There is a part one for this article!
Seriously though, if you haven’t read it you should read the first part.
While, the video presented in the first part of this article shed some light on the characters that we love and cherish for being who they are. Fleshed out individuals with goals and dreams, who we want to help accomplish. This left a severely under-appreciated position in the characters of whose personalities were more like blank slates waiting to be fulfilled. Now, you might be wondering if I’m referring to characters from series like Skyrim, Fallout or even Mass Effect where you’re the one in charge of determining a personality. But, you’d be surprise because I’m not. I’m referring actually to characters that have even less personality than a piece of wood, but are nonetheless important to us. These characters might be from MMO’s, adventure series such as Monster Hunter, and even games like Minecraft.
Part of me recognizes that while these characters do at least have one of the traits mentioned in the video, they aren’t enough to justify how close our attachment is to them . This is what led me to try to devise my own reasoning for how we can connect with them. Humans are complex creatures after all, and we don’t really need a specific reason to act the way we do. Sometimes it is just part of being who we are, that allows us to fill in the voids that these characters have in order to complete them.
Almost every gamer in the world will have their own unique reason for connecting with a character and as such this is a phenomenon that can’t be studied by regular means. It can’t be observed because it is a subjective topic. However, being logical never stopped anyone from devising their own theories, so let’s continue with this one.
Blanks slate characters are usually from games where the nature is extremely open-ended or lack a very complex storyline. We see this in games like Minecraft (as mentioned above), Monster Hunter, World of Warcraft, and even Animal Crossing. In essence we the playersare instructed in the slightest of goals, such as killing a specific foe(s) or even creating your own world. The freedom that these games provide allow us to connect on a much more basic level, which becomes central to the formation of the personality we project on to the characters. By allowing us to explore the inner mechanics of the game itself, instead of distracting us with personalities, and dare I say it their humanity, it leaves us much more space to react without bias.
The other aspect of this is that humans by nature are very much goal oriented creatures. By simply providing us with something as rudimentary as a basic goal it helps us connect with our avatar. The interesting aspect of this idea is that instead of the player being the one that is assisting the avatar. It is the character that is helping us achieve the goal at hand. I mean think about it, this character doesn’t have a personality, he doesn’t have a serious urge to complete the goal or any sense or urgency in completing it.
The whole world is not his responsibility because there are many others who can handle those jobs. This freedom allows players to turn the PC into a proxy for their own goals. In turn that helps us connect with them, and in a way their personality becomes an extension of our being. In itself we are powering these characters, we are their very soul. But, that isn’t the only reason why we care about them.
We love these characters because of what we can do for each other. All relationships should be a form of symbiosis. In this case these characters provide us an outlet for our desire to feel accomplished. Unlike in our real lives, video-games have a clear goal for which we are constantly reminded to strive towards. We (each other) help the characters complete their (our) goals, and in the way they become an extension of us. We the players are naturally goal oriented, but some might go their entire lives without discovering their own.
For the most part, life can make it difficult for humans to discover their goals. After all life doesn’t always cooperate with their motivations. In video games all of this is prearranged for you, you know who you are. What you’re doing or at least have a clue guiding you to your next objective. The fact that these characters don’t have this problem can make them extremely appealing to us.
One of the best aspects present in these characters is the freedom to choose. They can choose to be a hero similar to how a player can take up said mantle. Deep down we all realize that one person will never be able to save all of humanity. We can relate to the plight that hard work and dedication can pay off from these characters. They in turn teach us a valuable lesson in humility. As the tag line from Phantasy Star Online said “You are not the only hero”. This tag resonated with me on a very deep level because indeed the only way to be a hero is to work together. As such I formed an even deeper bond with the proxies of other players as well as mine.
To give an example of this, I will explain the main character in the series Monster Hunter:
A guild member who has started out his hunting career. This character has no personality, basic appearance, any real motivations except for hunting. This character lacks a lot of the traits mentioned in the video (at least at first). There is no real agency (unless the player provides it), the humanity isn’t there because hunters don’t display emotions, the contingency is practically non-existent (unless wearing the skin of your enemies count), and the only true appeal would be appearance because those armors are truly amazing. But, still players become extremely attached to their hunters because it appeals to their (own) human goal driven nature.
Hunters exist to hunt (as redundant as it sounds), their goals are extremely basic, it is a part of their nature to hunt these large creatures and as such it appeals to our base instincts. As a hunter we know what our objective is, and we seek to accomplish it to the best of our abilities.
Players don’t need overly complicated motives for connecting with our characters. I’ve met plenty of people who would rather not play as “the chose one”. The needs of the many are too numerous to list. As we grow to become adults, people realize that we aren’t the center of the universe. The reason we bond with our characters is unique to us. Sometimes these characters come to us in a time where we need someone the most. Players might just need someone to struggle with in their journey. To help them find the answer to each others hardships (problem solving can stimulate the mind), even when we actively try to make their own journey easier than ours. We understand that these characters aren’t real to the world, but they’re real to us.