Who are some of your favorite video game characters? For me I think both of characters that I met in recent titles as well as characters who have been in my life since I was a child. Link, the hero of the Legend of Zelda series, has always been and probably will always be a character that I love. Then there’s the quirky cast of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, a game which held my top spot for most of my teenage life. More recently I’ve come to love characters like Phoenix Wright’s rival Miles Edgeworth along with the ever-clumsy detective Dick Gumshoe. Many of the characters that I love could be said to fall into broad archetypes, with two or three of those archetypes defining most of the characters I’ve enjoyed throughout my life. But what’s fun and cool about a video game character may not always translate well into the real world.
So let’s look at a different question: would you be friends with the video game characters that you love? Do they seem like people you’d love to go catch a movie with? Would you play video games with the characters that you love from video games? This may be a tougher question because it asks you to look at the personality traits of your favorite heroes and apply those very traits to real-life situations. What you may realize as you begin to explore this question is that some traits you tolerate in the characters from video games are actually traits that would be deeply grating in real life.
This is the question I was asked to consider by the delightful Pix over at Shoot the Rookie. Pix popped into my comments during the Charming and Open event here on Adventure Rules and asked whether or not there were any video game characters whose qualities would actually irritate me in the real world. She also added to that question whether or not I have ever changed my feelings on a character based on them committing an action that I found to be simply unforgivable. In order to answer this question, I felt that it would be helpful for me to look at specific characters that I love who – after some additional consideration – would probably drive me crazy were I to ever meet them in the real world.
VINCENT VALENTINE: ENIGMATIC EDGELORD
Yes adventurers, in some ways I am very much a Basic Gamer. I love a good edgy, angst-ridden, mysterious character who fights alone and refuses to open his heart even a tiny bit to his beloved companions. Vincent Valentine is the quintessential edgelord character. He literally sleeps in a coffin until the party finds him, and then refuses to talk about his (admittedly horrific) past with the Shinra corporation or even to reveal his relationship to the mother of Sephiroth, Lucrecia. Vincent is always quick with a snarky comment, he doesn’t want to be friends with anybody, and on jobs he simply does what needs to be done and leaves it at that.
Mysterious edgelords may be cool to see in-game because you want to learn their history. The sardonic insults seem funny because you the player are never on the receiving end of them. Their refusal to cooperate and play with others lends to a narrative of them being more competent and capable than their partners. But to quote one of the favorite lessons I learned about tabletop roleplaying: everyone wants to be Batman, but nobody wants to be the guy who has to play with Batman.
People who act like Vincent Valentine are seriously unpleasant. Make a genuine expression of pleasure or interest in anything and watch yourself be declared as “cringey” and have the thing you love hatefully dismantled before your eyes. Instead of building you up, your friend tears you down by aiming their barbed tongue directly at you, hurling insults at friends with the same impunity they use against people and things they don’t like. I love a good video game edgelord but as soon as a guy like this approaches me in real life, watch me head for the hills faster than a Chocobo chasing gysahl greens.
RAPHAEL KIRSTEN: FOOD AND FIGHTING
I found Raphael to be a deeply endearing character when I played Three Houses for the first time. He’s an orphan who, in the absence of other family, became a protector for his little sister. He’s got a good heart full of forgiveness and with surprising emotional maturity for his age. But as a real human person that I had to regularly spend time around, Raphael’s obsession with a couple of particular topics would make him really hard to hang out with.
Raphael cares deeply about two things: food and training. He’s always talking about where his next meal is gonna come from, and in group discussions he always tries to redirect the conversation to involve food in some way. There’s a stereotype in western culture about how pushy vegans are about their food preferences, but I know plenty of self-proclaimed carnivores who make a much bigger deal about all the meat they eat and Raphael definitely brings those individuals to mind. Like dude, for one second can you not talk about beef jerky? And if you show me one more meme about how only dudes who eat their steak raw get laid I will seriously throw your phone across the room.
