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The Problem with Shepard
by Joseph Cassano on 04/14/11 10:48:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

In the Mass Effect series, you are Commander Shepard. You lead a rag-tag bunch on various missions to save the galaxy. Lives are at stake. Choices are in your hands. You can be a saint or a jerk, but at the end of the day, you must make decisions and move on. Such is life.

But things aren’t that simple in the real world. “Moving on” from a decision, especially important ones, is no easy task. Yet our Commander Shepards and their ilk make huge decisions all the time, never once batting an eye.

Sure, there may be a line of dialogue claiming to represent a feeling of guilt or something similar, but the moments are few and fleeting, and we are told of them after the fact; rarely do we actually feel them as they happen.

More troubling still is the lack of a character arc. Shepard’s decisions will always be from roughly the same mindset, and the events of the game will not really affect that reasoning. She is static, and not able to grow.

This makes for a boring character.

The problem stems from the very thing that makes video games unique: the literal insertion of the audience into the experience. The player makes Shepard’s decisions, and is, in essence, Shepard.

As such, an arc would only be possible if the player herself experiences an arc that changes her thinking. Some may sidestep this fact by “manufacturing” an arc under the guise of role playing, but such a thing is a far cry from “sincere” breakthrough moments a character may make in other media.

A character arc can be a very powerful thing, and it reflects a basic and important fact of humanity — that throughout our lives, we change and grow — and yet our “empty shell” protagonists (which include the likes of Gordon Freeman and the Vault-Dweller) are exempt from it.

More frustrating still is the fact that the player can help with the arcs of other characters. Mordin can change his ideas on the Genophage with Shepard’s help. Tali can learn something about her father with Shepard’s help. Yet Shepard’s train of thought does not waver because the player will not waver.

Allowing the audience to be an active participant is the most valuable thing our media is capable of, but it comes with risks. The more our protagonists are empty vessels to be filled, the less they can be changed by the world they inhabit.

I’m not proposing a solution as I do not see one as of yet, but it is something we must put thought into if we want our stories in video games to increase in quality.

(This post can also be found here on my multi-purpose blog, Mulling Over The Multiverse.)


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Comments


Christopher Braithwaite
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Just as an actor can do a bad job or a great job portraying Hamlet, perhaps the quality of Shepard's arc resides in what the player brings to the role. In a game, the breakthrough is for the player to have, by definition it cannot be dictated by the designer. The designer can only attempt to construct a scenario that makes a breakthrough likely to occur. I would be disappointed if Mass Effect were to impose an arc on Shepard that I had not chosen for him. A player should decide if they want to play an unchanging Shepard devoted to human dominance or a conscientious one who constantly changes and grows the more he learns about the galaxy. I think the solution is not for games to impose changes of thinking on player characters but to allow players greater ranges of expression that they can project an arc onto.



There is an element of imagination that seems to be lost on some players, as if the game is supposed to do all the work. I don't understand this view. To me playing Mass Effect is a lot more like playing with G.I. Joes than it is watching a movie.

Joseph Cassano
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"To me playing Mass Effect is a lot more like playing with G.I. Joes than it is watching a movie."



And I suppose that's the problem for me. If the game can genuinely make a moment that changes the player's thinking, then that's excellent. If the player has to pretend to have an arc, then that's just a tad too artificial for me.



And aside from that, what irks me is the lack of such a thing being reflected in the game world. If one makes a decision they regret terribly in real life, they may do stupid things to ease the guilt (like get drunk/wasted, become despondent, etc). But if the player has to pretend this for the sake of the character, it feels shallow. Other characters can "genuinely" have this moment, but not the protagonist. It feels odd to me as it makes the protagonist feel like less of a person and more of an avatar.

Christopher Braithwaite
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I'm not quite sure what you mean by "pretend" because everything in a game is pretend. I suppose you mean that the moment is "known" only to the player? The way I look at it that moment is no less real because the entire game happens in the player's head ultimately. I agree that the consequences of the change should be expressed in the game world and there are not enough of these opportunities in current games.



You can go to bars and order drinks in Mass Effect, but you can't really have a rip-roaring shore leave. I was also disappointed that no one on the Normandy would notice that the Commander was drunk all the time after that fight he had with his (ex?) girlfriend. The guy was on an operating table for two years and all she can do is complain about why he didn't call? The level of awareness a game would need to acknowledge that requires it to observe not only the choices a player makes, but the kinds of choices the player makes and then changes in those kinds of choices in multiple contexts. That is a lot to ask of a person, let alone a computer.



