Character development is the product of excellent writing
Technological breakthroughs get all the attention. Sure, characters have never looked better, but they’ve also never been written better! It’s about time we celebrated the video game writers that have created so many characters we’ve come to love. Here we’ll take a look at some of the most memorable character arcs in video games. These are characters that have undergone life-changing experiences and grown as a result of the trauma and tragedy they face.
The Walking Dead
The first season of The Walking Dead video game series introduced us to Clementine quite early in the game. She was a young, innocent thing then, holed up in her treehouse awaiting the return of her parents after a zombie chased her babysitter away. Over the years, we’ve watched as the traumas and losses have affected her, forcing her to become an adult before her time. She grows into a capable young woman, self-sufficient and confident, caring but calculating. And as players, we went from protecting Clementine to becoming her and, at last, watching her fulfill that guardian role in the game’s final season.
Far Cry 3
Far Cry 3 is the first in the series to explore character development with any seriousness. Everyone remembers Vaas, of course, the heartless native controlled by a foreign puppeteer. But because Jason is the protagonist and we experience his growth from the first person, his arc goes under the radar.
Jason begins the tale a useless trust fund brat, his tropical island getaway cut short when a group of terrorists captures him and his friends. After Jason escapes (with the aid of his far more capable older brother), he must learn to survive in the wilds.
He isn’t alone, though. The native communities are more than willing to help this white outsider in exchange for his aid in ousting the foreign powers that have encroached on their lands. And thus we experience his development from a whiny, spoiled, rich kid into a battle-hardened, drug-abusing, warrior. And, much like Vaas became a force with the help of outsiders, Brody becomes an unstoppable killing machine at the end of a long leash controlled by the locals.
Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain
The Metal Gear series has toyed with the idea of the player as an imposter before. In Metal Gear Solid 2, Raiden not only undergoes a journey that’s suspiciously similar to that of Solid Snake’s in the first title but he, quite famously, blindsided gamers expecting to play as Solid Snake when he took over as the main protagonist about an hour into the game.
Metal Gear Solid 5 is a bit more subtle with its trickery. Throughout the game, you’re convinced that you are the real Big Boss, re-establishing Outer Heaven as a military power.
It isn’t until much, much later do we learn that you aren’t the legendary super-soldier. You’re just some regular Joe made up to look like him. In a world of superhumans and mechanical monsters, Venom Snake stands at the very peak, a one-man army whose actions have changed the course of entire nations. And he did it without the genetic talent of his namesake.
Life Is Strange
Life Is Strange, by Dontnod, is a game about learning to live with our choices, whatever the consequences. It’s a harsh truth to accept for young Max, who uses her power to travel through time to save her best friend Chloe.
Throughout this coming-of-age tale about two old friends reunited by circumstance, we explore the differences between the two girls, how they grew apart, and why they need one another now. The more Max manipulates time to keep her friends safe, the more the world around her is thrust into chaos. It all culminates in the manifestation of an enormous storm from her nightmares headed right for her home town. To save the people she loves, Max must learn to let go of her closest friend.
Both Max and Chloe are exquisitely written, with fleshed-out pasts and touching interactions. You come to love the two throughout your playtime and that makes the final decision all the harder.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The Witcher 3 is full of memorable set pieces, plot arcs, and characters, but it’s the Bloody Baron’s questline that stands out the most. Geralt learns that the Bloody Baron had offered shelter to his daughter, Ciri, and meets with the man to search for clues on her whereabouts. But in exchange for information about Ciri, the Baron asks a favor of the Witcher — help him find his wife and daughter, who were kidnapped in the dead of night.
There the game takes us on a rollercoaster ride involving a lot of he-said, she-said, and enough swinging back and forth between sympathizing with the Baron and hating the Baron that you’re like to develop whiplash. It’s a wonderfully written sub-plot with excellent characters and loads of spicy personal drama.
More importantly, it reveals a little more about the Geralt the human and the heart of the man beneath the stoic face and cat-like eyes.
Firewatch is a quiet, ponderous game about lonely fire watch tower guards in the wild woods of Wyoming. Harry is a rookie tower guard seeking isolation after a personal tragedy. Delilah is his boss, a veteran for many years and Harry’s only source of information. She tells him about the details of his work, of course, but there are also haunting tales, like the one about the previous occupant of Harry’s tower, an introverted, quiet man who lost his son last summer.
Delilah is intelligent, sarcastic, charming, and even flirty at times. Her words, communicated via radio exclusively, guide you along throughout your journey, enticing and inspiring and sometimes frightening. And when we finally reach her tower, we learn that, much like Harry and the poor tower guard before him, Delilah is a product of tragic circumstances.
Video games have so many more amazing characters with memorable arcs. This list is nowhere near complete. What characters and games do you think deserved a spot on the list?