This is going to be a follow up article to my review on Deponia. If you have not played the game yet, then be warned, I’m going to be spoiling some major plot points in the game. You can skip the “Why Rufus Works!” section to get to the spoiler free section. Either way, you should definitely go out and play Deponia. It’s a really good game, and I would recommend it even if you’re not into point and click adventure games.
So, in my review, I said that the game worked because of its main character, but I didn’t fully explain why partly because I didn’t want to spoil the game but mostly because I couldn’t quite pinpoint why Rufus is so great. Well, after some reflection and thinking about all of the things that mattered, I think I can explain why now. This whole article isn’t just about Rufus, though, I’m also going to be talking about what I’d like to see in more characters.
So, here we go!
Why Rufus Works!
I do really think that Rufus is the best part of Deponia and he’s also one of the most well written characters I’ve seen in a long time. At least, as far as the whole medium goes. I’m not saying that Rufus is some sort of ideal model that we need to base all future characters on, because there are many different ways to make a good character. I just think it’s good to point out why Rufus works as a character and things that I feel are necessary in making a good character.
The thing is, Rufus is not typically a kind of character that is normally seen in video games. At least, a character we don’t normally see in standard big budget games. Rufus is colorful, snarky, self-centered, but the main reason why he stands out so well from all of the standard characters we see is that he’s fun! Most of the characters today are either silent, brooding bad-asses or not so silent, brooding bad-asses. Heck, one of the reasons why it was hard for me to care about most of the characters in the Mass Effect games was because almost every character was so somber and serious that it honestly removed any sort of connection the game thought I would have with the people on the Normandy.
I guess that would make it sound like that I latched on to Rufus because any kind of character that wasn’t standard to your average AAA game would just seem like a step in the right direction. But, thankfully, that’s not the case. While it’s pretty standard for a point and click adventure game to have pretty colorful main characters, Rufus is pretty much the most fleshed out character that I’ve seen.
With it being a point and click adventure game though, it’s generally easier to make a character that we can connect to. The main character always has something to say when ever you click on something. He’ll make some sort of snarky remark about how he can’t put those two things together, he’ll make a comment whenever you just even examine something, and you have pre-determined things of what he’s going to say in the dialogue box. Because of all of that, we understand how Rufus thinks, feels, and acts. He doesn’t just do stuff for the sake of advancing the game. We understand his motivations, we understand his train of thought, and we can really understand why he is the way he is. We experience everything he’s experiencing.
Probably my favorite moment in the game was when Rufus meets his (probably) father, Cletus, who turns out to be one of the bad guys in the story. Rufus thinks Cletus is actually willing to take him to Elysium, the place Rufus wants to go, but Cletus challenges Rufus on how much he actually wants to leave Deponia, and what follows is one of the most hilarious, emotional, and earnest kind of character moment that a lot of video games really seem to be lacking.
The conflict that happens in the game also shows us more about Rufus. How Rufus reacts to each new problem that happens reinforces how narcissistic he is. But what completes his character is when he’s forced to save Deponia even if it means compromising everything he’s worked up to at that point. The final part of the game shows how sad he was when he wasn’t able to get what he wanted, but it was a sacrifice that needed to be made in order to save people. This point really completes Rufus as a character and what he’s like under complete pressure.
Characters aren’t fun anymore!
Like I said, one of the main reasons why I liked Rufus so much was because he was different from the default main characters of the usual AAA games. Though, it does have a lot to do with the kinds of games we usually see getting released. We mainly see action games, but that’s not inherently a bad thing though. Video games are really good with the action part. But, there seems to be these invisible rules for making these kinds of games that don’t exactly allow us to deviate from the “serious” part of these action games, though, that’s more of a problem with trends.
we don’t exactly have a lot of variety in our characters.
Looking at most main releases, we don’t exactly have a lot of variety in our characters. Most of the characters are so somber and serious that I’m starting to wonder if the game developers know what fun is anymore. But, then again, of course they know what fun is, otherwise, they wouldn’t be making video games in the first place(at least, I hope that’s the case). Most of the games we have are inherently fun, but we’re limited into how we approach it, and it has a lot to do with the characters.
