Clichés get a bad rap. There I said it. Whether someone is pulling a Murtaugh, or the pure in heart and intention virgin couple survive the homicidal maniac genius; Clichés never fail to induce groans, sighs and rolled eyes. The thought has stopped occurring to people that some of these exist for very good reason. Just like any other medium; Video games are not safe from clichés either, often relying on them to set the scene, introduce the characters and teach us about the game. Here’s a list of five of the biggest Video Game clichés and why we need them.
Culprits: Fable, Elder Scrolls, Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Almost every Nintendo game
Arguably one of the most well-known clichés in the business; you play as the simple boy/girl/forest-fairy who leads quiet life though they may not quite fit in. Until one day when the evil Witch/robotic-alien-overlord/gypsy/government starts shit stirring. Our hero/heroin has to suck it up and take the fate of the world on their shoulders against all odds; because they know what have to do and whether they like it or not, they’re the only guy/girl for the job.
In a pre-destined role playing game, often this is an absolute necessity. It allows the protagonist to fit into a template easily recognised by every gamer and non-gamer alike. These characters are often very relatable and even more likable, an underdog who never asked for the responsibility of saving the world. Aside from this, it also provides a vessel for the player to empathise and even impose themselves into the role, making the game a much more tangible role-playing experience.
The Batman Complex/Uncle Ben Syndrome
Culprits: Assassin’s Creed 2+3, Batman, God of War (Partially),
Another instantly recognisable Cliché made immortal by, of course, Zorro, Batman and Spider-man. In this scenario the protagonist has it all, and when I say all, I mean family and friends. Regardless of their monetary situation or trials they have endured; they are surrounded by people they love and are truly happy. This is, of course, until these people are dragged kicking and screaming from their life in some fantastically mawkish tragedy (sometimes their own inadvertent mishap). From there our hero cries “Justice!!!” and sets on a quest to right the wrongs that have befallen them and the world.
This Character is often confused with the reluctant hero but the main difference is significant; choice. While the reluctant hero does not have a choice in their fate, this character makes an active and conscious decision to pursue justice and the path of righteousness in the world. People go batshit insane for this because everybody loves conviction this particular cliché sells it by the truck load. This character sets a goal and dedicates their life to it, sacrificing any chance of happiness. Selfless and relentless, they take revenge on the people that ruined them and the world that allowed it.
Tedious Introduction Sequence
Culprits: Ego Draconis, Many many Metroids, Fire emblem, Portal, Assassins Creed 2
This is possibly one of my most hated video game clichés. In this scenario, we either play the character from their humble, awkward beginnings or for some terribly unconvincing reason; our protagonist has forgotten their skills in a tragic accident. Alternatively and just as unconvincing, they have lost all the crazy powers, weapons and upgrades they have acquired on their travels. It almost feels as if the developers think the player is of less favourable intellect; forcing us to suffer through these frustratingly simple commands. That said, much of the time they’re vital.
The internet is littered with complaints about these sequences; everybody wants to dig straight into the action. Unfortunately, a lot of great games require a good understanding of a complex control system and hence require a tutorial. For the alternative without the complexity; these almost juvenile hours spent building up our character to previous glory serves a more personal purpose too. They allow the player to join a previously established character in a vulnerable state, learning and growing with them.
Losing your equipment
Culprits: Metal Gear Solid, Dishonored, Fallout New Vegas, Elder Scrolls
This is another frustrating moment in any video game. Our very strong and very well equipped character is bested, usually in a sneaky trap or some other method of dirty tactics; fade to black. Soon we awake to find that all our awesome gear is missing and god damn panic ensues. Cue a dastardly speech and a tumble to a prison, possibly some sort of slave bomb collar if they’re feeling particularly mischievous and hey presto, we have a cliché!
I find the main point of these situations is to ground the player. We get taken by surprise and ultimately forced to face the harsh reality that we’re not Keanu Reeves. This is one of the few clichés that I truly love. We have to rely on ingenuity and tactics in a very against-odds situation. It adds a new dimension to the game when it’s all too easy to be overpowered. All we have are the skills that we’ve learned through playing to survive and that’s something I will never tire of.
Culprits: Legend of Zelda, Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Half Life, Pokémon, Final Fantasy, Super Mario
There is nearly an endless amount of games where the protagonist doesn’t have a voice. Many people find this frustrating, wanting there to be a voice to the voiceless. It is unrealistic that when we play a character that there is no voice behind it. Most of these will grunt and scream in battle fine, but when it comes to conversation our hero becomes a little bashful.
Again this is another cliché that I love. I personally think that adding a voice to many of these games would ruin the magic. Especially considering that many of these have spent decades enforcing the strong, silent vibe. It adds a more personal aspect to the character, allowing us to see their true selves outside of the realm of words but on another level in actions.