Thursday, February 05, 2009

old fogies

Looking at that picture of General Patton in a previous post, it occurs to me that game protagonists are rarely, if ever, old. James Bond might be the only character over 40 that I've ever played as in a video game. Of course, I don't play slow-paced detective games.

It makes sense that the majority of protagonists would be young, just as they are in films. Young people have more mobility, sharper reflexes, room for new romantic relationships, more to learn and more to discover about themselves, etc. But is this lack of elderly player-characters an odd gap?

Some elderly traits could make for interesting story elements and gameplay twists. For example: long and tested relationships, a focus on younger generations, limited ability to flee or pursue, a patient pace, extensive familiarity with certain places and things, a value system at odds with current events and culture, preference for old tools and strategies, etc.

It's not that I think old people should be represented. I just think old protagonists could offer gameplay not possible with younger characters. It's a possibility to keep in mind when starting a new game.


  1. It's not just games. We live in a youth-obsessed culture -- just check out ANY of the top 10 TV shows and you'll see very few people who look over 40, and that's already pushing it.

    It's ironic that we feel we have to justify the inclusion of not-young people in media in general (games included). I should be able to make a 60 year old warrior if I bloody please *and* I certainly shouldn't have to explain that choice to anyone.

    Then again, we're still wrangling over the inclusion of women in games, so maybe I'm reaching a little high. :P

  2. You're right, we are a youth-obsessed culture. Old actors are plentiful, but they're rarely introduced to the public when they're old (meaning we watched them act when they were young and grew up with them).

    Do you think female protagonists generally act as women? Or do they act more like sex-neutral characters who happened to have tits and a smokin' body? Are any games really told and felt through a female perspective?

  3. Just look at the youth's comments over the Super Bowl half-time show.

    "zomg why Springsteen? I don't want to see my grandpa on stage flailing a guitar around! Who the hell is this old geezer anyway?"

    Western games aren't nearly as bad. Our MMORPG characters typically look in the 25-40 range depending on how we set their facial appearances.

    Characters in action or shooter games seem to be in the late 20's or early-to-mid 30's as well.

    Compare that to so many JRPG though... Heroes are always children. Adults are at best kindly mentors for the hero children, but normally fill the role of Bad Guys.

    @Ysh: can that 60-year old warrior of yours maintain a run speed with the rest of the group or does his arthritis and bum knee slow him down? :p~

  4. MMOs? They're male-biased for the most part. NPC quest text is usually male even when it's a female that's interacting with the NPC (no specific examples on hand, but trust me I've seen it often enough).

    Most female gamers I know (myself included) aren't really as rabid as we may sound, but the general apathy on the subject ("it doesn't bother me, so I really don't see what the big deal is") can make us a little heated. ;) I'll be posting on that sooner or later, something sparked me off yesterday.

    As for age, fantasy has issues in that respect anyway, because of its close ties to specific archetypes. The hero almost HAS to be young, because epic journeys are journeys of self-discovery and older people have generally made those. And then of course you have the old sage/guid archetype. Female-wise, you have the crone (who can also, but doesn't have to be, a witch) -- not quite the same as the wise old guy, but not too far off.

    Blackadder side-track. I can never mention old wise women without thinking of Rowan Atkinson. Humour hijack:

    Crone: Ah, the Wisewoman.. the Wisewoman.
    Edmund: Yes, the Wisewoman.
    Crone: Two things, my lord, must thee know of the Wisewoman. First, she is ... a woman! ...and second, she is ...
    Edmund: Wise?
    Crone: You do know her then?
    Edmund: No, just a wild stab in the dark which is incidentally what you'll be getting if you don't start being a bit more helpful. Do you know where she lives?

  5. Ysharros hit the nail on the head but I really like your list of what they could bring. Pixar is doing this in its shorts and in its next movie, UP! I don't see any reason why games can't as well.

  6. How about Tale of Tales and The Graveyard? :p

    "extensive familiarity with certain places and things, a value system at odds with current events and culture"

    This is the part that I find most interesting, in terms of what I might want to explore in a game. But how would you make a game where the player already has "extensive familiarity" with anything? Games are often about learning and becoming familiar, and it's hard to assume that the player will start with some particular knowledge.

    I guess there are at least three ways to deal with this. One is to assume extensive familiarity with certain current, real-life things (and set the game in a time or place where these things are unknown or forgotten by most characters). Another is to make the first half of the game about gaining this familiarity, and then have the player grow old while the rest of the game world moves on, or cut ahead to the future like Rip Van Winkle, perhaps. Or you could try to design the game so the player feels as if they are already familiar with things, more like the way a movie might convey that sense.

  7. I meant that the protagonist, the player's character, demonstrates extensive familiarity. I was thinking mainly of locales. An elderly person who has lived in one place for decades is likely to know quite a lot about that town or area. That's character knowledge that could prove useful in gameplay. Locale is just one possibility, though.

    As for culture, people generally have some limited familiarity with the cultures of their parents' and grandparents' generations. So players wouldn't necessarily be left in the dark while playing a character from a culture not their own.

    It could be really interesting if a game involved a protagonist from an elder generation adventuring through the modern world and constantly providing commentary from that perspective.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.