Dragon Age 2 takes baby steps in this direction by having Hawke say different things in cutscenes or during combat based on the dialog choices players make. This token recognition enhances the game as players are rewarded for taking a certain stance. I'd like to see this kind of behavior expanded on in future games.

Robert Anderson
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Interesting dilemma.

I have played through both titles several times now and I can't really say that I feel your frustration. I like your argument mind you but I am wondering if you might be projecting some of the - what I would do- into your case?

I get the idea of being frustrated by not being able to do certain things that you want to in any game but at some point the box has to have sides in order to be what it is. It is always great to think up ways to make that box bigger or have no sides at all.

I have to admit there were at least three moments in this franchise that brought tears to my eyes and probably a few where I was taken out of the story because the action choices given weren't really what I felt worked for the character I was building in my head.

I think like all visual mediums we, as the viewer, bring a certain amount of expectation to what we see or are interacting with that is very unique to us. As makers of the medium we can't anticipate every possibility but we should always try.



Good stuff!

Laurie Cheers
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An interesting post. It makes me think, what if a game was designed such that the player has an arc, but it's produced by his gradual learning and mastery of its mechanics?



I imagine a world with a bunch of different races, all at war with each other; you (a lone wolf not associated with any particular race) can be friends with some of them, but not all. Supporting a given race gives you access to the equipment they manufacture, and lets you call their troops in as allies. Similarly, there are strategic buildings that can grant you abilities, as long as you're friendly enough with the race that currently controls them.



And as you play through the game, you'll learn how useful it would be to have a given race on your side (or alternatively, how hard it is to fight against them), and switch sides. So perhaps the "brave warrior" race that you align with first turn out to be all talk no trousers, and you realize the nerdy "peaceful" race actually have some pretty cool stuff you can use.



Or perhaps you'll realize that two of your allies are fighting against each other, which is weakening them both (and hence you); you'll either try to make peace between them, or persuade them that fighting their (and your) common enemy is more important, or perhaps just unally with one of them.



Less directly, perhaps the amount of territory controlled by a given faction will determine how powerful they are in the senate, which allows them to control what technology is legal. So you're trying to weaken the bastards who keep outvoting you, so that you can get your favourite weapon legalized. Or (if they're your friends), perhaps you'll try to bribe or smooth-talk them to stop voting against it. But then when it is finally legalized, you run up against an army using it against you, and say "what have I done!?".



Essentially, the alliances you forge and the territories you choose to defend become your character's "build".



I guess this might not feel too much like a character arc to the player, but it would look a lot like one.

Luis Guimaraes
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Now this would be an interesting point to start.

Joseph Cassano
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Interesting indeed. Though, ideally, the player character should recognize "what have I done!?" as well, not just the player. I suppose I'm asking that our protagonists behave more like people rather than stone-faced conduits for ourselves.

Mary Brady
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The Fable games actually are a great solution to your dilemma. Specifically Fable 2 (but I think Fable 3 works too).



I can tell you with honest sincerity that I went and made a stupid decision in Fable 2 and when I saw the effect of that decision I felt genuine guilt and an "OMG, I actually caused this." kind of feeling.



Maybe I'm just unique in that, but that's at least how I felt while playing that game.



And if you're curious, I'm talking about this event specifically: http://fable.wikia.com/wiki/The_Oakfield_Massacre Except I didn't do either quest, and I ended up killing an entire town's economy and religion anyway...

Eric Schwarz
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If you look at Mass Effect vs. the sequel, I think it's clear that the first has a significantly better story, due to pacing, consistency with its own canon, and a plot that feels a little bit more imminent instead of "Shepard dicks around the galaxy for 40 hours while solving daddy issues".



However, I think one reason many fans prefer it is because there actually is a very cool arc that the player and player character both undergo. Early in the game, Shepard is more or less a standard Space Marine, taking orders from superiors; the player feels like just another soldier, albeit a decorated one. However, the player's role in the world quickly progresses to Spectre, and with it come a host of new privileges, different treatment at the hands of most of the people in the galaxy, and and new responsibilities; during this time the player is torn between service to the Alliance and his/her own personal goals. For both Shepard and the player, it's a "fish out of water" experience, one that both player and character gradually learn to operate within. Near the end of the game, as Shepard collects lost Prothean knowledge, he/she becomes something far more than just a normal soldier or Spectre (though I won't touch on it due to spoilers). Shepard goes from grunt to an almost messianic saviour of the galaxy over the course of the game, and players are with him/her on that journey, no matter how the player chose to role-play Shepard.



