In the early days, and I mean the really early days of home video games, you had Pong: two bars, one square ball and that’s it. It was a very simple concept that anyone could literally figure out within seconds. Even more elementary than that was the fact that there were no characters, no plot, no storyline, no real purpose of the game, except to bump and bash that cubed ball back and forth. While Pong was a nice recreational distraction and diversion from the boredom of everyday life – and back then, Pong was a big deal – there was no real vested interest in the game once the video game system was shut off. That is to say, Pong was just a game. Nothing more, nothing less.
Fast forward to today, and video games are much more than simply something to play. They are now worlds with people and experiences that gamers get involved in and have serious personal stake in as well. Video game characters, especially, have evolved and grown over the years. While the erstwhile plumber was cute, he wasn’t really endearing. He didn’t say much, his emotions were limited and his experiences were fairly mundane. Heck, in his original solo adventure, he couldn’t even go too far backwards! He was simply the vehicle for which the video game player used to traverse the game.
Now, video game characters are people, with expressions and emotions. They have a history and a purpose. They have a back story, and they are vengeful. They have facial expressions that video game players can relate to. They aren’t just video game characters: they’re tragic heroes and misunderstood villains. They live and work in worlds that are at once foreign to us but recognizable too. Today’s video game characters speak to us, and for us. We want to hear what they say, and see how they act and react. They aren’t just computer generated characters by designers, they are actors, with a script to follow and a mystery to unravel.
The advancement and evolution of video game characters is to be expected, since video games themselves have advanced and evolved. In the old days, video games usually took place in a finite world – that is to say that a video game player could sort of make out and define where and how the game would and should end. Because of that simplicity, it was easy to figure out what the character should do and be. Today’s video games, like the ones featured on the Xbox 360 or the Sony PSP, take place in immense worlds where a lot of random possibilities can occur. That requires the character in the video game to act and react in ways that we can’t really predict.
Also, today’s modern video game characters can be so likeable and interesting as well. With personalities, emotions and phrasing that can really make people laugh and take interest in the character. And, with cross-media branding being at the forefront of just about everything these days, you can bet that a popular video game with an exceptionally popular main character will be made into a movie, a comic-book or a TV show. While that’s great for media companies looking to make more than just a few extra dollars, it presents a real opportunity to flesh out and give the main character some more depth. Because while today’s video games are impressive in size and scope, they are still video games and they are still limited by its programming and design. But a movie or a TV program can really give new emotions to a character whom in some ways, already seems to be more than human.