The biggest examples I can think of are the Mass Effect games. The game does get praised highly for its well written characters, and I’m not saying they don’t deserve it. But I didn’t have the same reaction as a lot of other people. You could say that I’m short on attention and won’t look twice on anybody who doesn’t let their personality out right away, but, keep in mind, I actually talked to these characters, and the only thing that really stood out to me was that you could have really awesome, hot, alien, lesbian sex in the game!
My main complaint is that on the surface level, all of these characters are the same. Sure, they all have a different history, they all have different thoughts and feelings, they all have a different culture, but why is everybody just so serious though? Sure, the universe is at stake; that kind of setting isn’t exactly fun for the main characters, but it doesn’t mean we can’t at least have one wise jack-ass who’s not above joking about even the most tragic things. Ok, I guess we have Joker, but he’s not exactly a big exception.
My favorite character was Mordin in Mass Effect 2. Mostly because he was the only character that seemed to get enthusiastic about something. Everyone else in the game just felt really dull to me. I know I’m probably pissing people by saying a statement like that, but my experience talking to these characters have really just felt like a chore, and the only person that didn’t feel like that was Mordin. With the exception of Legion(he’s cool, but mostly because he’s a robot(ok, maybe not really a robot all that much, but you get what I mean)) every other character was just there who occasionally had problems that you had to deal with.
You know what would have been a cool character for a game like Mass Effect? James Bond!
You know what would have been a cool character for a game like Mass Effect? James Bond! A secret agent assassin who is a very posh, very witty as well, a very charming. Weirdly enough, there was a character kind of like that in Dragon Age: Origins, Zevran, though, it has to do with how much of a charmer he was more than anything else. Actually, I feel the Dragon Age games are actually better when it comes to characters, even if Dragon Age and Mass Effect come from a same kind of template. But my point is with a character like Mordin and Zevran and why they stand out so well is because they have a clear and distinct personality from the rest of the group.
This is more than just Mass Effect though. Out of all the big major releases that I’ve played recently, the only protagonist that I feel really stands out and is completely void of a tragic background or really anything considered “serious” was Duke Nukem from Duke Nukem Forever…..Yikes! Other than that, the character has been used as a “your this guy” kind of character, a silent badass who sometimes you don’t even get to see their face, or somebody like Ezio, who has had something tragic happen to him and now has to take everything seriously.
Not every character needs to be a fully developed three-dimensional person. But when the characters aren’t memorable, that’s a problem. Indiana Jones, James Bond, Batman, and even Tintin are proof that not all characters need a complete back story and a strong motivation. In fact, because of the mystery behind them, it’s ultimately why they work. The stories they are in allow the characters to not have to be fully developed. But, we can tell these characters apart because of how distinct they are from each other. It’s why they’re so memorable. Ok, Batman does have a back story and he has clear motives, but he honestly works as a character even without his background. You don’t have to know anything about Batman in order to enjoy The Dark Knight or even the Arkham games. They don’t even get into the fact that Batman’s parents died in Arkham City.
To further back up this statement, look at Portal. There’s only one major character that talks in that game, and that’s GLaDOs. She’s one of the main reasons why Portal became such a beloved game. If it had just been about puzzles, the game would have still worked, but GLaDOS honestly completes this game. Yet, she wasn’t fully developed until Portal 2, where we actually learned more about Aperture Science and about GLaDOS’s character. And yet, even before that, GLaDOS was still loved as a character. It’s cool that we did learn more about her in Portal 2, but we didn’t need that in order to like GLaDOS so much. Because of her quirky and insulting personality, people remembered her and it’s a big reason why Portal is such a beloved game.
In order to make a fully developed character, you need to put them through conflict that tests their motivations, the way they think, and even the way they act.
