Posts Tagged ‘character’

This should have posted on Martin Luther King Jr.’s holiday.  Sorry, I’ve been busy.


I believe that games are uniquely and exquisitely suited to explore content of character, since games, as a medium, are all about choice.  That’s the nature of an interactive medium.  It saddens and disappoints me that so many discussions of character in games begin and end at the character creation screen, with a Politically Correct checklist and identity politics.

Games as a medium deserve better.  Gamers deserve better.


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The Professor Layton games are fantastic pieces of work.  (If you don’t want spoilers for their stories, though, please go play them and then come back.)

The first game quickly establishes some quirky characters and ground rules for the Layton game world, notably the preponderance of puzzles and people who love them.  Smaller puzzles are nested in a larger mystery, though curiously, the player doesn’t solve that mystery so much as tag along.  We’re introduced to a world that is oddly modern and yet antique at the same time, and a twist in the story introduces futuristic technology.  It isn’t beholden to any particular time setting, so it can be “modern” for many players for years to come.  The story is ultimately about the love of a father for his daughter and a test of character for our heroes.

The second game pokes a bit more into Sherlockian waters by forcing the good Professor  to find scientific explanations for some rather mythological and mystical mysteries.  It steps back a little from the impossibly intricate technology in the first game, but still has absurd architecture and weird science.  The underlying story is one of love lost, selfishness and sacrifice, reconciliation, and hope for the future.

The first two games have heartfelt stories with surprisingly honest emotion, but the third game is even better.  Yes, all three have tons of puzzles, and each gets progressively better with smarter puzzles and better controls… but here I’m talking about the good Professor himself.

Professor Layton and the Unwound Future is Hershel Layton’s story.

It’s heartrending, chilling, poignant, cautionary and engrossing.  Not bad for a collection of puzzles on a handheld gaming platform.

As further prelude, may I recommend a great article from before the third game from the gentlemen at Experience Points?

The Mysterious Identity of Professor Layton

The Unwound Future doesn’t answer much about the good Professor’s racial or ethnic identity (which I consider a good thing, after all… I’d rather measure a man by his actions than his inheritance).  It doesn’t explain why Luke tags along like a leech-puppy hybrid.  It does, however, explain a great deal about the Professor’s curious hat, his gentlemanly mannerisms, his nemesis and his almost single-minded devotion to solving puzzles.  (Even more spoilery spoilers after the picture, fair warning!)

image shamelessly copied from the link under the photo, gamrfeed

Simply, Hershel Layton is a broken man, and The Unwound Future kicks him while he’s down, teasing him with hope and then removing a piece of his personal puzzle… again.  Layton will be forever broken, forever searching to piece his life together, always frustrated.  Solving other puzzles are his only solace, his only outlet for closure and resolution.  In this, he is one of the most human characters in games that I’ve seen in a long time.  He is damaged, but he soldiers on, hat firmly on his head.

To be sure, there are other broken characters in the game.  The primary antagonist proves to be a severely traumatized and sympathetic character, even after he engages in some domestic terrorism with a death toll likely in the thousands.  The secondary antagonist is revealed to be almost as deeply wounded as the Professor, and far from an evil man.  A villain from the earlier games is revisited and made far more sympathetic.  The true villain of the story never receives his just rewards, and his story is left open.  These political implications have strong connotations in today’s political world, and the game doesn’t grant fictional justice.  Every character is asked to step up and accept painful truths and then be strong anyway, even when the world is hostile.

Further, there’s a twist to the knife.  The concept of time travel is presented as another mystery to be solved, and in true Layton style, a grand conspiracy and coverup are revealed.  Time travel is revealed to be a scam… and then, agonizingly and astonishingly, it is revealed again as a reality.  The Professor is granted a few precious moments with the love of his life, only to have her knowingly go back in time to her death.  After convincing everyone that time travel isn’t possible, he finds that it most certainly is.  After telling everyone to accept that they need to move on, and demonstrating that he’s willing to forgive even in the face of great loss, he is teased with the possibility that history could yet be changed, and that maybe, just maybe, the “bad” guys were right.  The axis of his world is shifted, ever so slightly, and the careful pretense of rationality that he has held to is undermined again by the delayed results of the very event that shattered his life.

In the ending sequence, after displaying a somewhat ungentlemanly bout of agony and emotion, he is not offered solace or peace, but rather told (gently and kindly, but painfully) that in the face of his most heartbreaking loss:

“You’ll be strong… because that’s what a gentleman does.”

…and then we see him cry.  A gentleman, hat in hand, beseeching the heavens for peace he knows he will not see, even as the “what if” questions continue to eat away at him.

What more can any of us do?

How many of our sorrows are ignored by throwing ourselves into distractions or puzzles that have solutions?  Is this not one appeal of games, that there are solutions to the problems in-game, if only we play enough or well enough?  The character arc for Hershel Layton stands in contrast to that very nature of games, intentionally subverting his oft-repeated refrain “every puzzle has an answer”.

These games have a lot of heart, especially for what could have been thinly veiled Brain Age-like games.  While I find I disagree with the choice to hurt the good Professor the way they did in the third game… that I care at all is testament to the character and story.

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I have been measured, and have been found wanting.