Then there’s the training thing. No, Raphael, I do not want to go to the gym with you. Does my body look like the body of a man who deeply values his time at the gym? I get that you like to work out and that’s great for you, but goodness can we have a conversation about literally any other topic in the universe? Oh, food again? Okay buddy, I think we need to scale back this friendship to a once-a-year type thing. In a video game, Raphael’s qualities help to establish his character in the early game and often can be a source of comic relief. But in real life these are qualities that would put Raphael on the list of people I try to only see around the holidays.
LLOYD IRVING: INSISTENT IDEALIST
Lloyd Irving is the classic JRPG protagonist, a small town boy with big dreams who loves to hit stuff and has a heart of gold. Living in a heavily religious community, Lloyd readily serves the church when one of his best friends is chosen to carry a heavy burden in order to save the world, but his idealism is frequently criticized by the people around him. Lloyd approaches problems always believing that it is possible to find the best possible solution with the least loss of life. He does what he believes to be the right thing no matter what, and anyone who dares to challenge his idea of what the right thing is has just spoken fighting words.
As a guy playing a video game, I find myself drawn to Lloyd’s idealism and rooting for him to continue fighting against those who would tell him he has to compromise his moral values. But this fierce idealism untempered by reason, tact, or any desire for personal safety is a quality that would likely put Lloyd and me at odds in real life. I am a person who might be described as being overly careful with his words – sometimes people think I am ignoring them when in reality I am crafting a response in my mind that I feel is tactfully presented and considerate of the feelings of everyone involved. People who just spout out their thoughts with passion and intensity drive me nuts because most of the time, they spout out thoughts that are going to start a conflict.
As Lloyd learns during his journey, idealism often fails to consider the multiple nuanced perspectives that are possible with any given issue. The half-elf desians are not the only half elves in the world, and some of Lloyd’s closest companions turn out to be part of a group of people he believed he despised. The supposedly noble church is deeply involved in maintaining a cruel power structure arbitrarily imposed by beings who are abusing their power. Many people are trying to solve the same problems with different approaches, and Lloyd’s unwillingness to wait like 5 seconds to maybe think about how his actions will affect other people would make him really frustrating to work with, even when working towards the same goals.
These are all examples of characters that I still enjoy despite realizing that there are some qualities about them that would rub me the wrong way in the real world. But there was a part two to Pix’s question: have I ever changed my perspective on a character when that character finally did some action I could not forgive, even in a video game? This was a tough topic for me to consider as I could not bring to mind immediately a character who fit this description. My first thought was to think of villains who I despised, but most of the time if a villain’s actions and motivations are enough to make me angry then I consider that to be a well-written villain. Characters who are going to get on my nerves in the long run tend to get on my nerves right from the get-go. And as we’ve seen demonstrated in the paragraphs above, I’m more tolerant of behaviors in video games that would bother me with a real person.
Surely there has been a character that I started out liking who ultimately did something that changed my perspective on them, right? It seems unusual to have never had that experience but the more I think about it the more I struggle to come up with someone who fits the bill. I decided to pull up character lists for a couple of series to try and help remind me if there was anybody for whom my feelings flipped dramatically during the course of the game. I searched through the lists of characters through various video games I have played, looking for any sign of a character who fit the bill. Surely I could find someone to put into this category so that I could deliver on the promise of Charming and Open! How could I let a question go unanswered? Or rather, answered with the most boring possible option of “nope, that actually never happened to me?”
Unfortunately as much as I wanted to come up with a response to this question, I realized I couldn’t force it. In my video game experience so far, I’ve not had a change in opinion about a character that was significant enough to stick out to me as a memorable event. They say first impressions are the most important in forming our opinions of other people, so perhaps in this situation my first impressions of video game characters have been consistent with my final opinions too. I have, I’m sure, seen characters in video games perform actions that I would consider to be unforgivable, but those characters were already ones that I didn’t like in the first place. Maybe this says something too about the psychology of liking a character. If I already like someone, perhaps I am more willing and able to interpret their actions in a way that makes it justifiable even if I disagree with their choices. Maybe an “unforgivable” action for a character I already hate is instead interpreted as “understandable” when performed by characters that I admire or enjoy.
In any case, I greatly appreciate the wonderful question from Pix and encourage you to check out her blog Shoot the Rookie, particularly as she’ll be answering a question that I posed to her about the kinds of characters that she is automatically drawn to in video games.