Gamasutra - Building a Better Player Character
Gamasutra continues some of their excellent work with a new article on story and characters titled The Everyman and the Action Hero: Building a Better Player Character. The author examines why some classic literary devices don't work for player-characters in games and looks at ways of creating protagonists that offer both good gameplay and good stories. Some of the points are contentious and there are too many quotes to pull, so here's a bit on Fallout:
To be fair, as a genre RPG’s push the envelope in terms of letting the player interact with the story. If they fail often, it’s because they tried. All the same, the stranger in a strange land trick is not subtle and it’s already become a bad cliché. True, adventuring in exotic locales is a tried and true aspect of all storytelling, but it loses much of its punch if there is no home to provide contrast, and to fill in the Campbellian cycle.
And yet one of my all-time favorite games is the RPG Fallout, which spins its own version of an unknown hero in unfamiliar territory. There are some key differences, however. First, there is a sense of a safe home, and second, in a sense, you know exactly who you are. Home is an underground bunker, which has been sealed away from the world ever since the nuclear holocaust. But the bunker’s water-purification chip has failed, and somebody will have to venture outside and find a replacement. And that someone is you.
The feeling of wide-eyed naiveté as you step into the hot sunlight of the radioactively transformed surface-world feels natural and earned. The game simply and gracefully has given you an everyman character to play, and a plot with the urgency and drama to make it work. You are a messenger on whom lives depend, and, as you learn more about the looming threats lurking in the wasted world above, a potential savior. (The point belongs to some other article, but the familiar Mad Max setting makes your immersion into the world that much easier.)