But hey, don’t I look heroic?  (This stocky fellow is my “Alliance main”… I’d show my Tishtoshtesh character, but his pose lacks this fellow’s panache.  One simply must put their best foot forward in an audit, after all.)

So… yes, I find the whole notion of a “Character Audit” rather… silly.  I’m sure there’s a slippery slope in there somewhere, but for now, I’m simply amused that the new and improved WoW Armory has an Auditor.  There’s a marked lack of a FaceBook button, though.  Is it really enough that only the system gets to tell me I’m doing it wrong?  Also, as yet, there’s not an Auditor in-game.


Edited to add:

OK, here’s Tishtoshtesh, to show more silliness.  Of all the things to complain about regarding that head armor, it whines about being non-leather (cloth) and unenchanted.  I’d have started with “looks idiotic” and “caster stats, you Feral nitwit”.  (So sue me, it’s the only head armor I’ve found so far.)

The Bilgewater Cartel tabard is so I can someday get a tricycle and motor around like this guy:

Tauren on a Goblin Mount

If I’m going to be absurd, why not?  Besides, it reminds me of Bowser on a Mario Kart, and that makes me smile.

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No, not that Ownership Society, arguably a significant part of the psychology behind the housing boom and bust (and other problems in the economy).  I’m talking once again about MMOs and video games.  In an age of great sales via digital distribution, subscription games and ever dwindling PC game sections in stores, the landscape of game ownership is varied and interesting.

I’ve written about this sort of thing before, but Gordon over at We Fly Spitfires is my reference this time:

The Importance of Character Customization

I wholly agree that character customization is a significant part of giving players some ownership in a game.  That’s a big part of establishing a relationship that the player wants to maintain, maybe even at the cost of a subscription.

What interests me is the cognitive dissonance between giving players ownership, all while running what amounts to a lease, wherein once the monthly cash drip is pinched off, ownership dissolves.

Of course, as in the discussions that inevitably come up about difficulty, it’s been noted that players don’t really want difficulty, they want the illusion of difficulty, and a pat on the back or some loot.  So, what do players really want from their characters?  What do players really want from their gaming dollars?

I don’t think there’s any one right answer. (Yes, that’s an obvious statement, but I do feel it needs to be noted.  Challenging the status quo of MMO design is sort of a hobby of mine.)

I just know that for me, ownership of a game is much more than customizing a character.  I want to play it whenever I want, however long I want, without incurring a cost to do so.  I’m happy to pay for a game I like (as my wife will attest to… like Andrew, I probably have more games than time to play them).  I don’t want to lease a game.

Likewise, ownership of a character in a game is much more to me than picking a class at creation and mucking around with talent trees.  I want more out of my gaming time than conforming to a dev’s script.  I’ve written about this before, and likely will again.

Perhaps it’s not so much that I want a sandbox game, but rather, I want a sandman character.  I don’t mind some structure to my games (after all, a sandbox is still a box, and you can’t think outside of it until you know where it ends), but I want to have flexibility in how I approach the game’s challenges.  I want to really own my approach to the game, to leave my stamp on the experience.  Not because I want bragging rights, but because it’s simply more fun to me to do things my way.  I want to make my own memories, tell my own story, and have my own fun.

Because, well, that’s what I want for my money.

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My inspiration for this relatively quick post(considering the expansive topics, anyway) comes from two somewhat disparate sources.

First is the talk given by Dieter F. Uchtdorf recently about how work and learning sustained him during his rough childhood in post-WW2 Europe.

Two Principles for Any Economy

As refugees from East Germany, he and his family had almost nothing, and had to work hard to stay alive.  Things eventually got better for them because they kept working.  I’ve long believed that work is essential to mental, physical and spiritual health.  The natural question that I come back to whenever this comes up is simply:

What would you do if you didn’t have to work for a living, and had all your material needs and wants satisfied?

I’d still design games, produce art, and find ways to teach people art, science and math.  (Those aren’t incongruous; I believe that art and games have vast teaching potential.)  When I wanted to work up a good sweat, I’d find someone who needs help moving, or go build something in a woodshop.  I’d go pick up that Ph. D. in Astrophysics that I’ve wanted for years.  I would spend more time with my family, working and playing (play is a child’s work in a lot of ways), learning and teaching.  I love being productive and creating things and/or fixing things.  I couldn’t sit still for long.  Is it any wonder why I’m allergic to the Big Brother welfare state?

The second source is Wolfshead’s article over here:

Why Scaling Challenge Should be the Future of MMO Content

It’s an excellent article that is quite obviously about play, but it prompted a similar question for me:

What would you do in an MMO (or any other game) if you didn’t have to work for gear or levels, and all your in-game wants and needs were satisfied?

I’ve already answered that a bit in my Game Tourism article, but to recap, I’d play the game.  In other words, if the “game” is nothing but the loot treadmill and chasing levels, well… there’s not much there for me.  I’d play with that for a while, and probably have fun, but it’s ultimately a shallow set of experiences to build a game on in my mind.  There is a LOT more that can be done in game design.

Now obviously, these are somewhat different questions, but to me, they both dig to the same core questions:

What is important to you?  What motivates your actions?  If you were freed from mundane concerns, what would you spend your time on?  Are you a consumer, a constructor, or a contributor?

What is the measure of your character?

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