, to see how this advancement can often lead to a monotonic-feeling game experience if we're bound to win regardless. The stamp, then, doesn't matter, so we're taken for a bit of a ride, then dumped off at the end. That initial feeling can be great, but it's likely to be forgotten.

Another part is challenge, or at least uncertainty. Going into a situation with the feeling that things may go wrong is sorta bothersome, but it helps make the payoff more thrilling. This holds true for losing as well as winning, strangely, because seeing that things can go wrong, while a bummer, can often show us that there's no safety net. Even if we wind up loading again, we learn from our mistakes and, in a way, customize the experience by improving our approach. Too much death can suck, too, but too little not only leads to short playing times, but a sense that we weren't really playing a game.

Even games with little customizability and challenge can still be worth it if the story is decent. A game that lets you try all sorts of different options, or at least tells one strongly narrated story, can make up for the lack in these other aspects, even if it winds up feeling less of an actual *game* in the bargain. Part of what makes a good story, though, is challenging the idea that the character's destiny has to be taken for granted, that there's some sort of conflict involved, either with themselves or with their environment, or at the very least a conflict with our real world expectations (though the latter has diminishing returns if the world DOES change; it's why a film that was revolutionary for its time, for example, may feel dated and overly cautious to us now. That, or if the world's attitudes are exaggerated, like often happens in Mary Sue tales).

A tangent to a strong story is strong characters. Not all games have characters, really, but some of the most memorable aspects of any game are often the characters, because they're things we're very likely to relate to (or hate). I think the essence as to why the DA2 Universal Seduction Initiative bothers me is that the characters lack any sort of center. They exist as extensions of the player character to what seems to be an excessive degree. Maybe this all works for some people, maybe it makes total sense in-game somehow, but to me it's the social equivalent of managing to hold all offices in the land simultaneously, like you can in Oblivion. Characters aren't human, per se, but they're proxies for humanness, and violating their fictional agency takes us in some weird directions.

Remove all of these elements and the work becomes a mindless march toward an inevitable conclusion. That in itself is not necessarily a bad thing if you happen to get off on it, this is the internet after all, but too much of the same is withering, and making a game bereft of interesting conflicts and three dimensional characters or cool, unexpected ways to interact with the environment feels like the exact opposite of true empowerment to me: having everything handed to us, narratively or through gameplay, makes the game, and more specifically the main character, and by extension us, weaker.

Any games you tried that managed to subvert that Mary Sue tendency at all? There are entire categories that do, I suppose, like racing games and competitive strategy. It does seem to lean more toward single player experiences, so I guess that's more what I'm thinking.

Edit:

I've been told that, at least as far as some players know, it's not possible to get into bed with EVERYONE AT ONCE. Apparently my half-remembered picture of all the characters on the bed together, their personalities forgotten because the player wanted to [whatever euphamism is in vogue nowadays] with no regard for what happened before or what their individual tastes might be, was false. If it's not possible, then the DA2 example no longer fits, since, despite what some people seem to have gleaned from the above, I wasn't talking about the whole game merely because I mentioned that specific aspect of the game.

As someone told me, at the very least it'll be an excuse to play Dragon Age 2.

Not that I'm eager to do that since I haven't even completed the first one yet. Should have taken the Dwarves telling me I wasn't ready for the caves more seriously.

39 Comments
39 Comments
Posted by ahoodedfigure

(See below for a correction)

Maybe you haven't heard the term "Mary Sue"; I hadn't until a few years ago when fan fiction writers briefed me on what the hell they were talking about. The Mary Sue, loosely defined, is a relatively flawless extension of the writer, whose mere presence seems to conquer those around him or her (not bothering to keep it gendered here, it applies to any character as far as I'm concerned), whether that conquering is through battle or just general charisma. The world revolves around the character, and the character can do no wrong.

Sound familiar? Many, many games have us play the role of a Mary Sue, often creepily so. While I haven't played Dragon Age 2, I felt upon reading that you could make any or all companions your sexual playthings to be disturbing, not because I'm opposed to the old in-out in-out, but that it seemed like the characters had no wills of their own. Other Bioware games tend toward this, but it's not unique to Bioware of course. Many, many games have us somehow being better than the rest by default, and sometimes they contrive reasons for us to be so because otherwise it would feel ludicrous in a world where everyone else seems relatively fragile. You probably have a few in mind right now.

Perhaps it's down to taste, but I tend not to feel very fulfilled if these sorts of accomplishments feel preordained. Maybe that's why I like it if the game is tougher; the challenge forces ME to be better, rather than the game simply rewarding me for following the training it gave me. It's also an argument in favor of emergent situations I think, because it prevents the designers from anticipating that we want a predictable ladder of empowerment as our only reward.

