Oh, He’s Just This Guy, You Know?

Ah, the characterless characters of video games, eh? I’m encountering that old chestnut for the umpteenth time with Fable 2. The avatar in that game exhibits that ultimate blandness of not speaking. Ever. Now, this is a trade-off presumably. On the one hand, if your character doesn’t speak, then you’re more likely to be able to “inhabit” him. On the other hand, if he doesn’t speak, he loses a vast amount of expressiveness. Which is, of course, crucial to any idea of making a bridge between yourself and the character

So, in other games, like Gears of War, you get defined characters who have personalities and make wise-cracks and so on, and whom you control. But they also make it hard to make that bridge because they’re already someone else, and specifically not you.

A catch 22, then. If the character is too expressive there’s no room for you, if they’re not expressive enough, they seem too much like a stick-figure, a nobody.

I think that Skate goes an interesting direction which at least hints at some kind of solution space. In particular, it’s a non-speaking avatar who you can model on yourself (aesthetically, at least). But, at the same time, self-expression is built in in terms of selecting photographs of your skateboarder performing impressive tricks (and, for that matter, the performance of those tricks itself). By dodging speech as the primary mode of self-expression, Skate manages better than most games I can think of to convey a sense of ownership over the character.