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Sunday Thoughts: Motivations

What's my motivation?

The age of the superhero may be well and truly in swing for movie goers, but to me it seems games are taking the complete opposite swing. The up and coming hero seems, to me, to be the realistic every-man. Yes you’ve still got your Master Chiefs and your Marcus Felixes but they’re starting to feel a little dated to me. Don’t get me wrong, I still adore Halo but it’s just starting to really feel like the basic concept is ten years old. Of course these things are cycles, so in about another five or ten years it’ll probably all feel very current.

Anyway my point is that right now the trend, to me at least, seems to be swinging back towards heroes we can picture ourselves as. Nathan Drake is obviously leading the charge but I think the Tomb Raider reboot is going to have a pretty significant impact as well, young Lara’s E3 exposure seems to have made quite a splash.

Of course these characters aren’t really you and me, they’re still superhuman just less obviously so. I don’t care how ‘real’ Tomb Raider is meant to seem, almost no-one can take the kind of punishment she does from falls and still keep going. The same is certainly true of poor old Drake as well. Even putting their ability to push passed pretty much all limits of human endurance, they can still take a ridiculous number of bullets before going down. That or the people shooting at them are remarkably good at only hitting non-vital areas.

The thing is these characters are meant to represent me to some extent now. That’s the goal at least, even if they aren’t meant to be a direct analogue of me (if they were they’d be far more out of shape). The thing is if, on some level, I’m supposed to be able to relate to them and why they’re doing what they do they just fail. Quite simply I don’t understand their motivations. I will concede this isn’t aimed at the new Tomb Raider as the situation Lara ends up isn’t of her own making, but it certainly holds true for Drake and others like him.

Am I supposed to relate to this?
Drake isn’t just trying to survive a situation or even to thrive, to live life to its absolute fullest. He is, to me, just reckless and completely out for himself. I obviously can’t speak for others but that doesn’t really connect with me, it’s not a force that would drive me. I mean I can, perhaps, understand the desire for exploration. If humans didn’t have that basic desire we never would have left our caves, never seen what was over the next hill or at the bottom of the next valley. However it’s the fact he keeps going, keeps pushing against unbeatable odds that I can’t quite click with.

I know that, obviously, him giving up isn’t really much of a story. I mean what do you do? He goes back home and makes himself a sandwich? Hardly a thrilling narrative is it? I mean it makes a nice joke in Shadow Complex (yes, you really can just go home if you want), but it doesn’t really work as anything more than that.

Perhaps I just prefer the stories where characters don’t have an obvious motivation, where they’re just thrown into the situation. If you’re going with the ‘every-man’ character then have them stepping up to the plate when they weren’t expecting it. I know that’s a little formulaic but there are enough variations that you can certainly do something with it. Survival is such a powerful motivator that we can all pretty much grasp it, we can really feel for the character. If you’re going with a real hero, someone who is clearly meant to be somehow more than human, then it’s so much easier to come up with a a motivation.

They’re already meant to be better than us, we don’t need to necessarily follow their emotions or reasoning.

  1. colmshan1990
    Since: Apr 2009

    I think that Drake’s recklessness is going to be a major theme of the upcoming game, all the main characters seem to be pretty annoyed with him in the trailers anyway…

    Comment posted on 31/07/2011 at 19:26.
  2. bacon_nuts
    Since: Mar 2011

    I don’t think a character could ever represent me in a game, and I don’t want it to. It would be the most boring game ever, and would probably involve being sat around all day, not doing essays, talking badly to girls and then watching Top Gear on Dave. I wouldn’t want to play that. That would suck.. but, the characters in recent video games I’ve found to most representative of me in recent times were Isaac Clarke in Dead Space (not the sequel) – he had no face, and no voice, so instead of the game presenting his feelings, I would present mine in my head, leading to a massively satisfying and immersive gameplay experience. I wasn’t controlling someone else. It really felt like I was there at points. I find the same is true for Half Life 2, Portal & 2, Limbo and other games with silent main characters. I wish there were more. I don’t want to play as a macho army man, or smooth talking american. I like it when games are presented in a way in which the main character doesn’t need to say anything, or games like Fallout where appearance and dialogue are unique from play through to play through. In my opinion, they make a game infinitely more immersive. Good article anyway.

    Comment posted on 31/07/2011 at 19:32.
    • Origami Killer
      Since: May 2010

      “being sat around all day, not doing essays, talking badly to girls and then watching Top Gear on Dave” thats my basic schedule for every day :L

      Comment posted on 31/07/2011 at 19:46.
    • ProjectJAY
      Since: Aug 2009

      I totally agree with you on the Dead Space thing. As soon as I found out they were giving Isaac a voice, I was pretty much out. It really is part of what made the first game so compelling.

      Comment posted on 31/07/2011 at 21:32.
      • skibadee
        Since: Oct 2009

        you missed out on a great game then.

