Character development and communication in gaming

There are a lot of ways that characters can be developed in games. This could be something as simple as their communications with other characters in the game, dialogue, or simply a narrative. Every game has a different approach to the way they develop their characters, however almost every game depends on some form of communication to achieve this. Some of my most favorite games such as the Ratchet and Clank series on the Play Station Portable follow the idea of using a narrative to develop characters. The game uses short films in the middle of game play to both develop characters and further the plot of the game. This form of character and plot development is seen quite often in many games.


Journey is one game that uses a very different way to develop the main character and communicate between characters and the gamers. Journey is set in a vaguely Egyptian region, with appearances of several things such as many glyphs and symbols and of course the figure that possibly depicts the Egyptian goddess Isis, that point to this Egyptian influence. The way this game communicates between characters and gamers is something I have never seen before and find very interesting. Throughout the game, we control a robed figure that travels through a desert towards the mountains in the distance. What’s surprising to me was that the game had no mechanics allowing us to communicate with other characters, and we didn’t even see any cinematic scenes where the characters talked.


We start off as single player but often come across other characters, soon to realize that these are actually other players playing the game from around the world. Usually in cases like this, you would expect to be able to communicate with those players, for example, in Lord of the Rings Online, the world chat enables us to communicate with those characters, and we can also interact with them, and challenge them to duels or form a fellowship with them. However, in Journey, we can’t do any of this and the only possible way we could “communicate” with those characters is by “singing” and signaling to them. I found this form of communication very interesting, and after watching a couple of walkthroughs, I found that gamers ethos plays a big part in the game. I saw that many gamers would guide new gamers through the game and wait for them as they followed them – even though they didn’t actually know them. The game has an overlaying theme of maternity and has a very calm feel to it, and the actions of the gamers really represents it. The game shows clear and definite themes of romance, and this game really shows that games allow portray their creativity by using familiar themes in and shows that the same effects can be achieved in different mediums in variety of different ways.

Sunk Cost versus Characterization

There are a lot of good reasons to like a character in a narrative, whether it is a novel, movie or even video game. They can be written well with witty dialogue, have upstanding morals, or even can just be attractive. But there are those characters, who, like in Journey, are likable despite not saying anything or doing anything significant on their own. Now, there are micro-manipulations writers and developers can make to influence the consumer to actually want to like their creations (e.g. their physical mechanics including gracefulness, their coloring, the music that plays when focusing on them), but one possible thing to take into consideration is how much time the player is putting into these characters, and how that interacts with the character’s likability.

There’s a well-known fallacy/concept known as the sunk-cost fallacy, in which a businessman (or investor, etc.) will continue to put resources into something, despite having already put irrecoverable resources into it with no real gain previously, simply because they invested in it (and often heavily). This fallacy mostly is constrained to the world of economics, where it is most relevant, but it may be interesting to investigate its possible interactions with video games.

“Failing to Ignore Sunken Costs”

In a lot of video games, especially ones with heavy grinds such as MMO’s, the sunk cost fallacy manifests itself very strongly. Take, for example, the game Runescape, which is essentially one whole time sink machine. For most people, the ultimate goals are to reach the maximum levels in their skills (99 for oldies like me), which involves hundreds of hours of time put into single skills and eventually hours upon hours for single levels. If you’ve already put two hundred hours into reaching the next milestone, you will be much more reluctant to give up your lot and simply stop playing without actually reaching the milestone.

Narratives will have a different interaction with the fallacy than things like Runescape, though. In games like Journey, you’re not spending hundreds of hours trying to reach the end of the game. But you’re still putting in time, guiding this red-robed character with no real unique identification markers across the world to the mountain for the goal of completion. It is hard to say that the player-controlled character has any real markings of characterization – we don’t know its gender, it doesn’t speak, and we certainly don’t know what the exact motives of the character are throughout the story. Part of it might be that we have such a high level of control compared to many other games, where the character is predetermined, but in Journey the player is in charge of everything the character actually does.

Without real characterization, it might be hard to really answer why this character is likable, why we would want to sympathize with this character. I would primarily lay my claim as the idea that, by the time we start really thinking about whether or not we care about the character, we have invested enough time into the game for us to not really care about what’s been given to us about them, just that we’ve spent enough time with the character to want to ride out the rest of the story with them.