There is a bit of empowerment in just about everything. I probably can't shoot as straight in real life as I do in Borderlands, and I certainly can't get shot then take a bit of a breather and be OK again. This is fairly common in games that don't instakill, and they let us experience stuff that would easily wipe us out if we tried it for real. It's that point that many game critics miss; we do it because we KNOW it's bad to do in real life, yet don't mind trying it out, rather than we're training ourselves to do it later.

Yet taking that empowerment too far seems to bring a falsity to it all. Part of the pleasure of games is the unique stamp we can put on it, and I think that's why some degree of character customization is frequently the standard, even in games where the protagonist is already defined. But we're smart enough, usually, to see how this advancement can often lead to a monotonic-feeling game experience if we're bound to win regardless. The stamp, then, doesn't matter, so we're taken for a bit of a ride, then dumped off at the end. That initial feeling can be great, but it's likely to be forgotten.

Another part is challenge, or at least uncertainty. Going into a situation with the feeling that things may go wrong is sorta bothersome, but it helps make the payoff more thrilling. This holds true for losing as well as winning, strangely, because seeing that things can go wrong, while a bummer, can often show us that there's no safety net. Even if we wind up loading again, we learn from our mistakes and, in a way, customize the experience by improving our approach. Too much death can suck, too, but too little not only leads to short playing times, but a sense that we weren't really playing a game.

Even games with little customizability and challenge can still be worth it if the story is decent. A game that lets you try all sorts of different options, or at least tells one strongly narrated story, can make up for the lack in these other aspects, even if it winds up feeling less of an actual *game* in the bargain. Part of what makes a good story, though, is challenging the idea that the character's destiny has to be taken for granted, that there's some sort of conflict involved, either with themselves or with their environment, or at the very least a conflict with our real world expectations (though the latter has diminishing returns if the world DOES change; it's why a film that was revolutionary for its time, for example, may feel dated and overly cautious to us now. That, or if the world's attitudes are exaggerated, like often happens in Mary Sue tales).

A tangent to a strong story is strong characters. Not all games have characters, really, but some of the most memorable aspects of any game are often the characters, because they're things we're very likely to relate to (or hate). I think the essence as to why the DA2 Universal Seduction Initiative bothers me is that the characters lack any sort of center. They exist as extensions of the player character to what seems to be an excessive degree. Maybe this all works for some people, maybe it makes total sense in-game somehow, but to me it's the social equivalent of managing to hold all offices in the land simultaneously, like you can in Oblivion. Characters aren't human, per se, but they're proxies for humanness, and violating their fictional agency takes us in some weird directions.

Remove all of these elements and the work becomes a mindless march toward an inevitable conclusion. That in itself is not necessarily a bad thing if you happen to get off on it, this is the internet after all, but too much of the same is withering, and making a game bereft of interesting conflicts and three dimensional characters or cool, unexpected ways to interact with the environment feels like the exact opposite of true empowerment to me: having everything handed to us, narratively or through gameplay, makes the game, and more specifically the main character, and by extension us, weaker.

Any games you tried that managed to subvert that Mary Sue tendency at all? There are entire categories that do, I suppose, like racing games and competitive strategy. It does seem to lean more toward single player experiences, so I guess that's more what I'm thinking.

Edit:

I've been told that, at least as far as some players know, it's not possible to get into bed with EVERYONE AT ONCE. Apparently my half-remembered picture of all the characters on the bed together, their personalities forgotten because the player wanted to [whatever euphamism is in vogue nowadays] with no regard for what happened before or what their individual tastes might be, was false. If it's not possible, then the DA2 example no longer fits, since, despite what some people seem to have gleaned from the above, I wasn't talking about the whole game merely because I mentioned that specific aspect of the game.

As someone told me, at the very least it'll be an excuse to play Dragon Age 2.

Not that I'm eager to do that since I haven't even completed the first one yet. Should have taken the Dwarves telling me I wasn't ready for the caves more seriously.

Edited by Brodehouse

Actually, DA2 is interesting on the 'romance' angle because it has one of the first times that a non-playable character takes the initiative and outright flirts with you, regardless of your sex. Which means a lot of people got extremely angry and said the game was forcing them to be gay, because they didn't want to turn a guy down.

Dragon Age and Mass Effect and Persona, the bad implication of the romance stuff isn't that "the characters are your sexual plaything", it's that it makes the player act like a complete sociopath and walk around telling everyone what they want to hear, rather than the player's own opinion. Certainly we have a degree of it in the world, we word things certain ways to be respectful or even-handed, but there are players for whom the game is Get This Friendship Meter To 100. By any means necessary. Imagine if you had a friend like that in real life, who always agreed with any opinion you had, always sympathized with you, but then when he hangs out with someone you don't like, he's always agreeing with them, always sympathizing, even when it's directly counter to what he's said to you. Nuts.

