Past Attempts to Create a First-Person Character Arc

Some games have taken on the challenge of having the player experience emotional growth of some sort (a Character Arc) by trying to give the player the most obvious Arc: to become courageous.

Assuming you're the player, this is done (or emulated) by your acquiring enhanced military skills or weapons as the game goes on. By the end, you can accomplish acts of daring-do that you couldn't accomplish at the start of the game. You're thus supposed to feel more powerful and courageous.

Does this work? Probably a little bit and that's not bad. After all, as we've seen from this book, to create emotional experiences in games we should grab every tool and technique we've got, and use them whenever they're appropriate.

The game Ico tried another method to encourage the feeling that you've become powerful: by having the smoky demons who are such a threat in the beginning becoming afraid of you by the end, as if you've become quite intimidating to them.

Whereas early in the game these smoky demons are very aggressive, by the end, after you've gone through and triumphed over countless ordeals, these same demons practically flee every time you thrust out your weapon to kill them.

Does this method work? Sure, a bit. When I played the game, watching those smoke phantoms cower, I did feel somewhat smug and tough.

The player spends much of that game protecting a young and innocent girl. Did this leave me more willing to take responsibility for innocent people in real life? Yes, a bit although perhaps someone else would have a different response.

To reprise the earlier idea, I think a game can change us about as much as a good film can change us. But films have traditionally been much more successful in this arena than have games.

I applaud every game that tries to take on the difficult challenge of creating a First-Person Character Arc. Hopefully, we'll see many interesting experiments in the future.

Still, there's a lot more that can be done…

Problems with Past Efforts

The problems with past efforts are several-fold:

  • To always have the player's First-Person Character Arc be "going from cowardly to courageous" is boring. What about other kinds of Character Arcs?

  • The male character in Ico became powerful at the expense of making the girl weak. In doing so, Ico alienated a potential demographic. Many of the women I know didn't like the game because the female character was so helpless. Even some guys I know found this to be an objectionably retro view of women.

    Some Exceptions

    Silent Hill, Resident Evil, and The Thing all attempt to create fear in more complex ways (some much more successfully than others). In the context of games like these, having a player learn to be more courageous might make real sense and be a viable and emotionally charged First-Person Character Arc. That's because such games succeed to the degree that they create genuine fear. And if they create genuine fear, then that fear can be overcome. If they fail to create genuine fear, then it's impossible to have the player overcome that (nonexistent) fear.


  • When you have the player go on a journey from being cowardly or weak to being courageous, what if the player feels pretty courageous and powerful right from the start? Then the player won't identify with the character he or she is playing, and this actually diminishes the player's emotional engagement in the game.

There have to be other techniques to create a First-Person Character Arc than the limited ones used in the past. What are they?

Perhaps we designers should take the Character Arc of a person becoming more courageous and put it on a back shelf. That's because not only is it the obvious Arc, but, as in most games, if the player can die infinite times, it's hard to make a player afraid (cowardly), at least by the threat of death.



Creating Emotion in Games. The Craft and Art of Emotioneering
Creating Emotion in Games: The Craft and Art of Emotioneering
ISBN: 1592730078
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2003
Pages: 394

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