Which is certainly not to say that Journey isn’t worth finishing by itself. With such a fantastic soundtrack, interesting mechanics, intriguing and well-built up mystery, and some interesting but not complex landscape puzzles to figure out, the game maintains enough drive for the player to want to see the ascent up to the top of the mountain. While Journey certainly comes lacking in characterization, it is rare to find a game like it that can pull off that kind of experience without needing it.








Lost Connection

NOTE: Apparently this didn’t post the first time, so I’m going to try again. I apologize in advance if it ends up posting twice for whatever reason; just let me know and I’ll delete one of them.

BY: Billy Bunce

Due to technical difficulties which led to a total reformatting of my hard drive, I was only able to finish the Epic Quest Prologue and not Book I; therefore this blog post will focus only on the Prologue.

I must say that, while I was pleasantly surprised with the Prologue quest’s story overall, it certainly gave off a misleading first impression. Despite its titular “epic” nature, the early portions of the quest primarily consisted of me painstakingly and unnecessarily investigating a possible goblin sighting by asking around in the Shire. Don’t get me wrong; I love the way the quest culminated (raiding the goblin encampment actually did feel epic), but to me the beginning of the Prologue really highlighted one of the flaws of storytelling intrinsic to the dynamic nature of an MMORPG.

This dilemma is that of establishing a connection with the reader/player, allowing him/her to vicariously become affected by the narrative and how it plays out. Such an experience was most definitely not found in the beginning stages of this quest. I play the Warden, a class marked by a commitment to defend the weak and to “[protect] those who cannot protect themselves” ( The Introduction (which comes before the Prologue) did allow me to establish a connection with my character as a sort of heroic guardian, as I bravely rushed to protect the town of Archet from the Blackwold raid. I had mentally established my character as one who would never back down from a fight and who would put his own life on the line to save the innocent.

Yet, the Prologue quest would have me believe that, upon hearing of a goblin sighting, my first instinct would be to ask around about it, rather than to go out on a limb and investigate it personally. When the game forced me to passively inquire about the goblins rather than slay them, any connection I had with my character was lost; LOTRO had decided that Shandelin the Hobbit was different from whom I thought he was. If my character has a giant spear and the skill to use it, wouldn’t he act out of a desire to protect rather than a desire to learn? Although the plot for the rest of the quest was involving and helped to reestablish this broken bond, the opening to the Prologue clearly stuck out as a negative point which almost removed all characterization from the vertically-challenged avatar running around on my screen.

Herein lies the main problem with dynamic storytelling; it is almost impossible to tailor a specific story to a very unspecific character. I’m sure that had I played a Burglar, my internal characterization of him would be much different than that of my Warden. Due to financial and time constraints, however, the developers cannot possibly hope to create a narrative which fits every possible protagonist’s profile. They are forced to construct a relatively generic tale in which the main character is involved physically but not emotionally or mentally. This stands in stark contrast to statically-told stories, where the protagonist is clearly defined and, thus, always takes logical, believable actions as they relate to his overall characterization.

In The Fellowship of the Ring, we never encounter the aforementioned flaw of LOTRO because the character of Frodo is consistent and completely laid out for us; thus, we never experience a moment in the book where we are tempted to disconnect from him. The bond between the reader and Frodo only grows stronger as the novel progresses, due to his believability.  As the story is told statically rather than dynamically, we are able to experience a significantly more character-driven and involving plot. This static storytelling is not a monopoly held by books, either; movies and offline video games almost always use this approach as well. I am able to easily sympathize with Luke Skywalker in Star Wars or Cloud in Final Fantasy VII because they are clearly defined and their development is natural given their initial characterization. Even in BioWare’s sci-fi epic Mass Effect, where one’s individual character is completely unique, the player can still easily establish a connection with Commander Shepard (the generically-named, player-created main character) due to the fact that the choices made by the player actually affect the world, and one’s character is never forced to linearly proceed in a fashion which does not befit them.

The online game is a medium which, in terms of storytelling, is inconsistent at best. The developers don’t know exactly how you see your unique character, and as such it is incredibly difficult for them to tailor a believable experience to every single player. In the case of The Lord of the Rings, the game’s story differs so much from that of the book because of the inherent difference in the way the story is told – dynamically in the former, statically in the latter. Though Frodo is an exciting and interesting character to follow, my character in LOTRO doesn’t seem to have any sort of well-defined identity and it is therefore much more difficult for me to really care about what he does.