Dragon Age 2 does show that people have those Mary Sue expectations, that they should be able to control people entirely. The ending of that game, some characters do some awfully foolish actions. And people lost their shit, because they felt they should have been able to tell those characters to stop. They felt they should be able to make characters turn their back on their entire life's work, because they got the friendship meter to 100.

If you want to talk about an actual Mary Sue game, how about the one where you become leader of every guild and kingdom you wander into?

Edited by Ghostiet
@Brodehouse said:

Dragon Age 2 does show that people have those Mary Sue expectations, that they should be able to control people entirely. The ending of that game, some characters do some awfully foolish actions. And people lost their shit, because they felt they should have been able to tell those characters to stop. They felt they should be able to make characters turn their back on their entire life's work, because they got the friendship meter to 100.

Pretty much. DA2 has problems plot-wise - including in that conclusion - but I enjoyed the way it handled linearity in the context of Hawke's story. It's a complete 180 degree turn to DA:O's theme of "one man can change the world".

You can play a Mary Sue in the aforementioned DA:O, or in Skyrim, where you are the chosen one of absolutely everything. It goes to some absurd regions.

Posted by theManUnknown

I felt compelled to share this given the topic.

Suffice to say, I think videogame protagonists could be much worse than they are.

More detailed thoughts to come later.

Edited by biggiedubs

@Brodehouse said:

If you want to talk about an actual Mary Sue game, how about the one where you become leader of every guild and kingdom you wander into?

I hear that.

To be fair, gaming as a whole is pretty much all about empowerment. You are the omnipresent, omniscient ruler of the world and everything has to, by sheer design, revolve around you. If everything isn't going great in your little world, then some players will instantly get demotivated by it and take it as a personal affront. I saw a lot of people getting angry about the lose / lose choices of Spec Ops: The Line, purely because they we're lose / lose. Some players, maybe even most, want their choices to be between different shades of victory, or at least win / lose.

The flip side to every argument against handing everything straight to the player, is a question of the pacing of the game and the design of it. If the creators are good enough, and confident enough, to create a world in which you can let the player figure it out for themselves, then that's obviously preferable. But if you can't, and it results in players walking around aimlessly and without conviction in any of their actions, then that's obviously worse than simply rail-roading everything straight into the players face.

As for DA2, considering I was allowed to be a mage and then slaughter the mages, it's clear that they would rather let the people choose a bad (depending on you're opinion) choice, rather than choosing it for you. You get to make a world-changing choice that you probably shouldn't be allowed to, and will be congratulated for making it, regardless of which one you chose. That's what annoys me.

In terms of games that subvert the Mary Sue, I'd like to throw in Star Wars Battlefront in there. A game that put you in the shoes of one dude, and triy your best to turn the tide of the war. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't, but you still just one dude in an army, occasionally running alongside, or into, Jedi. Compare this to Dynasty Warriors, or even Battlefront 2 in some parts which is somehow considered to be the better game, in which the entire course of the battle is dictated by the player. I much prefer Battlefront to it's sequel, purely due to that fact.

Posted by ahoodedfigure

@Brodehouse: It's not what I was aiming for but that's another thing I find a bit disturbing, the buy-friends-gifts-to-max-out-friendship-meter thing. It connects in a way, because it makes friendship merely one more thing to level, rather than being the weird and complex (and interesting, in my opinion) thing it is in real life. It's just a matter of spending the money and effort and suddenly everyone is friends with you.

That DA2 manages to give characters agency in other ways goes against what I was saying, and suggests DA2's strength may lie in its plotting. Since I haven't had the chance to play it myself (stalled out on the first game for various reasons) I can only go off of what others have said.

And I do mention Oblivion, which is exactly the leader of every guild. I assume Skyrim moves in the same direction, though I've not beaten main quest stuff yet.

@Ghostiet: You both make an interesting point, that the Mary Sue interpretation is POSSIBLE in the games mentioned, but not necessary, given that it's still down to the player whether these things actually happen. Other games are less likely to fall out of that. Maybe Master Chief is humble, that the fame is just thrust upon him? Just the lucky one who didn't happen to be wiped out? Hard to say.

@theManUnknown: It's hard to talk about all games at once. Most games WON'T go too far in this direction, probably because of the pitfalls I hint at, that it makes for a boring game. There tends to be more rail-roading lately, though, perhaps to up the appeal to a wider group of people. But that may deaden the impact the game has, if you make things acceptable to all.

It's fair to point out the later Elder Scrolls games seem to let you have it any way you want it all at once, and I wonder if maybe they should just allow that sort of thing on replay. There's nothing wrong with mutually exclusive choices, at least in principle, although I get a bit annoyed if the game bludgeons me with a choice before I'm even given a chance to investigate the consequences.