        Comment posted on 01/08/2011 at 09:57.
  3. xdarkmagician
    Since: May 2009

    A lot of games get their inspiration from movies, If Indy was a alien robot, Laura would have been a hot alien chick with 3 green boobs, and Drake would have been a cybog with a wise-cracking upgrade. Both game are trying to capture the feel you get when you watch Raiders. Nobody wants to pretend their average… unless your way below average already. Video games and movies, want to give the impression that if you study alot of history and buy a gun you can go treasure hunting. If they made anything that was entirely possible they’d have the worlds first documentary game, and lets face it would you rather watch a documentary over the new Batman movie? Excitement sells, and normal people aren’t exciting. Either game if done in real true to life fashion would involve reading text for 6 hours, waiting for legal permits for 6 hours and walking around in a jungle looking for broken pottery. on a side note, I always laugh in Tomb Raider Underworld when you’re swimming around the artic in a 1 piece bikini.

    Comment posted on 31/07/2011 at 20:02.
  4. MrSpeedyGonzales
    Since: Jun 2010

    I don’t think I’ve ever related to any character I’ve ever played as. I want to but characters aren’t like me, they’re not like any of us. If they were they wouldn’t fun, however good your life is. Characters must be believable yet unbelievable at the same time. Superheroes I don’t enjoy playing as but I love play as someone who is superhuman. A game is a game, that is all.

    Comment posted on 31/07/2011 at 20:15.
    • ProjectJAY
      Since: Aug 2009

      Sad but true. Personally, I find myself relating more to characters that I can create a persona for, i.e. the ones you make from scratch in games like Fallout and Demon’s Souls. But the trade off is that every other character you encounter can only monologue at you, not actually converse with you.

      Comment posted on 31/07/2011 at 21:35.
  5. bunimomike
    Since: Jul 2009

    I quite like that we have options. From the silent types (Gordon Freeman) to the “does he ever shut-up” types like Drake. It’s all about emotional involvement and engagement and as long as the character is right for the game then that’s fine with me. Sometimes we need the superhero – laden with clichés at every twist and turn. Other times we need the grounded sensibilities of someone fallible; someone who reflects having gone through something that might resonate with us.

    Either way, for me, it’s still escapism. I wouldn’t want a character like me (in a game) unless it required it. For now, I’m happy taking my brain out and allowing each individual title to entertain me with hopefully the correct protagonist.

    Lovely article, Kris.

    Comment posted on 31/07/2011 at 20:15.
  6. OneShotWook
    Since: Jun 2010

    Niko Bellic has for me been this gens best,he was familiar in the fact he was a loser in most every sense but when situation called he was a monster with a golden heart.That is still a stereotype i know but to me there was enough about him that was out of the norm for a videogame and even most movies.
    His character still to me feels unique even this long after and most certainly when compared to the likes of Drake.

    Comment posted on 31/07/2011 at 21:26.
  7. Origami Killer
    Since: May 2010

    no offense but im struggling with understanding the article title “motivation” and then everyone is commenting how they can relate to characters and character emotions. Ive read it and im still confused, or im just slightly dyslexic

    anyways i always find myself relating to characters who i think and presented as normal people, all the Heavy Rain characters would be a good start. I think its out with the full blown superhero and Indiana Jones and Shoot em up games and more of about the story of a normal persons struggle with the worst life has to throw at them, once again Heavy Rain and maybe even LA Noire

    Comment posted on 31/07/2011 at 22:54.
  8. Crocadillian
    Since: Feb 2011

    Firstly, today is a Sunday? Secondly, DREAMFALL! It’s not trying to sell you some stereotypical fantasy adventure and the characters aren’t average but completely relatable and human. Dreamfall is proof that you can make an average character completely compelling and playable.

    I think it’s more hard to believe that people would enjoy playing someone average in a game because it never happens, and we are for the most part offered these same experiences and character stereotypes. It just takes some imagination… :3

    Comment posted on 31/07/2011 at 23:37.
  9. Sympozium Pawa
    Since: Aug 2009

    I’ve been watching Gundam… i think most of the crew of White base aren’t part of the Earth Federation just normal people.. especially Amuro Ray who pilots the Gundam and all. It’ll be interesting to see more games like this than just experts and the lowest ranks of the army I guess..

    Just started and found out how to save the game on X: Beyond the Frontier and well you have nothing at the start.. your just a test pilot, lost in space and owes a debt to some race. I think’ll it take a long time to reach to the top.. where you can build your own Trade Empire..

    Oh god the thought of X3.. scares me and it simply looks amazing. Rather having so much power.. I feel that having nothing can make the game much deeper but at the cost of the audience… casuals would give up on X: Beyond the Frontier.. since the ship is super slow. >_>

    Comment posted on 01/08/2011 at 00:30.

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