Contrast this with Mass Effect 2. At the beginning, Shepard is killed, only to be resurrected, forced to work with a former enemy for dubious reasons the game does a poor job of explaining, and told to scour the galaxy for help in his/her upcoming mission. But where can we go from here? Shepard has already been proven to be Space Jesus, more or less, and is an established Badass. What sort of character development is there? In trying to progress the character, at what point does Shepard become less a plausible super-human saviour, and more just kind of a joke? Shepard is static out of necessity. I think BioWare actually recognised this problem early on, and tried to remedy it by building Mass Effect 2 largely around the characters the player meets, and their own stories. The unfortunate downside of both the decisions made in the first Mass Effect and during development of Mass Effect 2 is that while you have a game filled with interesting sub-plots, the entire story suffers as a whole due to that lack of growth.

Joseph Cassano
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I never really looked at the first Mass Effect like that before, but you raise a good point. In retrospect, there's definitely an arc. However, it is still muddled by the fact that Shepard herself doesn't really seem to acknowledge becoming a messianic figure in-game. In real-life, you would expect some hesitation or doubt from a person with such a burden, but we never really see that. Shepard is always confident. That "perfection" still keeps her from feeling like a real person.



And although Shepard may already be the messianic figure at the start of Mass Effect 2, there was still room for an arc; it's not wholly necessary that she remain static. They could have, again, dealt with the mental burden of being such a high-profile figure. Or even keeping with the game, making her grapple with the fact that she was working with Cerberus. I think we're supposed to get the idea that she is struggling with that through some dialogue pieces, but it's not conveyed as effectively as the arcs are for the other characters.



Thanks for making me re-evaluate my thoughts on the first Mass Effect. There are still problems there, but less than I previously thought. =)

Saul Gonzalez
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Like many RPG protagonists, Shepard has a dual nature as both the player's avatar and a in-story character.

The problem stems because both natures are contradictory at times. If Shepard expresses any emotion that the player doesn't feel, the player won't think s/he is Shepard anymore. There is also a disconnect if the player strongly feels about something, yet doesn't see it reflected in the character (which is something you touch upon). But, as you mention, a blank slate makes for a boring character when seen from the outside.

I only see this as solvable if you can make sure that the emotional arcs of the player and the character match up perfectly.

One way would be to make the player feel and think *everything* that the character expresses in-story. You'd have to be a master at audience manipulation to do that, and even then you constantly risk a breakdown of identification.

Another way, and this is a pipe dream at the moment, would be to somehow detect or infer the player's feelings and thoughts, and have the character's behavior reflect those.

Christopher Aaby
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I can definitely sympathise with your woes, but I certainly don't think Shepard is the gamebreaking boring character you make him / her out to be. Or maybe I should say, yes, the character is not very deep and does not evolve much, but I don't think this hurts the game at all.



A really deep, nuanced character which is fully fleshed out, is just as impersonal as a totally blank slate, because the player won't have any influence over such a character (whereas the blank slate is anonymous). And I'm not sure it would have much emotional impact even if the player chooses to "revisit painful memories of morally ambiguous past decisions", rather than just seeing it played out.

The fact is that you are playing a character with a certain background and certain goals - that's not up to the player to decide, because that's not what the story is about. Within those parameters you can act in different ways, but you can't stop being Shepard.



Even if I disregard the problem of "personal freedom", I'm inclined to write off Shepard's seeming indifference (which does get played out sometimes, as you also noted) to strength of character and general bad-ass-ness. It would be pretty out of place to see Commander Shepard breaking down in tears, sobbing into Joker's shoulder about the pressure of expectations, etc, etc.



If you're up for it, I wrote an article with related take on the Shepard character and the associated "karma" system:

http://gamasutra.com/blogs/ChristopherAaby/20110418/7451/Mass_Eff
ect_2_and_game_storytelling_with_karma_systems.php

Joseph Cassano
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"It would be pretty out of place to see Commander Shepard breaking down in tears, sobbing into Joker's shoulder about the pressure of expectations, etc, etc."