Posted by ahoodedfigure

@biggiedubs: Dynasty Warriors! Good example. It's an interesting one too, since whichever story campaign you play, you always manage to change history to make things look good from your character's perspective. Not to mention you blast through entire armies. The story is thin enough that saying that X hates/is rivals with your main doesn't really hold a lot of weight. I say this being a fan of that series.

I wouldn't say all games are about empowerment, although they hand you a few tools and tell you good luck. In roguelikes you're pretty much destined to fail, especially the first few (hundred?) times you play. You get better through exploring the game's world and survive or fail due to stuff beyond your control AND your own abilities getting better as a player. Spelunky's like that too, whether or not it's roguelike enough. I managed to whup that game eventually but it took a lot of deaths.

Good example on Battlefront. There are other games where you're more a contributor to the overall story, too... Star Wars: The Old Republic gave me distant feelings of that, despite the bribe-your-buddies stuff, since you DID manage to make some sort of difference, but the world didn't hinge on your every action. Yet at the same time I wished I'd made MORE of an impact in a way, which is kind of hard given how online games are usually structured. In the KOTOR games it pushed too hard on the you are awesome side, but it was satisfying that there were permanent effects that couldn't be taken back, some of which didn't feel so good. Maybe this whole thing is more complicated than the simple question of empowerment.

And yeah, that feeling you point out, that what you did may have had some sort of story impact but the result felt arbitrary, feeds into why the "it's all good" game design doesn't help to create memorable experiences. It does help if even the game designers didn't see it coming, but if they saw it coming and put a text blurb in there but otherwise nothing happens, then it feels underwhelming.

Finally, your point about rail-roading is taken. I try to get at that in the essay, where I tried to say that a good story is better than bland achievement gathering.

Posted by DonChipotle

@ahoodedfigure said:

@biggiedubs: Dynasty Warriors! Good example. It's an interesting one too, since whichever story campaign you play, you always manage to change history to make things look good from your character's perspective.

Dynasty Warriors 7 changed that though.

Posted by Brodehouse
@ahoodedfigure With SWTOR in particular, I think that game could've used some of the WoW phasing technology. I fixed so many outposts that needed food, repairs, me to get their guns back from the raiders, so on; a visual change would've been nice.
Posted by ahoodedfigure

@DonChipotle: Haven't played 7, but would like to. It told more of a House history, rather than an individual's history, didn't it?

@Brodehouse: Ah, like subjective visuals? Yes, that makes perfect sense, although I didn't know there were mainstream games that did that. It means that more has to be on the client side, but I don't see that being too big a deal, especially fpr the tradeoff of that feeling of permanence. It's not very immersive after destroying a cannon in SWTOR means it comes back after a little while, if I recall correctly. In general, subjectivity should be used more often in online games for the reasons you're talking about (though I'd hate it if every game did that. Guess it depends on what you're trying to accomplish).

Posted by DonChipotle

@ahoodedfigure said:

@DonChipotle: Haven't played 7, but would like to. It told more of a House history, rather than an individual's history, didn't it?

It told the story from the perspective of the factions. You didn't pick a character, you picked a faction and it followed more in line with the books the games came from. While a character you play as still tears up the battlefield, it was no longer ending with your kingdom always triumphing.

Posted by Mike76x

@ahoodedfigure said:

While I haven't played Dragon Age 2

DA2 give you options and reasons for those options, you can't just screw whatever/whenever.

Isabela - pirate skank, will sleep with anything

Merrill - Outcast Dalish mage alone in the world

Anders - bisexual shut-in

Fenris - sexually and physically abused slave

Sebastian Vael - can be romanced partially, has taken vow of chastity

Avelline - cannot be romanced

Varric - cannot be romanced

Also the story of Dragon Age 2 is about a person not trying to be the worlds greatest hero, but someone forced into fighting battles and in the end nearly losing everything they'd been trying to save.

Posted by TheHT

@Brodehouse said:

Actually, DA2 is interesting on the 'romance' angle because it has one of the first times that a non-playable character takes the initiative and outright flirts with you, regardless of your sex. Which means a lot of people got extremely angry and said the game was forcing them to be gay, because they didn't want to turn a guy down.

Dragon Age and Mass Effect and Persona, the bad implication of the romance stuff isn't that "the characters are your sexual plaything", it's that it makes the player act like a complete sociopath and walk around telling everyone what they want to hear, rather than the player's own opinion. Certainly we have a degree of it in the world, we word things certain ways to be respectful or even-handed, but there are players for whom the game is Get This Friendship Meter To 100. By any means necessary. Imagine if you had a friend like that in real life, who always agreed with any opinion you had, always sympathized with you, but then when he hangs out with someone you don't like, he's always agreeing with them, always sympathizing, even when it's directly counter to what he's said to you. Nuts.

Dragon Age 2 does show that people have those Mary Sue expectations, that they should be able to control people entirely. The ending of that game, some characters do some awfully foolish actions. And people lost their shit, because they felt they should have been able to tell those characters to stop. They felt they should be able to make characters turn their back on their entire life's work, because they got the friendship meter to 100.

