Now Where Have I Seen This Before?
Look, I know itÃ‚'s hard to be creative.Ã‚Â I try to make some effort on that front every week through these articles, and sometimes even I just give up and write an article about how the internet is both good and bad.Ã‚Â This kind of surrender to lack of imagination is like the local news doing a piece on the value of exercise, or rap songs about shooting people, theyÃ‚'re just the spackle in the hole where inspiration would have gone.Ã‚Â And yet, clichÃƒÂ©s only become clichÃƒÂ©s through near universal repetition.Ã‚Â At some point every clichÃƒÂ© was a good idea Ã‚– though many of them can be traced as far back as the time of Charlemagne Ã‚– so itÃ‚'s hard to blame people too much for going with what works.Ã‚Â But, letÃ‚'s do it anyway.
There are plenty of clichÃƒÂ©s out there in gaming, and no dearth of awareness on the matter.Ã‚Â From crates, to gothic backdrops, to the Japanese art of women with cat ears, purple hair, and a tail clichÃƒÂ©s are sometimes just a matter of necessity in creating an established world in which to set a story.Ã‚Â Would it be clichÃƒÂ© to have a hero who needs oxygen to survive, or who eventually dies when riddled with laser guided bullets?Ã‚Â Even the less believable stuff Ã‚– recovering health enough to stave off certain death from a discarded first aid kit comes to mind Ã‚– is a necessary sacrifice for the sake of gameplay.Ã‚Â But, thereÃ‚'s really no excuse for rehashing overused material in character development.Ã‚Â Be it the hero, the villain, or the minions that stand between the two, the more interesting you can make characters, the better a game you have on your hand.Ã‚Â And yet, with game after game, the players on stage are barely more than caricatures of a thousand narratives before.Ã‚Â
I suppose you could argue an article about clichÃƒÂ©s is in itself a clichÃƒÂ©, but that wraparound logic is so confusing that I suggest you not pursue the idea.Ã‚Â So with E3 lurking just below the horizon, and as we all prepare to be enamored by the great colorful glut of entertainment promise, I think itÃ‚'s a good time to ask these developers to take another crack at those hoary prosaisms of character development.Ã‚Â Maybe they donÃ‚'t even realize what theyÃ‚'re doing has already been done to death, raised from the dead, killed again, and finally burned to ash and shot out of a cannon.Ã‚Â So here are but a few of the clichÃƒÂ©s that need to be avoided.
The Family Villain Ã‚– I go into pretty much every game I play now with the assumption that the big bad will turn out to the protagonistÃ‚'s brother, father, step-mother, or great-grandson sent back in time to kill the world that spawned him.Ã‚Â The Empire Strikes Back was pretty much the last time anyone was surprised to find out the bad guy was directly related to the good guy, and itÃ‚'s amazing the concept lasted that long, particularly considering that Oedipus pretty much got it right in total the first time out, and that was some couple thousand years ago.Ã‚Â WeÃ‚'re talking here about a clichÃƒÂ© born pretty much the same time as written literature, so if you think youÃ‚'re going to throw us for a loop in revealing that the bloodthirsty robot is actually holding the still living brain of the heroÃ‚'s third-cousin, maybe itÃ‚'s time to put the thinking cap back on.Ã‚Â
Mutated Primates Ã‚– Yeah, I played System Shock 2 just like everyone else, and those evil chimps mincing about with their implants and their insidious psychokinetic ways scared me just like it scared everyone else.Ã‚Â But, letÃ‚'s all remember that as a rule primates are funny, not scary Ã‚– with the notable exception of marmosets.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â One absolutely requires a deep andÃ‚Â general sense of tensionÃ‚Â before placingÃ‚Â primates into the role of evil minion, even when they are mutated and/or possessed of implants.Ã‚Â LetÃ‚'s take Far Cry for example.Ã‚Â Fighting inÃ‚Â breathtaking open spaces against teams of mercenaries is great, but introducing mutated primates, as if by afterthought, left me feeling both confused and a bit exhausted.Ã‚Â If we really must endow animals with nefarious intent letÃ‚'s leave it to things that are generally scary or intimidating to begin with, maybe mutant bears, or venomous invisible snakes, or mechanical piranha.
