Looking at video games today, there has been a definite shift in the tone and level thought that has been put into them. Not to undermine the games of yesteryear, but we’ve gone from a society of gamers that plays a more simple game, to one that creates more complex games. We’ve gone from games that take the simple idea of hitting a ball back and forth between two paddles with the objective of not missing the ball, to games that have full orchestras performing in the background with voice actors such as Liam Neeson lending their talent to make the game come to life. But with all of this extra story layered in, as opposed to the Mario saving the princess we all know so well, is there something that’s missing from the story elements? While there are many right and wrong answers to this question, the point I’d like to focus on is the lack of a parental figure in most games, and how adding a parental figure to a game can add more emotion and feeling to the characters.[WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD]
The games that will be referenced in this post are: Fallout 3, Ni No Kuni, and Modern Warfare 3. Turn away now to avoid reading further. Ready now? I’ll continue. Most video game stories begin with something terrible happening to the protagonist. Take for example Mario: Bowser comes and steals his beloved princess and forces him through peril after peril to come and rescue her. Typically there is no backstory as to how the hero got to that point in time, let alone any parental figures within that backstory or story in general. There are few games that break this mold, one of which is Fallout 3. The start of the game places you, the protagonist, at your point of origin. Yes, for those of you who haven’t played the game, you are actually watching the birth from the baby’s point of view. You can hear the sounds of your mom and dad talking to you, deciding on your name and what gender you are. From there the game takes you to pivotal moments in your characters youth up to the point at which you play through the remainder of the game without apparently aging a day. This being said, the main driving point behind the game’s story line is finding your dad, who left the vault without saying a word to you or anyone about why he was leaving. The game however does a great job of, while still allowing you to feel like something to be reckoned with, making you feel like you are a lost child wandering around, looking for your parents. Another game worth mentioning, Ni No Kuni, places you in the role of an 11 year old boy Oliver who’s mother dies of a heart attack at the very beginning of the game. He, Oliver, then finds out that he has the ability to save her if he can rescue an alternate realm from total destruction. I’d argue that this can almost make the player want to continue the game, not only because the game in its very nature is fun, but because they feel some deeper connection to the character because of that parental figure that main character is now missing. There’s much more of an emotional draw from me the player as I watch my Dad die in Fallout 3, than there is for me when I watch Soap die in Modern Warfare 3.
Part of the problem, and a counter point to what I have previously said, is that there is also a difference in the level of writing for each game and that one is clearly better than the other. Modern Warfare’s writing is by no means a reason for celebration, however it certainly isn’t bad and can still draw the player in with enough interest to finish the game and then buy the sequel upon its release. I believe that the connection that we have with our parental figures in real life, or family for that matter, makes us feel closer to the character in these games due to the fact that we start reflecting our own parents upon the parental figure in the game. Just like we don’t want to lose our parent figure in real life, we don’t want to see our character lose there’s either. At least while we have the power to do so.
Parental figures have rarely appeared in games. From Mario all the way up through games such as GTA 4, we don’t really see much interaction with a parental type figure. While some games’ writing is good enough that they still draw emotion without a parental figure, I’d say that the added parental figure creates a new level of emotion and attachment to said characters. It adds another dimension to the story that I feel is forgotten in many places. But I’ll end this post with an example from Fallout 3: would you want to see your dad killed while creating clean water from inside the Jefferson memorial? I would assume not.