If you want to talk about an actual Mary Sue game, how about the one where you become leader of every guild and kingdom you wander into?

That was one of the things that made DA2 so memorable for me. Characters aren't just dressed up robots for you to control. The fact that the dude at the end, whose name I'll omit in case anyone still wants to play it, is so regretful to my Hawke but still determined to carry out their plan was refreshing, and I imagine if I had treated that character differently, wouldn't have had any reservations for doing what they did.

Man, that game got a lot of shit.

@DonChipotle said:

@ahoodedfigure said:

@DonChipotle: Haven't played 7, but would like to. It told more of a House history, rather than an individual's history, didn't it?

It told the story from the perspective of the factions. You didn't pick a character, you picked a faction and it followed more in line with the books the games came from. While a character you play as still tears up the battlefield, it was no longer ending with your kingdom always triumphing.

Yup. It's also my understanding that characters will straight up die when it's their time in the story. I'm not just talking characters like the Yellow Turban guy Zhang Jiao, but the main 'good guy' characters too.

Also, if I recall correctly, you don't play through entire battles with one character when it doesn't make sense for that to be the case. You'll switch to other characters and see their end of the battle instead.

Edited by YI_Orange

I think most games that have a real character for the protagonist are able to avoid straight-up mary-sueing. The main character has to be at least some degree of awesome though or they wouldn't be able to do the stuff they do. You run into the problem when you bring in the "silent"(quotes because of things like Shepard) protagonist.

It really is a problem though. Taking out things like the Elder Scrolls where there's a barely a story and the whole purpose is for you to see and do everything, how do you really fix it? I was just thinking about this in the context of Persona 4. I was thinking , "Man, I hope in Persona 5 they give you more freedom to say what you want without killing your social links". But then it becomes a difficult thing to balance. Do they just increase your social link every time you hang out with someone? Then they have to remove all ability for you to be a dick or make it not have an impact. Any way of calculating the experience is just going to cause people to fall into the same trap of saying what everyone just wants to hear. I'm at a complete loss for a solution.

Regardless, I don't think it's intentional mary-sueing. I think it's just that people haven't figured out the best way to work silent protagonists yet. I think Vincent was a step in the right direction, but that would only work on a smaller scale cast. Even then, there were things about him and his actions that didn't make sense.

Posted by TheHT

@Mike76x said:

@ahoodedfigure said:

While I haven't played Dragon Age 2

DA2 give you options and reasons for those options, you can't just screw whatever/whenever.

Isabela - pirate skank, will sleep with anything

Merrill - Outcast Dalish mage alone in the world

Anders - bisexual shut-in

Fenris - sexually and physically abused slave

Sebastian Vael - can be romanced partially, has taken vow of chastity

Avelline - cannot be romanced

Varric - cannot be romanced

Also the story of Dragon Age 2 is about a person not trying to be the worlds greatest hero, but someone forced into fighting battles and in the end nearly losing everything they'd been trying to save.

Haha, I totally forgot about trying to romance Aveline. It's great!

Posted by Hailinel

@DonChipotle said:

@ahoodedfigure said:

@DonChipotle: Haven't played 7, but would like to. It told more of a House history, rather than an individual's history, didn't it?

It told the story from the perspective of the factions. You didn't pick a character, you picked a faction and it followed more in line with the books the games came from. While a character you play as still tears up the battlefield, it was no longer ending with your kingdom always triumphing.

And in fact, the new Jin faction and itheir storyline changes the dynamic of Wei, Wu, and Shu a lot.

Posted by Brodehouse
@TheHT There are a lot of characters who become more interesting if you actually go down their rivalry path instead of friendship. If you become friends with Merrill, she uses you as a crutch as she gets deeper and deeper in trouble. If you are rivals with her, she starts to actually act independently and stands up for what she believes in more and more.

The rival paths actually reinforce the core togetherness of the group, that this group of 6-7 still travel and take care of one another despite massive differences. Anders and Fenris are intentionally polar opposites of one another; they've had a card game going with Varric and Aveline's husband for 3 years. The only thing those two agree on is that they don't like Merrill. Isabela and Aveline are always insulting one another, but after 7 years together, they wouldn't have it any other way.

I'm going to replay DA2 now. That game was... Troubled, but man did it have some good ideas.
Posted by TheHT

@Brodehouse: Everytime I think about replayin DA2, which is actually more often than other games, I remember the biggest problem I had with the game: most of areas being the same.

And it always deters me from loading it up. :(

Posted by Brodehouse
@TheHT Yeah, word. At least now I know I don't have to obsessively finish all those side quests that are just fights against gang members in warehouses.

