Friday, March 13, 2015

Super serious does not equate to characterization

After pulling myself out of the Dragon Age: Inquisition coma, I decided to return to a genre of game that only I enjoy: sneaking. At first I prodded Dishonored (the game where Bioshock and Skyrim had an illegitimate child they keep locked in an attic). Despite hating the story and all the one dimensional characters, I freaking loved the mechanics. It's an odd feeling, like despising everything about a person except their legs.

But even those legs get exhausting after awhile so I picked up Shadows of Mordor, the Arkham asylum/Assassin's Creed bastard Ubisoft wishes it had put out instead of Unity. This slice of Lord of the Rings fanfic features one snooty elf, one ancient and out of it ruler, and - of course - a Gondor ranger with absolutely no emotions whatsoever.

Not this again!

I am so sick and tired of super serious main character. It's all anyone does. This is an affliction that falls predominantly upon the male species of media, as they are no longer able to summon an emotion beyond brooding, anger, and gas. That's it.

Gondor needs no doge

Our Gondor ranger is named Talion - I think. Shit, I'm almost done with the game and I know jack squat about him beyond dead wife and son because they're as creative as wet tissues at the bottom of a shoe. Because you can't have SUPER SERIOUS FACE without a SUPER SERIOUS VOICE to go with it, he speaks in such a low bass I can barely hear him as he mumbles through his dialogue with a pissy elf that I want to throw off the top of the tower. (When I learned the elf was also voiced by the man who was the Turian council member in Mass Effect, a whole lot of shit made sense.)

There was a brief moment in all the mumbling and brooding when Talion showed a second of humanity. It was with Ratbag, an orc you help raise to power for your own means. He was probably the best thing about the game too, which is really sad. In trying to get Ratbag to the position of Warchief, Talion kills an Uruk who turns out to have been the warchief's twin.

Talion tells Ratbag to be sure, "To show up to take the place of the dead warchief."

The orc responds with "Uh but the warchief's not dead."

And our emotionless leader slips a moment off the humanity-less leash and shouts in frustration, "I'm going to go kill him!"

That's it.

Otherwise it's brood brood brood, I'm not upset or devastated that my wife, my son, and I am dead. I'm just that background level of angry that gives me motivation but not characterization.

It's so bloody boring.

Arrow's suffering from the same problem. In their quest to make Batman: the live action series, they've run into a wall with their main character. Oliver has at best one emotion, disappointment. Even when he watches people get gunned down in front of him, even when it's his family, his response is a blank, "Oh crud."

They built him up to be that empty robot from the pilot and have nowhere to go. As they tear through his life giving and taking things away, because of Oliver's "Super serious" status, he can't react. There can't really be growth because there's nothing to grow from. It's like planting a seed in concrete. Even after Tommy died, all Ollie did was run back to his island so he could brood and chestwax in peace.

One could argue that, oh, well maybe this is the actor's fault. Except, island Oliver -- before he got the full Batman treatment -- was actually interesting to watch. He'd get frustrated, he'd joke, he'd be human. Present Ollie is a wooden stick with "serious" carved in it.

And our Gondor ranger is voiced by Troy Baker - memorize that name, you're going to be seeing it everywhere, you've already heard it. That man has voiced freaking everything. He was Booker in Bioshock, he was the Scoundrel in Diablo, he took over for the Joker after Hamill bowed out. (He's so eerily similar, I doubt you even noticed). When he's a companion or villain, the man's voice is full of emotion, but drop him into the protagonist and it's lights out.

I call it the Mark Meer effect. Another talented voice actor I go to the mattresses for because of Baeloth. But because of Male Shep (and people comparing him to FemShep), Meer is smeared with a "well, he's not very good." Look at the FemShep comparison again. Because she's female she gets to have emotions. She can be funny, upset, excited, happy; she can have a real range while a male protagonist gets - vengeful? Bioware is better, but there seems to be a dampener put on their male characters. They get shadows of an emotion while women get the full thing.

My exception to the rule is Male Hawke, who is flat out fun to listen to and why I had a nearly even breakdown of Hawkes by genders.

Why are women allowed to have emotions while the main male character must be as deep as a puddle? I suspect the issue is two-fold. One, for whatever reason media's decided that super serious = super important. If a character is shot in low saturation and only shouts pithy action lines through a terrible case of lockjaw, it has to be the most epic thing ever, right! Right?

DC, we're looking at you.

The super serious character means that actual characterization, the hard stuff to create, can be bypassed. It's a cheat for work. I could try to parse out what scares my character, what makes them happy, what drives them - or I could kill their family and make them serious. This is every single Liam Neeson character in the past decade.

Two, a lack of emotions makes male insertion that much easier.

Male insertion (ba-dum-tish) is the idea that guys need to be able to see themselves as a character to give a shit about them. It's a load of bull pushed by a society that treats men and boys like they're narcissistic toddlers, but because they've been coddled, they've come to accept it. It's why the GamerGater's throw a colossal tantrum at the idea of having to play as a woman or anything other than straight white guy. They're fucking terrified to think past their own navel.

And, because gaming companies, and tv shows, and movies are still stuck in a "only straight young white guys have money" mindset, they bend over backwards to court the solipsism. A super serious, one note character is easy to layer on top of. They have nothing in them, so nothing detracts from the bad-ass.

But when all you have is bad-ass repeated over and over, across all genres and media, it only comes out stinking like ass.

1 comment:

Tony Noland said...

Perhaps they don't let these characters have a sense of humor because they're afraid too many players have psychic scars from having told a joke that fell flat. A low snarl and an axe to your opponent's face is, by comparison, a much safer, more reliably form of interaction.