meatsounds

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Major game protagonists with less character than the tall, depressed kid from Psychonauts

This is a list of shame - your game having an entry here means that your main character, in a title released by a major studio, has less depth and dimension than Clem Foote, the tall and depressed kid from Psychonauts. For some reason your studio has seen fit to pour thousands, if not millions of dollars, and an obscene amount of man-hours into a game where the protagonist, the main connection between the player and the setting, nonetheless has less personality than this one bit character from a platform game who has maybe 15 minutes of screen time. Clem Foote tries to cover up his deep-seated loneliness and outcast status with a facade of cheerfulness, to the point where he does cheerleading, and a touching but desperate friendship with Crystal Flowers Snagrash. He and Crystal have a character arc playing out in the three or four occasions where you run into them where they go from awkwardly enthusiastic through guardedly distant to suicidal resignation. All of this in less than a quarter of an hour that you spend in their company. The characters listed below have nothing.

To qualify the character needs to be named and be involved in the events of the story in some significant way - it would be too cheap for me to add someone like the Doomguy on here. The game should also be a retail release by a major studio, with single exceptions if the game has a high enough profile and you could expect the characterisation to be better (I'm looking at you, Braid).

List items

  • It is a very bad sign when the character description talks about his super-human reflexes, but not about his personality. He has some relationship with the main movers and events in the F.E.A.R. universe, but that doesn't make him a character. It makes him a MacGuffin.

  • Hundreds of one-liners still only add up to one dimension. The most damning evidence of Duke's lack of depth is that more than one game reviewer (including the staff here at Giant Bomb) have suggested that the only appropriate way for him to develop would be to, in a moment of self-awareness, realise what a thoroughly inane and unlikeable character he is, and turn the gun on himself. That's not me talking, that's multiple members of the gaming press, independently wishing that Duke would kill himself in shame.

  • He's the avatar of a heartbroken everyman with really long-winded and sophomoric text-screens and the self-centeredness of a depressed shut-in, except if you collect all the secret stars it turns out maybe he was a nuclear scientist? Or how about this thesis: the writing in this game is simply terrible.

  • The GB Wiki page for this character names nothing except his lack of hair, his tattoo, and his link to an earlier Red Faction protagonist. Enough said.

  • Darius's granddad, doesn't do any better. His brother gets killed in front of him, he joins the titular guerilla, and then... nothing.

  • Connor Morgan witnesses horror after horror during the events of Homefront, but it seems to effect him about as much as it does the audience in this famously misfiring presentation. The lack of gravity of the game's story is a result, no doubt, on how little impact it makes on Connor or anyone else.

  • Unsurprisingly the vast majority of characters on this list are likely to be from shooters. But you know the main guy isn't exactly going to be Anna Karenina in the personality department when they are faceless and one-dimensional compared to the protagonists of the other games in the franchise.

  • Kratos wants to kill everything. At the beginning of the God of War series he was given a reason for killing. Unfortunately that titbit in the opening sequence of the first instalment was the last entry in his personality arc. It doesn't help that everybody who shares a screen with him gets killed by him. He has the same personal depth (and body-count) as a long-term drought.

  • It's a big disappointment that in a game with as much character and good writing as Bully, the protagonist doesn't seem to have a thought in his head and does the last thing somebody told him to. Jimmy's status as a directionless brawler is unsatisfying and out of touch with the many levels of intrigue and in-fighting around him.

  • Showing that it's not only boys who can play the role of one-dimensional empowerment fantasies. Let's run through the Boring Progratonist checklist, shall we? Single all-consuming desire which happens to exactly motivate slicing through hundreds of video-game dudes? Check. That desire never changing or wavering but instead continuing in monomaniacal and easy-to-write but still vague focus? Check. No character arc but lots of stat progression? Check. And so on.