That game would do well with either twice as many environments or half as many fights.
Posted by ArbitraryWater

Really, all they did in DA2 was make every romance option available to all players (except for Sebastian, who only likes women). It's no more or less creepy and dumb than any other Bioware romance (and let's face it, Bioware has never done romance especially well). It's ironic that this game comes up if we're talking about Mary-Sue junk, considering that the entire point of that game's ending is "You can't stop anything, your choices don't matter, go eff yourself". It's almost deconstructionist in nature, but of course I'm not entirely sure if that's intentional or not given how poorly that ending is handled. Mass Effect is probably worse, since in the interim from ME1 to ME2, you've apparently transcended from special forces space cop to someone badass enough to be brought back to life and the only hope of the galaxy. Power fantasy and all that I guess.

@Brodehouse said:

@TheHT There are a lot of characters who become more interesting if you actually go down their rivalry path instead of friendship. If you become friends with Merrill, she uses you as a crutch as she gets deeper and deeper in trouble. If you are rivals with her, she starts to actually act independently and stands up for what she believes in more and more. The rival paths actually reinforce the core togetherness of the group, that this group of 6-7 still travel and take care of one another despite massive differences. Anders and Fenris are intentionally polar opposites of one another; they've had a card game going with Varric and Aveline's husband for 3 years. The only thing those two agree on is that they don't like Merrill. Isabela and Aveline are always insulting one another, but after 7 years together, they wouldn't have it any other way. I'm going to replay DA2 now. That game was... Troubled, but man did it have some good ideas.

Man, now you've made me want to replay Dragon Age 2 as well. Say what you will about asset recycling or that horrible ending, the supporting cast of DA2 is a good one and the way they interact with you depending on if they're friends or rivals is pretty great as well. The first game is miles better, obviously, but you've reminded me why I am a willing apologist for the sequel.

Posted by SlightConfuse

This thread reinforced my idea that dragon age 2 was a great game. I might replay it as well

Also op might want to play a game before talking about it.

Posted by Aetheldod

You cant fault Bioware if people cant stop trying to maximize everything witht the gifts etc. it is the players own fault. Now into other matters , in some game you just want to be the all omnipotent bad ass the worlds revolves around me , sometimes you dont

Posted by Peanut

Guys, let's stop talking about Dragon Age 2, cause fucking seriously...I can't play that game again...I just can't. That warehouse...the mansion...that god damned CAVE!

Posted by Clonedzero

i find it VERY ODD you make a thread complaining about mary sues, which i hate, and spend most of your lengthy post bitching about the sexual options in DA2? wtf?

Posted by Slag

hunh now that you mention it does seem like most silent Player Characters etc. are usually Mary Sues. There have been a couple JRPGs I think that have played with that a little bit, but not too much.

I kinda like that though, it allows you to play the character the way you want. I mean it is a game, which basically escapism fantasy anyway. But I do agree games that feature more pre-defined protagonist (like Uncharted's Nathan Drake) can have better stories since there actions feel more like they have more emotional weight/validity.

hunh

Posted by Hunter5024

@Slag said:

hunh now that you mention it does seem like most silent Player Characters etc. are usually Mary Sues. There have been a couple JRPGs I think that have played with that a little bit, but not too much.

I kinda like that though, it allows you to play the character the way you want. I mean it is a game, which basically escapism fantasy anyway. But I do agree games that feature more pre-defined protagonist (like Uncharted's Nathan Drake) can have better stories since there actions feel more like they have more emotional weight/validity.

hunh

I think he meant Mary Sue's as in the "all knowing all powerful amazing person" kind, rather than the "blank slate you can transpose yourself on" kind. The second kind totally works for games, the first one is a little weird, because I've noticed people using this term to refer to characters who only seemed that way because the player was good at the game.

Posted by Slag

@Hunter5024 said:

I think he meant Mary Sue's as in the "all knowing all powerful amazing person" kind, rather than the "blank slate you can transpose yourself on" kind. The second kind totally works for games, the first one is a little weird, because I've noticed people using this term to refer to characters who only seemed that way because the player was good at the game.

Yeah I got that. But if you notice usually when you are playing as so and so blank slate player character guy, all the cool NPCs like you, you can get strong enough to whereyou can mess anybody up in the game world and you can romance whomever whenever.

which pretty much satisfies a lot of the basic the criteria laid out by wikipedia (assuming you consider that be reputable enough)

"A Mary Sue (sometimes just Sue), in literary criticism and particularly in fan fiction, is a fictional character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as a wish-fulfillment fantasy for the author or reader."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_sue

looking at a typical player character in RPGs and such

Wish fufillment- check

lacking noteworthy flaws- check

overly idealized mannerisms and physical characteristics- check

that being said it doesn't bother me. I'm not sure I would want a player character in games like Skyrim that doesn't allow the character to be a Mary Sue. but I could see how you could make a case that player characters are often Mary Sues.