The Undead Ã‚– On first glance the undead seem pretty cool, these shambling minions raised from the bodies of the fallen, renewed with mystical life but at the price of their soul.Ã‚Â In practice they are usually awkward, mindless, and about as threatening as a bunny frolicking in the yard.Ã‚Â Skeletons, though visually impressive, seem as brittle as, well, peanut brittle.Ã‚Â And zombies Ã‚"… donÃ‚'t even get me started about zombies.Ã‚Â Aside from the fact that they are barely locomotive and not widely considered quick witted nor well read, even the movies seem to concede that pretty much the entire planet has to be turned before they become any sort of serious inconvenience.Ã‚Â Vampires were once cool until their immortality became so diluted that a loaf of crispy garlic bread could fell them.Ã‚Â By and large, the undead have been so overdone that to even elicit a mild disquiet you have to make them strange or unique, like having undead primates.Ã‚Â Which I do not endorse.
The Villain Without a Cause Ã‚– Evil, simply for the sake of evil, is boring.Ã‚Â If you can stump your antagonist with the mere question of why they seek to bring an apocalyptic end to the world, then heÃ‚'s probably not fully fleshed.
Interviewer : And you are Baal?
Baal : Yes!Ã‚Â I am Baal, Lord of Destruction, and I will birth a fiery hell upon the face of the world.
Interviewer : Yes, I see.Ã‚Â Why?
Baal : Well, you know.Ã‚Â IÃ‚'m Baal Ã‚"… Lord of Destruction.Ã‚Â ItÃ‚'s in the job description Ã‚"… itÃ‚'s kind of my thing.
If I may indulge in some brief credibility destroying fanboyism for a moment, then let me elucidate why Spike from Buffy became such a pivotal genre character.Ã‚Â His status as undead notwithstanding, when it actually came down to plunging the world into a hell dimension, Spike posed the question of why.Ã‚Â In an instant the cultured part of me seeking engaging explorations of character was one with the base part of me that likes watching a hot blonde girl beat things up.Ã‚Â Spike, no less evil for his desire to save the world, illustrates a key flaw in far too many villains.Ã‚Â Say what you will about the quality of television exemplified by shows like Buffy, but itÃ‚'s hard to fault their ability to craft an interesting villain.Ã‚Â For many in narrative development for gaming these days I donÃ‚'t know whether to call it lack of vision, single-mindedness, or more appropriately thoughtless character construction, but the senselessly evil nemesis is flat and forgettable.
And, though I find the four clichÃƒÂ©s IÃ‚'ve mentioned so far propagated too often in the games we play, my absolute least favorite has to be Ã‚"…
The Amnestic Hero - In modern literature of all kinds, video games included, the Ã‚"˜big twistÃ‚' at the end is a virtual prerequisite.Ã‚Â Modern audiences seem almost disappointed if thereÃ‚'s not some big reveal that turns everything before on its head.Ã‚Â WhatÃ‚'s become problematic is that writing such a beast is really quite difficult without the use of stereotypical devices.Ã‚Â And when telling a story from a consistent point-of-view within the story, most often that of the protagonist, that final reveal is artificial when the narrator knew the whole time but just didnÃ‚'t bother to reveal until the end that the villain was the heroÃ‚'s zombie father bent pointlessly on destroying the world after a vicious mutant primate attack.Ã‚Â The obvious answer to this trouble is to then have the hero conveniently forget precisely the elements of narrative tension that the reader is ultimately most interested in.Ã‚Â It only gets worse in video games, particularly sequels, where developers abuse the amnesia device in explaining why a character who was a virtual god by the end of the last game now doesnÃ‚'t seem capable of using a can opener properly.Ã‚Â ItÃ‚'s far overdone and, for me, destroys the credibility of the narrative entirely when itÃ‚'s employed.Ã‚Â Why?Ã‚Â Because itÃ‚'s a bright neon sign that says the author is not afraid of abusing any device available in artificially manipulating the story.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â
This is but a sampling of the many devices employed where creativity falls short, but hereÃ‚'s hoping as gaming establishes itself as a mainstream story-telling medium, the writing will get better.Ã‚Â IÃ‚'m afraid thatÃ‚'s not a realistic hope Ã‚– considering particularly the state of narrativeÃ‚'s most diverse medium, television Ã‚– but IÃ‚'ll hold out that hope anyway.Ã‚Â