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by Matthew Peck
What makes video games, specifically RPG's, so memorable and personal to the people who play them? Why do gamers cry when their favorite character dies, laugh when a really bad joke is made, and jump up and down shouting upon defeating the final boss? The answer is character development. To be a successful role playing game, most main characters undergo a very personal change or revelation. It seems that video game heroes/heroines always have some psychological dysfunction or troubled past that needs resolution. Face it, who would want to play a game where the main character is completely happy and content staying at home instead of venturing into the outside world. These inner demons that characters face contribute immensely to character development, and adds a human touch to a game's world that sometimes evades connections with our own. These fantasy world are accepted as reality because of the human element created by characters the gamer can identify with.
The fantasy worlds of most RPG's is quite different from our own. Of course, there are the "Earthbound" exceptions, but even if the world is similar, events transpire which change the world in a very peculiar way. Demons invade, people start disappearing, or people begin to discover magical powers from the past. No matter how strange or unusual things get, the game world is still accepted as reality because of the characters. Because the characters are completely human, the gamer can identify with them. The characters become extensions of the gamers themselves. Fantastical worlds of magic and myth become reality because the gamer knows that the character is real, just placed in an unusual situation. Of course, if this argument is valid, then the video game industry is making some potentially dangerous flaws.
For a character in a video game to be accepted as "real," he/she must face the same obstacles and trials that the gamer does. But with all the different types of gamers out there, the gaming companies have to choose issues/problems with which the most gamers can identify with. An RPG about dyslexia, no matter how well written, would not be as popular as an RPG with a storyline dealing with jealousy or true love. But if gaming companies are creating RPG's themed around actual issues that gamers face, why are some issues left out in the cold? True, a game about dyslexia alone would not be very successful, but if a character had to admit he/she had a problem and do something about it in order to <insert main game theme here>, then a true-to-life character would emerge. Someone who lives and breathes just like everyone else, suffers the same problems, endures the same humiliations, and triumphs in the end. Oh, they just happen to save the world in the process. The more real the characters feel, the more involved the gamer gets, and the better the game.
I know that I would love to see games where characters face issues no typically explored in RPG's. Alcoholism, drug-addiction, or homosexuality could all be very possible issues dealt with in future RPG's. Even though these issues are not experienced by the majority, well written storylines with these issues at their core would spread knowledge and understanding while simultaneously providing hours and hours of entertainment. Even though such games would be deemed "Mature" simply because they're true to life, our attitude toward video games is changing for the better. With video game graphics constantly moving toward super-realism, it's only natural for the storyline and characters to follow suit. Hopefully, these future games will be accepted even if they deal with controversial issues.
This is the part in the editorial where I talk about my personal opinions regarding the above-outlined ideas in order to get you to agree with me. I enjoy playing video games (especially RPG's) just as much as the next guy, but I have a really hard time identifying with many of the characters I control. This difficulty stems from my being gay. Most RPG's are heavily themed around love, the search for love, the loss of true love, the meaning of love, or some other permutation thereof. For me, the game that has come the closest to my idea of love is Suikoden II. The idea that two male characters can love each other so completely as Jowy and the Hero did, really made those characters more important to me. Because I could identify with the main characters, the game took on a whole new meaning. Suikoden II, and Suikoden to a lesser extent, can be categorized as having homosexual themes/characters. The problem with these games is that the issue is never discussed, the ideas never confirmed, and the characters never fully explored. One could play both of these games and not notice any homosexual themes or characters if they didn't want to. What I want is for the gaming industry to stop tip-toeing around controversial themes and fully explore them. I want characters that feel the same way I do. I want an ending that doesn't leave me saying, "Well, I'm glad Squall and Rinoa found each other, but I think he'd be better with Seifer."
I know I can't expect the gaming industry to market and create games specifically for me, but with the changing cultural attitudes and understanding of people's differences, the game-buying public is becoming less and less likely to avoid games because the issues they might deal with. With a little effort, and a lot of understanding, video games and RPG's alike can fully explore what it means to be human. Characters can become even more realistic by behaving more like the gamers who play their games. Hopefully, people won't let prejudice and ignorance control the entertainment of tomorrow
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