Having an arc does not mean having to have the character totally break down, especially not in public. Subtlety should be used. A longing glance. A moment of hesitation. Etc.



For example, Shepard's quarters were heavily underused in the game, in my opinion. They could have been a prime place for some character development. A place where she could cast off her "badass" armour a little bit (again, not asking for breaking out in tears or anything). Maybe examine some of the objects she acquired so far, and tell us something through body language.



No matter how "badass" a character is, that character is still a person with feelings. It's more a matter of whether or not that's shown to others. Even Batman has regrets.

Christopher Aaby
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Do you really not feel that this was done in the game? I can think of a dozen situations off the top of my head where the Commander expresses a wish to "blow off steam" (not just the Garrus romantic arc!), mentions the hardships he / she has to steel him / herself against and the reasons for doing so (talking to Jacob, Legion and Miranda among others), or expresses doubts about past and current decisions (particularly after the game's big final decision when you talk to other characters and justify your actions), whether or not the crew will even survive the aptly named suicide mission, and so on.



Even if this was not the case, and the game really was totally devoid of any kind of remorse, self-doubt and hesitation - would that really be such a bad thing? I understand that the development of the character is what makes the character believable and interesting to watch... but isn't it equally important in an interactive medium to allow the player to invest themselves and have those emotional reactions themselves, rather than seeing them played out for them in a cutscene?



It seems to me we're talking about two different sensibilities, for two different mediums. In a linear narrative, I too would be disappointed (unless there was an artistic point being made) if the main character did not evolve. After all, it's the oldest model ever - you start out young, then you go slay a dragon, find your identity and return all grown up.

In an interactive narrative however, I don't necessarily (but also not exclusively) want my character playing those things out for me, because the guilt of those actions is *my* guilt. I made the decisions, my character only acted them out. And like I wrote earlier, even if I choose to "agonize about guilt" by pushing some buttons, that's not going to deepen the experience for me.



That, and I think we have very dissimilar experiences of how much doubt, regret and hesitation was present in the Shepard character to begin with. It's true that the good Commander doesn't flinch much... but the characters around him / her even point this out for you, commenting on your can-do attitude and unwavering determination. I don't see a conflict or a lack of character, so much as perhaps a somewhat stereotyped leader-hero... which I don't consider a problem, but not great art either.

Joseph Cassano
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"Even if this was not the case, and the game really was totally devoid of any kind of remorse, self-doubt and hesitation - would that really be such a bad thing? I understand that the development of the character is what makes the character believable and interesting to watch... but isn't it equally important in an interactive medium to allow the player to invest themselves and have those emotional reactions themselves, rather than seeing them played out for them in a cutscene?"



I'd say we are missing out an a lot if we don't learn to bring this into our interactive medium (and again, like I said in the post, I'm not entirely sure yet how one would do it right). A character arc can be hugely important if done well, and it speaks to our most human sensibilities.



To use an example of the importance of an arc, I'll mention a non-interactive work that I love: Neon Genesis Evangelion. Love it or hate it, the show is ultimately about the arcs of its characters, especially the protagonist, Shinji Ikari. Without his arc, the show just becomes another mecha show. With it, it's an exploration of psyche and humanity and growth that I haven't seen anywhere else.



Sure, we can get along without making our blank-slate characters have arcs, but I feel that we would be missing out on rich narrative possibilities by doing so.



And in regards to Shepard's personality, she is not nearly as expressed enough compared to the other characters in the game. That's my problem, especially since she's the protagonist.

Christopher Aaby
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Ok, I get what you're saying. It's true that character progression is a good narrative technique, but I stand by my criticisms of it's use in interactive mediums.



I also feel kind of bad for Mass Effect that you're going from that as an example, when it's such a fringe case (at least in my eyes, seems like you had a different experience with the game). The major characters that aren't the main character have excellent progressions, which is even a huge part of the game.



Why not bring up examples like the Phoenix Wrights or Fallouts? To me, those games had a lot of focus on characters and interactions, but have much less character progression. Would you not consider those the greater problem, or are they exempt from failure by virtue of not even trying?