Edited by Laiv162560asse

Although this is an interesting discussion, I think it's an over-use of the Mary Sue term, which is already a little bit over-used when it comes to literature. Mary Sues are a projection of an over-idealised character into a story, so when you consider the fact that people play story-based games for the satisfaction of participating in the story and feeling like it is shaped around them, it's apparent that gaming is geared towards this kind of approach anyway. In games with player choice, kind of the whole challenge is avoiding the choices which create a world or character you dislike. IMO wish-fulfilment is only a problem, and calling these protagonists Mary Sues is only meaningful, if you're using the term to highlight particularly shallow examples of dudebro-style, macho fantasy fulfilment, or similar.

The risk is that developers will pull too hard in the other direction and end up railroading players into choices that actively make them dislike their character. That's fine, and actually really interesting, if it can be done in a believable way. However if writers are become too focused on the definitions of the tropes they are dealing with, then they tend to become overly fixated on subversion of the trope, rather than upon actual good writing. Lack of good writing is still, bottom line, the biggest problem game writers face.

Conventional wisdom would probably suggest that Spec Ops would be a good example of the Mary Sue subversion you're looking for. I'm going to go against the critical grain and say Spec Ops was an example of the problems caused by the trope fixation I'm talking about: an unbelievable environment, leading you to an unavoidable choice, unbelievably presented, for the sole purpose of stirring up visceral emotions of guilt and unease towards the player character. The writers were so self-satisfied with what they'd done to spike convention that they sprinkled in loading screens with messages like 'this is all your fault', and made the story revolve around the psychological impact that the character's (non-)choice had upon him. The problem for me was that I thought the character was doing as well as he could given the circumstances, especially considering that the most important circumstance boiled down to a shamelessly transparent bit of emotional manipulation, based on wobbly vidjagame logic. Having all the characters and various meta-elements tell me my guy was an arsehole was meaningless - I didn't believe them! In fact introducing some kind of meta-narrative about violent games as a whole, as Spec Ops' writers now claim they were trying to do, takes me further out of the world and just reminds me I'm watching designers invested in story deconstruction rather than story construction. I thought it was all very poorly done, especially with the false depth of the twists and the john-was-the-demons type stuff, although it's hard to criticise too harshly due to the originality and strength of feeling they clearly put behind the anti-conflict message.

I'd rather have a more believable character with some downsides, that is nevertheless a comfortable and satisfying vehicle for some kind of wish-fulfilment. Like drinky-sulky Max Payne, or sleazy womanising Geralt of Rivia. Thing is, the fact that these characters still draw noisy criticism for their flaws (Max is too sulky, Geralt is too sleazy), shows how low gamers' tolerances are for any character that isn't a Mary Sue or a tabula rasa. Furthermore, as a developer if you make your main character a dick in some way, then you risk drawing the ire of groups who think you endorse dickishness. That's not to say it's good to shy away from these complaints (because I think they are worthless) - the point I am making is that gaming as a whole is so ideologically skewed towards wish-fulfilment that I don't think it's useful to use Mary Sues as a blanket term of criticism. Point out the shallow writing because it's shallow, but not because it loosely falls within the definition of some difficult-to-avoid tropes.

Posted by DizzyMedal

I vaguely remember Marty Stu being the male version of that term, if it helps. (It probably doesn't, but hey)

Posted by householddutch

@DizzyMedal: Or Gary Stu.

Posted by ahoodedfigure

@Slag: I think that's pretty much where I was going. I probably should have come up with better examples to aim at the target squarer, though.

It also feels more like a complaint than an observation when I read it again, which it wasn't necessarily intended as being when I started. Was more of an observation when it started, but I guess the idea of Mary Sue stuff tends to push in the criticism direction. Anyway, got people talking (and apparently got people playing DA2 again).

Posted by Deleth

Hawke a Mary Sue? Hawke is a catastrophically failure of epic proportions. No matter what Hawke does S/He ends up failing badly in the end. The whole plot of DA2 is one long chain of depressing moments and failures on Hawke/Your part with nothing ever going right and when it finally seems you've won you get told that you're missing.

Even the romances aren't really Mary Sue like, while I personally despise Jennifer Helper for her impact on the whole franchise it's not like you could get all of them at the same time and they're worshipping you groveling at your feet.

In all honesty you seem to have a very very weird view on what is a "Mary Sue" and how it is defined and what it's traits are. To me it seems more like you wanted to ramble on and on about Dragon Age 2 romances (hell I don't mind that, I hate DA2!) but please at least don't do so based on a false pretense based on a very weird analization.

Posted by believer258

I need to play Dragon Age 2 now.