As for actually getting into fully developed characters, well, Rufus is proof that you can have them without having to get into a tragic back story or making characters “complicated”. In order to make a fully developed character, you need to put them through conflict that tests their motivations, the way they think, and even the way they act. And considering that characters are in stories(ie, the thing that conflict starts), it really provides many opportunities to help build a character. And you don’t have to get into “serious stuff” or “tragic histories” in order to accomplish this. The main thing that builds a character is not necessarily how they act, but it’s more about how they react to a given situation.
The “Do, Don’t Show” Rule
I’m pretty sure you’ve heard of this rule with movies called “Show, Don’t Tell” And I’m pretty sure you heard that phrase a lot when you read reviews over The Dark Knight Rises. But, with video games, we have a new rule that Extra Credits brought up, “Do, Don’t Show” They were talking about a game that broke both rules, Metroid: Other M.
But, Metroid: Other M aside(I actually liked that game, BTW), the “Do, Don’t Tell” rule does open up to a lot of new ways to telling stories. Through video games, we can experience what the main character is experiencing. But, we’re not exactly there yet, because it seems like games are trying to imitate movies. Not exactly a bad thing, but it limits the potential that games have.
A while back, DPW wrote an article talking about I Remember the Rain. I Remember the Rain is interesting, but it doesn’t quite work. The ultimate point in that game was to show what it’s like to lose a loved one. Make everything dark and depressing, add in some music that plays all the saddest chords you can think of, and that basically summarizes I Remember the Rain. It’s easy to tell that there was a lot of noble effort that went into the game, but it ultimately came off as being kind of pretentious, though no one is faulting the developers for not having their hearts in the right place. The reason why I bring up the game is because there are things we can learn from it.
The game lead me into a scenario where it made me take some pills. It was very much a context sensitive situation. But, that part got me thinking “Why is the game making me do this?” Well, I knew why the game wanted me to do that, but after the context sensitive action of “take pills”, it got me thinking that we can experience what the main character is feeling without resorting to the game making us do stuff. Hell, it can give each individual a unique experience from the same game.
There’s this other experiment called The End of Us. It will take you five minutes to play. If your not getting the hint, go and play the game right now. After that you can come back to read the article now.
I pointed out that game because I feel it’s a concept we can explore upon. I feel “Art Games” are done best when they explore gameplay concepts. They can give us ideas on what we can do on a greater scale if the bigger game developers are willing to try to explore games as well. And The End of Us is an incredible example.
I think the game accomplishes the same thing that I Remember the Rain was trying to do, but it’s able to do it without saying anything. There’s no dialogue and the game doesn’t even force you to do anything. It just quickly gives you the controls and then things happen on their own. So, what does this have to do with “Do, Don’t Show”? Well, I think a concept like The End of Us shows us can be pretty key to character development in games.
Watch this Extra Credits episode for more about this kind of mechanic.
Maybe we just don’t have enough Dinosaurs as main characters….
If you’re going to take anything from this article, then take this.
Developers! Are you currently working on a game that allows for a dinosaur to be the main character? Do you think you can actually do that? That would be cool!
Also, stop relying on the same characteristics for main characters in games. The reasons why people like Mario and Sonic are so memorable is because they’re colorful and unique. Now, the two biggest competitors are games like Call of Duty and Battlefield. Do you even remember the main characters in those games? I know people who haven’t even touched the campaign. So, to them, a protagonist might as well not even exist because they’re too busy shooting nameless avatars online. And you know what? That’s all good and well for those people, but I think we have online shooters down pretty well by now.
This “gritty” and “realistic” trend has gone so far that not even James Bond is James Bond anymore. I’m not saying the new movies aren’t good, in fact, I’m really looking forward to Skyfall. But that doesn’t mean every character has to be so tragic and serious. While we’re on the topic of movies, Marvel’s The Avengers might be one of the best movies that was able to focus on many distinct characters. There’s even this one show that has six characters as the mane cast, and it’s able to make them all unique from each other while making the fully developed.
So, if all else, just try to make your characters stand out from the rest. I’m not asking for every character to be fully developed or to be the next most complicated character ever since Hamlet. Just try to make them unique in a way that makes them clearly distinct from all of the other characters. Sure, somber and serious characters have their place, but they aren’t the only kind of characters we can do.