Characters in games are not often important, I mean can you even remember the name of your Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare character, that isn’t a knock against it, I love that game but the characters are not important when it comes to that game. Now even though you may be able to remember the name of the Call of Duty Character (wonderfully voiced by Troy Baker) he’s still not all that engrossing, you don’t know if he likes hot chocolate, or if he writes books on his down time, does he read poetry or did he grow up in an alley way fighting for food every night. Granted none of that is important when you’re trying to stop Kevin Spacey from taking over the planet but its little facts like that which help you grow relationships with fictional characters.
Having great characters in a game doesn’t make it great, and having bad characters in a game doesn’t make the game bad, as a wise man once said “Gameplay is king when it comes to games” but when you have great characters in a game it makes that game more memorable. Because of those moments you share wondering around the Storm coast in Dragon Age: Inquisition with Iron Bull, Varric, and Dorian, as they just leisurely chat about life in this fictional world, it gives you’re a sense of purpose and understanding as to why you’re on this random fetch quest to find a rare amulet that certainly won’t save the world but you will gain some favor from your party members.
Games like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and Persona have great characters that you can interact with in complete different ways every time. Maybe after school in Inaba you want hang out with Chie instead of Yukiko (Persona), or maybe you end up killing and entire Race of aliens instead of trying to help them (Mass Effect). Games like that give you a reason to love its characters. Branching storylines in games can be a very powerful and interesting thing; your buddy may have chosen to help the rebel mages instead of the Templars (Dragon Age). Weather you disagree with him or not, that’s his canonical story now, his game is fundamentally different than yours, That shapes and changes gaming universes’ and no matter how much you hated the ending to Mass effect 3 it was certainly an impressive journey for developers to keep all that straight.
Even games without decidedly different outcomes have a huge impact on story, Games like The Last Of us, Bioshock, Spec ops: The Line and The Walking Dead: Season 1 have Oscar worthy performances and stories in them. without spoiling anything, The last of us is a transcendent title that overreaches games in general, from the performances to the bleak world that naughty dog created, it is a testament to the fact that video games are an art form in anyway. Now granted two out of the three titles mentioned above involve you protecting a female, just like the classic Donkey Kong days, but it should also show us how far story telling has come In those short years, I’m no longer just chasing an ape to get back the princess, I’m fighting off a giant bird thing to protect a metaphorical princess (Bioshock). That should also tell us how far video games have to go as well, someday we will be able to tell great stories regularly without having to worry about Clementine getting her brains eaten(Walking Dead). Games like Spec Ops: The line show how that’s possible, it tells a crazy dark story while in the style of a military shooter without having to protect a damsel in distress.
There are hundreds if not thousands of games that I have not mentioned that have fantastic stories and characters, and that’s because I haven’t played thousands of titles. But this is not to say games without story are worthless or less than. Games like Destiny, World of Warcraft, and anything involving multiplayer are usually fantastic games in their own right, they are just different. And while I prefer the story missions in games, I think it’s important to note how far this particular part of the video game industry has come in terms of building characters and the worlds around them.