Anyway, I feel like there's always going to be some measure of Mary Sue-ness in games simply because being and feeling like someone special that is the best at something is part of the reason why games have grown to what they are now. Mario would not be as fun if you played as a regular plumber, Just Cause 2 would not be fun at all if Rico wasn't superhuman in every physical way, and of course certain gameplay concessions must be made to make the game part fun, like having more health for instance. Even actual coding problems come into play here, such as the player character having actual agency and everyone else in the game having a few AI routines that, to this very day, still come across as unnatural and incompetent.

As for Bioware, they just aren't great writers. What? Sue me, they're good at building a world and they can create good characters but they make a lot of cheesy lines and their romances are oftentimes embarassing and better left out of games. I have often felt like it was kind of creepy how you can pick and choose who to fuck and "if you give them flowers and pick the right options they'll jump right in your arms"! Yeah, I guess that's a step in the right direction, but maybe Bioware needs to take a break from romancing and just have you build friendships with other characters, while cutting out the friendship meter or whatever completely. Put you in tough situations between a few characters that you like and make you choose your actions wisely and not depend on a hidden meter to determine what you can and cannot do (ME2 did this to some extent). It's still wholly impossible to have something like this that mirrors real life because you're essentially trying to make a square peg fit in a round hole by attempting to give fictional, static characters dynamic feelings and reactions, but it can be done better.

Posted by ahoodedfigure

@Deleth: I think you're more running off what the comments were than what I wrote. This really isn't about DA2 very much, it pointed out a specific aspect, the sexual conqueror stuff, that seemed to push in that direction. The rest of the story wasn't part of the discussion, and as others have said, the main character itself goes in an anti- direction, especially at the end.

Posted by ahoodedfigure

@believer258: Yeah, despite this being a DA2 discussion board unintentionally, it was more my perception of the romance stuff in particular that felt creepy and weird, though others disagree with my framing of it.

In general not many people even try to go into social stuff in games, they tend to be cutscene material. I'll give Bioware and other companies credit for trying to gameify what's a pretty complicated set of human behaviors, but I don't think we've nailed something that feels natural enough that you're not sitting there metagaming it all the time. I do try to pull a bit more of a "what would my character do" angle sometimes, but it depends on the immersion level and how hidden the mechanics are. Once I've figured out too much, I find myself doing things just because I know about the material benefits, not because I feel like it's fun to do.

Posted by Praxis

I played through DA2 without sleeping with anyone, so I'm not quite sure what you're talking about here. It actually surfaces romantic dialogue options in such a way that you can avoid romantic entanglements much more easily than in past BioWare games. But that's the problem with believing what other people say about a game, I guess.

Posted by Deleth

@ahoodedfigure said:

@Deleth: I think you're more running off what the comments were than what I wrote. This really isn't about DA2 very much, it pointed out a specific aspect, the sexual conqueror stuff, that seemed to push in that direction. The rest of the story wasn't part of the discussion, and as others have said, the main character itself goes in an anti- direction, especially at the end.

You were calling Hawke an Mary Sue weren't you? Yes you were! You then went on to give a faulty explanation as for why it is like that. So please don't tell me you didn't and it was only the comments of other people.

Posted by ahoodedfigure

@Deleth:

"I felt upon reading that you could make any or all companions your sexual playthings to be disturbing, not because I'm opposed to the old in-out in-out, but that it seemed like the characters had no wills of their own."

That specific point on the polyamoury that the player could induce on the narrative, nothing else, was made about DA2. It was an example of that narrative having a Mary Sue element. If anything, I'll admit I should have made my idea a bit more clearly stated as to why I felt this was the case.

Posted by ahoodedfigure

@Mike76x: Useful list, thanks. Were you able to have a relationship with everyone (who was compatible) all at once? That's sort of what I reacted to; I remembered seeing a picture with everyone all lounging around on the bed together. If they all have their own reasons and they're all mutually exclusive, then I had a mistaken impression of what was possible. If you CAN have a relationship with everyone at once and no one seems to mind, unless the game is making a statement about polyamoury or whatever the term is, it feels a bit too much in that direction, the everyone-likes-you kind.

@YI_Orange: Yeah, balance is sort of the issue I guess. You look at a game that lets you do everything, it depends largely on whether or not there are logical consequences for me. You do something bad and this group gets angry, that sort of makes sense. You do whatever you want and everyone loves you anyway, it feels flat. I'd hope that in general games didn't do that as a matter of course, but in the later Elder Scrolls they seem to want to be all things for all people; you do side with one faction or another, if you want, and the stories seem to have some level of gravity, but I've heard when they're over the lasting consequences aren't as dramatic as you might expect. But I'm running off others' impressions again.

It can suck if everything you do seems t o piss people off, though. I think either way it's a reflection of how important the character is in the world, and I like to think that while making a difference, I'm not going to be the center of the universe (at least not all the time). I tend to find that sort of balance more satisfying myself, but it's OK to save the world now and again, as long as you felt like you somehow earned it, either through story or through your skills as a player.