Games have, necessarily, always included characters. Even way back to the days of Pong, you had left paddle and right paddle trying to work out their differences, with ball caught between them, occasionally slipping past, but always returning to the centre of the conflict. As gaming evolved, new, more recognizable characters were created, though at first, their motivations were hardly any clearer than left and right paddle, being caught of simple cycles of things like ‘eat pellets and avoid ghosts’ (Pac-Man), or ‘jump over barrels to reach princess kidnapped by ape (Jumpman, more commonly referred to nowadays as Mario). Gaming marched on, and motivations started becoming clearer. After a while, you had ‘collect rings and defeat evil doctor to save the woodland creatures’ (Sonic the Hedgehog), and ‘jump on turtles and mushrooms to reach turtle-dragon thing and save princess,’ (Mario). They weren’t always convoluted, but your goals were always clear. In the modern day, characters have become one of the most important aspects of gaming. A game is always more immersive if the protagonist has a clear motivation. As such, modern games see heavily detailed characters, some with backstories so complex you’d need a flow chart to figure everything out. However, as with everything in the gaming industry, just because it’s done often, doesn’t mean it’s done well. Here are 5 of the worst characters (read: protagonists) in current-gen gaming.
Hawke – Dragon Age II
For a Bioware character to be on a list of some of the more poorly characterized protagonists of the current game generation is certainly appalling, but considering all the fanboy outrage as the release of Mass Effect 3 nears (it’s tomorrow, as of time of writing), maybe it isn’t all that surprising. The problem with ‘Insert-Name-of-Player’s-choice-here’ Hawke, is that (s)he’s never characterized with much motivation for what (s)he does within Kirkwall. To begin, you’re fleeing from Lothering, a city about to be overrun by the darkspawn. Your motivation is to save your family. After a while, though, that motivation disappears. When you arrive in Kirkwall, you’re forced to make money to be able to live by your own means within the city. Certainly not the stuff of heroes, sure, but motivation nonetheless. This soon falls to nothing. As the game progresses and turmoil in the city becomes worse, it’s up to Hawke to stop it. But why? Perhaps simply to save the city (s)he is now living in, but if that’s the case, there is no reason why someone else in the game couldn’t take up the mantle. There is no given reason for Hawke to feel like (s)he needs to be the hero. In Dragon Age: Origins, your character becomes a Grey Warden, a member of an order that was founded with the express purpose for fighting the darkspawn. Though this is, admittedly, kind of a flimsy excuse (you could still run and hide, even as a Warden, or even refuse to join the order), your character is given a backstory that further explains why they feel the need for heroics. Hawke’s desire to be heroic is never given any such explanation: (s)he simply does it. It’s not the only case of a hero given little to no motivation for their actions, but given the developer, it’s one of the more overt examples.