I know I'm playing devil's advocate here, but I'm also trying to point to that "main protagonist character progression" is just a small narrative tool in a vast toolbox, which is even somewhere between miniscule and obsolete in interactive mediums. I don't think you'd argue that Mario Kart or Tetris would be better games if they focused more on main character progressions... or even had main characters.

Joseph Cassano
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"The major characters that aren't the main character have excellent progressions, which is even a huge part of the game."



That's exactly my problem. The other characters are able to have arcs but the main character can't. I find that worrisome.



"Why not bring up examples like the Phoenix Wrights or Fallouts?"



I actually do mention Fallout in the above by mentioning the Vault-Dweller. I stuck with one game to hone my point, but my criticism on this front is for all games in which the protagonist is an empty vessel to be filled. This includes Half-Life, Fallout, and a significant portion of Western RPGs. Phoenix Wright doesn't apply because Phoenix Wright is not an empty-shell character. Like in most Japanese games, he's a more authored protagonist and less of an avatar. That in itself can be its own problem, but that's for another time.



"I don't think you'd argue that Mario Kart or Tetris would be better games if they focused more on main character progressions... or even had main characters."



I suppose it's my fault for not clarifying this in the post. My focus on this matter is on games in which narrative is important, and to be even more specific, where the main character is more of an avatar for the player than a character in its own right. As such, Mario Kart and Tetris are exempt from the conversation as they're not even trying to be narrative-important games. I can't fault something for what it's not even attempting to be, but I can fault those that are attempting and falling short in my eyes.

Christopher Aaby
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I hope you're finding this exchange stimulating and not frustrating, because that is my intention. We are moving a little off topic, but I think that's ok - we've presented our opinions on the main topic, and our main disagreement seems to be whether or not "empty-shell" characters are good for something or all bad.

I hold that those characters are narratively uninteresting, but are suited for gaming because they allow for the player to project their own feelings, goals, etc onto the character - the character won't do something which is in conflict with the player's mental image of that character. It's my impression that you disagree with this.

I am of the position that narratively interesting characters (main characters included) are also good for games. I'm pretty sure we agree on that.



I find it interesting that you don't consider Phoenix Wright to be an "empty-shell" character. Compared to Commander Shepard, Phoenix has a lot less backstory, no life outside the courtroom, has no character progression to speak of, and basically functions like a "straight guy" for the quirky, typically japanese humour in the game. Am I misunderstanding what you mean by "authored"?



If I was to point to a "redeeming" aspect of the character, it would be that it occupies a game series with a narrative so thin that it *almost* doesn't try. This raises another question though - how little is little enough? Is having a bad story ok, if you're not really trying, just trying a little? Can we even make guesses as to the intention of the game developer (ie. can we know that the developer wasn't trying hard to build a story)?



I'm not sure that's a question which can be answered (meaning)fully, but it's obvious that near misses are interpreted as worse than total failure / not even trying. I'm not sure that's a fair way of assessing something, but on the other hand, I don't really see how it can be avoided.

Joseph Cassano
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"the character won't do something which is in conflict with the player's mental image of that character"



Ah, but their inaction itself can also be in conflict with the player's mental image. That's partially my point. As the player, I would expect more emotion, for example, from a protagonist since she is a human being. The lack of it is the conflict.



"I find it interesting that you don't consider Phoenix Wright to be an "empty-shell" character."



Phoenix Wright is not an "empty-shell" character in the sense I am talking about. By empty-shell, I mean that the character is roughly an avatar for the player. Shepard's thoughts and such are dictated by the player's input, for example. Phoenix, on the other hand, has a personality separate from the player's input; in this case, the player's input merely decides whether he succeeds or fails at his job. Granted, I haven't personally played the Phoenix Wright games, but from what I've read on them I do not see a conflict with my point. This is also more of an East vs West thing; in JRPGs, the protagonist is usually a person with thoughts and feelings separate from the player (even in the case of some silent protagonists) while in WRPGs, the protagonist is -- more often than not -- purely an avatar for the player.



"Can we even make guesses as to the intention of the game developer (ie. can we know that the developer wasn't trying hard to build a story)?"



In some cases, yes, we can. To use the examples from above, I can say with confidence that Mario Kart and Tetris are not trying to tell stories. One is a racing game, and one is a puzzle. That's not to say that racing games and puzzles cannot have narrative, but those two games are pure distillations of those genres; they are not about the narrative.



Games like Mass Effect, however, are very much about their narratives. As such, they are up for criticism on that front.



