While most video games give you a set character or team of characters to use, there are some that allow you to create your character or characters. For the most part it is in RPG’s where you can create your character, usually big RPG’s such as in The Elder Scrolls and Fallout series, and in MMO’s such as World of Warcraft. However, there is more to this than you might think as being given a character as opposed to creating one will usually create a whole different dynamic within the game, particularly in style of storytelling.
Typically, a game in which you create your character will leave you with a silent protagonist, supposedly taking the place of the player within the game-world. Mass Effect however is different, whilst you can alter how Commander Shepard looks (although the scope is relatively limited), his character will stay the same, speaking and getting involved throughout the game, with multiple dialogue choices – not exactly a silent protagonist. In a game such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for example, you create your character, and you get dialogue choices, but he never actually speaks a word, there is no character there. In a game like Skyrim, you rarely see your character as the game is played in a first-person perspective (unless you choose to play it in its rather clunky third-person view-point), which makes me wonder why you design your character in the first place?
The answer is quite simple actually; for personalisation and again, the idea of the player being the protagonist. Indeed, the idea behind the silent protagonist (and the invisible one as well) is quite simple, but I think quite effective. Take Link for example, he never speaks (outside of a few groans and “HYAAAH!”s), but he never needs to, The Legend of Zelda would be a different experience if Link spoke all the time, and I think, a worse experience. Indeed, Nintendo seems to prefer their characters to be individuals of very few words. The theory behind the use of a silent protagonist is to allow the user to see a little of themselves in the respective character, acting as an avatar. For those that don’t see a little of themselves in a silent video game protagonist, it is vital that the character has enough characteristics to make them memorable in their own right, as Nintendo has done with Link over the years.
Sonic the Hedgehog certainly suggests that Nintendo is correct in not really allowing their characters to speak, as since he started to talk, the series seems to have gotten worse. However, there are many memorable video game characters who speak, like Lee from Telltale’s fantastic The Walking Dead for example. Another memorable speaking protagonist is Shulk from Xenoblade Chronicles, who has since seen his fan-base grow ten-fold with a little help from the latest Super Smash Bros. However, in the game’s sequel – Xenoblade Chronicles X – you are forced to create the protagonist, who then goes on to be silent; this is surely missing something compared to the first game just to include a new feature of interaction?
Personally, I don’t really care if you have to create your character, but I do know this: if you create one you don’t like, you could be stuck with it. You could be in a silly mood when forced to create your character, making something ridiculous, which, for a while could be a laugh, but then you realise that you are stuck with your hideous creation. In Phantasy Star Online I thought I created a cool character, but I found out (after several hours of play in single-player) through playing the game in co-op that he was ridiculously short, and for whatever reason I couldn’t get over it – this is an issue that wouldn’t have come up if my character was designed for me by the game developers.
Of course, the game developers could create a character that is just plain annoying or something that is over-designed. I know that I have always found that Sony created characters that annoyed me, such as Kratos from the God of War series, I’ve always thought I’d enjoy the game, but I could never get past his design. While there are times when a character can ruin a game, even in their design, I think for the most part, I prefer it when a game gives you a pre-made character, as they are as much a part of the game as the gameplay is. While there are probably loads of people who would love the chance to make their own character to play as in The Legend of Zelda, I couldn’t imagine playing it as anyone other than Link, despite the fact he never speaks. On the flip-side, perhaps I am just lacking in patience, creativity and imagination because it always takes me a long time to create a character.
Toby Saunders is sometimes opinionated, and you’ll find him posting garbage about games, films and his beloved Spurs and Bath City FC on Twitter.