Friends Through The End

This month’s Gamer Banter topic didn’t inspire me.  It was “Which game character do you identify yourself with most/least and why?” and I spent time thinking about it and the simple fact is that I don’t really even identify with video game characters at all.  Sure, I like to follow along the story, and I might be immersed for the duration, but it rarely lingers.  The characters that stick are the ones I create in MMOs.  Even now, years after cancelling my EQ account, I still think about Ishiro Takagi, my human agnostic monk from Qeynos.

But after firing off an email to the Gamer Banter coordinator about how I wasn’t inspired to participate, I thought of a new angle on the topic.

The closest I even came to identifying with a character was Gordon Freeman in the Half-Life series.  The reason was because Gordon is a shell in which I sit while I play.  Gordon never speaks, and the game never has a 3rd person view cut scene.  I am Gordon at all times.  This makes Gordon more like my MMO characters than your traditional video game character because he has no personality unless I give it to him.

Thinking along this line, I drifted to a couple other games by Valve: Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2.  Here, we don’t have Gordon-like shells.  The four survivors in each game quip and banter, they call for help.  Even when I play one, I’m not them, I’m just controlling them.  However, because the game is light on cut scenes and outside the quips and banter the characters are player or AI controlled and not just standing around, these games have given me a group of friends to survive the zombie apocalypse with.  And through them and their banter, I care about them.  Ellis has told me so many stories about his buddy Keith that I want to know if Keith is out there surviving the onslaught of the undead too.  (I secretly pray that Keith is one of the survivors in the inevitable Left 4 Dead 3.)  In fact, since most of the time I play with my friends, the survivors are my friends.

These eight characters have come to define my view of zombie Armageddon.  When the day comes, I want these people, or at least people like them, by my side.  Even when I’m playing solo, I find myself rushing to their aid, not just to keep them alive but because I don’t want them to die.  A subtle distinction, but an important one.  Even when playing solo, I find myself talking to the other survivors, asking them what the hell they are doing, telling them to hurry up, even reminding them to cover me.  It’s almost a little unnerving to realize that I do that, but there it is.

So yeah, the truth is that most of the time I don’t identify with characters, but in Valve’s Left 4 Dead series, they’ve added just enough to the shell I (and my friends, and the AI) inhabit to evoke a response.

This post was part of Gamer Banter, a monthly video game discussion coordinated by Terry at Game Couch. If you’re interested in being part, please email him for details.

Other Gamer Banter participants:
Pioneer Project: The importance of character creation
Silvercublogger: Will Sing Opera For Italian Food
Game Couch: Gabriel Knight
Extra Guy: Who I Identify With
Next Jen: I’d Rather Be Me
carocat.co.uk: A rushed love letter

6 comments

  1. Michelle says:

    I’ve always found the silent protagonists in games very interesting, for the reasons you’ve mentioned, there is so much more room for imagination that way, otherwise certain decisions the characters make aren’t the way you’d play it.

    It also lets you interpret how other characters react to that you in your own way – and that’s fab because when I discussion starts one person starts to develop a completely different view to another, what a talking point.

  2. Dan says:

    I’ve said this elsewhere on the Banter rounds this month, but I think that in some (maybe even most) cases I don’t want to identify with my character. In addition to probably being fairly boring — I have no ability to cast magic missile — I already play a game where I’m the main character. It’s called First Life.

    That being said, probably the best form of escapism is the one where the protagonist is enough like you that you can conceivably imagine yourself doing everything they are, no matter how fantastical. Cf: Twilight.

  3. Terry says:

    Interesting post. It reminded me of the old text adventure games which would always address you in the second person: You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door.

  4. Silvercube says:

    I had a difficult time thinking about this banter’s topic too. I do like the Half-Life series, I have The Orange Box on the 360 and it’s really good. I can see why you’d identify with Gordon.

    I liked the original L4D characters better than the sequel’s. *Pills here!* 🙂

  5. […] can tell that Aim For The Head is a zombie-lover just from the blog title, and it comes through in the choice of characters, too: “Left 4 Dead […]

  6. Jason says:

    All told, the original 4 were better than the second group, but Ellis is the best single character, with Francis coming a close second.

    One of the most shocking moments in recent gaming to me was playing Portal (yet another Valve game) and completely by accident I set up a couple of portals so I could, for the first time, see myself. I was female!

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