"but it's obvious that near misses are interpreted as worse than total failure / not even trying."



I would disagree entirely with this point. Near misses are just that: near misses. To use the example of Mass Effect 2, I think it is a great game, and it does many things right. My critique is not to put down the game in its entirety, but merely to point out areas where we can improve.

Christopher Aaby
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I'll go through your points in order:



1: Hmm, yeah, I see what you mean. I guess this is where suspension of disbelief becomes important. For me it's not really any more of a leap than for instance that Shepard can't say any- and everything that pops into my mind, but I guess that's the line where it becomes subjective.



2: Ok, that clarifies. Phoenix *is* still an avatar for the player however. I guess your distinction is more or less between whether or not the player has access to the thougts of the player character?



3: Just this morning, I listened to an interview with Jason Rohrer, about his newest game "Inside a Star-filled Sky". He explained how it was about infinity and how the human mind works, and how all the mechanics were born from this idea and support his narrative. However, the game is just a shooter. It has no characters, no storyline, he even pointed this out himself.

So - what is preventing Tetris from being a story of, say, hectic daily life, managing schedules, and ultimately failing? Who is to say that is not what the author intended?



I realise I am probably stretching your definition of what constitutes a story, but my point is that there is a large span here. We can't ever *know* with certainty what the creator of something was thinking, so even when it seems clear that we can infer an intention unproblematically, we should keep in mind that we still don't *know*, we can only infer. I firmly believe that a work should be evaluated by what it is, not what it was meant to be - and this does not disqualify your position, as I see it. A bad story can still be deemed worse than no story.



4: I think you're misunderstanding me. My point is that your point is that a bad story is worse than both no story AND a good story. In other words, not trying is worse than trying and failing, at least from the player perspective.

Joseph Cassano
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2: Another way to think of the distinction would be whether or not the character would still "exist" without player input. It is easier to think of the lives that more authored characters (like Cloud Strife, Solid Snake, John Marston) would live without player influence as opposed to more "empty-shell" characters (Gordon Freeman, The Vault-Dweller, Shepard). And a silent protagonist doesn't necessarily mean "empty-shell"; Link and Gordon Freeman may both lack voices, but Link is definitely more authored than Gordon.



3: It's one thing for a person to interpret a "story" from a piece, but it's another entirely for a piece to actually express a story. For example, if Tetris does have a story, it fails at telling it. On the other hand, Mass Effect definitely has a story, and expresses it far better than Tetris would. That's not a value judgement, though; both are good games.

Christopher Aaby
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2. Hmm, so you're saying that the background to a character makes them deeper, because with that information, the player can mentally tell a further story? In other words, we know who John Marston is, what motivates him, etc, so we can mentally make him "live on" even after we switch off the game... whereas a character like the vault dweller isn't defined at all until the player takes action and starts to define the character?



But see, that's where we differ. I agree with the above, but like I said earlier, I think games have unique possibilities in their interactivity, making it just as interesting to develop your own character than to have one told to you... even if the character doesn't actually think what you're thinking "on screen". Ie. showing regret and personal evolution in Shepard in cutscenes etc. - which I argue is something that can be left up to the player in order to avoid the cognitive dissonance when such a character does something that is out of line with the mental image that the player has of the character.



I'm not against the traditional dramaturgical model of making characters, but I don't feel it's the only way either... and like I also mentioned earlier, it seems very intentional in ME2, since the non-main-characters have precisely those kinds of arcs. I guess we just differ on whether or not that's a good approach.



3. Yeah, like I said, I'm probably stretching your definition of what a story is, but I'm doing it to point out that we can't know the author's intention, only read an intention into the product that we finally get to see.

Joseph Cassano
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2. "I guess we just differ on whether or not that's a good approach."



I suppose we do. And I just want to clarify that I don't think empty-shell characters are inherently bad. Just like anything else, they work in some situations and not others.



3. I suppose, then, that I'm arguing that execution is more important than intention. If you have to be told of what story the game is trying to express outside of the game itself, then the game failed at communicating that story.

Christopher Aaby
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Ah, we've met the agreement singularity... I think the threads have been untangled!



Thanks for a sober and stimulating debate :)

Joseph Cassano
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I was worried that this would end up sour, to be honest (this being the Internet and all), but you proved me wrong. Thanks for that. =)


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