Blogversation – Chatty protagonists

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A protagonist can go one of two ways really in terms of extremes. Last week, Joel spoke about the silent protagonist which is common place in Role Playing Game’s and First Person Shooters. Today I want to talk about the exact opposite to the silent protagonist: The chatty protagonist.

Done correctly, a chatty protagonist can make your game much more exciting. In video gaming, there’s a whole bunch of silent protagonists but we’ve completely ignored the chatty protagonist: Characters such as one of my all time favourite video game characters, Zidane Tribal. This is a character that chats when spoken to, giving him much more depth. I feel that the purpose of good dialogue is to make characters more likeable, relate-able and above all memorable.

Zidane Tribal – Main Character of Final Fantasy IX

He talks a lot, but not too much. Just right, if you ask me.

But then we go down the extremes and some characters talk for reasons you just can’t comprehend. Take, for example, the humble people of Oblivion.

They mean well but they won’t shut up. Really, I don’t need to know about your adventures, your home life, your missing children or anything. You’re impressing no one and you’re actually slightly breaking my feeling for the game.

Sometimes, it works really well, but like in the above video you can see that it doesn’t always work. In fact, in this case we see Foul Fagus go from being a beggar with a voice befitting his character, to a well spoken gentleman. Okay, that’s just broken, but there’s a reason why we don’t need so much complexity all the time. The human condition is complex, but probably nothing nearly as complex what they accidentally made.

But then sometimes, we get a character that talks so much and says the same things over and over again. I could once more go back to Oblivion even though I truly love the game. But instead, let’s find another source to point the finger at.

No, you blow it out yer…

Yes Duke Nukem is a character that spouts the same repetitive catchphrases constantly. It’s a constant reminder of the limitations of technology. You can’t have something too fluid, ultimately: Something is looping. Be it a loop of: if (alienx=null) then { say “eat bubblegum.” else Duke=”all outta gum” }. Okay, that’s a dreadful piece of pseudo-code, but you get the point.

There’s a point where the sound waves loop and you just think: Huh, okay. A bit weird you’d say that again. For the record except Duke Nukem Forever, I’ve not played a Duke Nukem game (merely seen videos) and I’m not trashing the games themselves. As far as I can see, they appear to be great fun! But with this being said, there’s still that constant reminder: You’re in a video game. There’s technology to be taken into account. Are you ready to have technology limit the creativity of the character?

This is why I prefer RPGs myself. A characters depth isn’t by its catchy battlephrases. Instead, it’s an invested interest in the character throughout. They tell you a story, they get involved in the story and you are that protagonist.

Aw thank you for making this real, ThinkGeek.

But don’t be fooled by the fact I’ve only spoken about video game characters: This can happen with protagonist of traditional games too.

It’s usually just some players in particular, when they want to take centre stage. When this happens, they come up with all sorts of elaborate plans and their characters are looked up to by the other players. Or, more likely: It breaks the flow of the game drastically. It can be brilliant when a player decides to step to the mark and become the hero he or she should be, but at the same time it can be to the behest of the rest of the group.

An instance I have of this is when I was playing as a sort of “knight” character. He was basically just a standard warrior, but he was honourable and as such he would say things like “To arms, my noble companions!” Simple, showed how he was a simple character and everything I did with him was for the point of: This is him. Take note then that one of my fellow companions was a rogue.

Yeah, you’re fooling no one, rogue. That dragon’s got more sharp edges than that little poky sword of yours.

Rogues are known to stand back and be stealthy. They’re supposed to deliver damage before anyone knows they’ve done it. Pray tell then: Why did this rogue decide to announce everything he was going to do in game to all of the other characters? “I’m going to go behind the enemy and flank him. You, Sir Elbert, keep him distracted from the front while I go around behind him to sink my blade deep into its skull.” Our DM found it equally as asinine as I did, so the DM decided that often: The enemy heard the conspiracy! Often, Sir Elbert and the mage were able to take out whatever they were fighting before the rogues plans had finished…

Perhaps this was an incredibly good bit of character development however? See, the best thing here was that our DM was able to teach this rogue how to be a rogue without telling him what he was doing wrong. The rogue slowly figured out: Not everything had to be explained. Not everything had to be told to the whole team. My character, Sir Elbert, announced his intentions because he was an in your face, sword and shield knight. He was the “tank”, as it were. He had to make enemies feel inferior and threatened yet his team mates safe and in control.

This rogue needed to make his enemies unaware of his presence. It couldn’t be done while he blathered on about his plans. Remember then: a chatty protagonist is the key in character and even story advancement. But sometimes, they really should just shut up.

What do you all think of chatty protagonists? Do they help to involve you in a game? Do you have any examples of chatty protagonists in either video games or traditional gaming? Until the next piece in our blogversation; take care all!