Load up a game, any one that is story driven, and find yourself in a world where your main character is either a mercenary/soldier, a camera vehicle for a larger story, or a single white male father/ex-father figure type.
Call of the Battlefield is a vehicle for set pieces.
Ambiguous man is a vehicle for some story that you’re just a bystander in, watching the main actors propel the story forward. You go from scene to scene where the other actors talk to you, but are giving you the plot points that they’ve enacted at this point in the story. Sometimes you impose some driving force, but the story isn’t necessarily centered around you.
Single White Father (SWF, from here on out)-games, are actually character-centric games. Bioshock, it’s your story as Jack and the other actors interact through you and your choices. Whether those choices are real or not due to developer forcefulness is up for debate, but it’s your choices that propel the story and not the choices of those around you.
To be fair, SWF-games aren’t the only character-centric games out what with Tomb Raider, Bayonetta, Transistor, and Alien: Isolation taking the leading woman role focusing not solely on their love life or any at all. solely on their love life or any at
But what’s important is the themes presented about the player’s character in these character-centric games. SWF-games focus on one-of-three big issues. “I lost my wife/kid”, “I don’t want to lose my wife/kid”, or “you remind of my wife/kid so I don’t want to lose you.” There’s only so many ways for this to play out.
Revelations appear in later acts of the story that reveal a loss of someone close and we’re just fighting to get over it or to not go through it again. The player’s sympathy for loss is so strong that it becomes a goto for story writing.
How many AAA-titles play into the SWF role? Bioshock, Bioshock Infinite, The Last of Us, Call of Duty: Ghosts, The Evil Within, Uncharted 3, Final Fantasy XIII… If we started to include any familial role we can expand the list to Tomb Raider, Bayonetta, Alien:Isolation.
The fact that our character is a part of someone’s family becomes such a crutch story-wise that it is almost always a plot-point used to tug at our heart-strings.
At least for games like Alien: Isolation, the emotional climaxes aren’t because of Amanda trying to find out what happened to her mother, instead focusing on the tragedies of those around her. Good people that are trying to do what’s right, at their own expense, to help you. Likewise, Bioshock being focused more on the story of Rapture and your story of a dictatorial/saintly father-figure being ancillary.
But The Evil Within, the whole story is around your loss of family and the antagonists loss of family and how you both pick up the pieces of your shattered humanity. Sebastian (main character) choosing to numb his pain while holding onto reality and Ruvic embracing the pain and expelling it back onto the world.
I guess I just want less family-loss plotlines. Family centric stories are easy for the player to build empathy towards making it an easy emotional connecting mechanism, but it also becomes cliché a bit too easily. I don’t want to lose my daughter. I’m getting over my divorce in a destructive way. Vehicles that feel a bit too generic because they’re visited so often.
Can we at least come up with better reasons than these for character-flaws? I saw dad hitting Mom, so now I try to be a pacifist in every confrontation. Or, I grew up in a shitty ghetto where all of my friends died, so it’s hard for me to connect with others. There are many other connections that people can identify with that don’t come from the same Single White Father-recipe-book.
Or maybe these are the only ones that work to a large demographic and AAA titles aren’t the place to find interesting character development. Papa and Yo, Transistor, Bastion, Braid, Trine,…