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Parasocial relationships with fictional characters and game design

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In a sense, this is a shameless ploy to put out a link to


, which made me consider the topic a bit deeper and is very well researched and presented (and no I'm not talking about the hat aligning with the fringe, though I was unable to unsee it for most of the video). Yet, let's go for quality and effort:

Obviously, many games have characters, usually of the completely fictional kind, which (as the video explains and references) means that players are prone to forming parasocial bonds with them — which isn't a good or bad thing in itself, the question that I'm having though, when it comes to design, is how to goad players into avoiding the toxic forms, and going for wholesome instead. The intuition or hypothesis, here, is that game design which avoids death threat tantrums is probably good design… not to mention that noone wants to recieve death threats, of course, just wanted to put out my opinion that saying "death threats are limiting artistic freedom" or something might just be not just occasionally a shoddy excuse for lazy writing.

Writing, which, as games are an interactive medium, has its unique challenges, but also opportunities, compared to making the same considerations for, say, a movie script, and sometimes the characters are so customisable that you can get a player forming a parasocial bond (including identification) with a character largely of their own making, only constrained by what the game world and mechanics are throwing at them. Ideally, without turning the whole thing into an entitlement simulation because sometimes you just gotta have a red wedding. Or Paarthurnax, to stick with the medium. Or at least 2/3rds of all Witcher 3 quests. You know, the tough stuff.

Contrasting the Skyrim and Witcher situation, one difference seems to be glaring: We, or Geralt, don't tend to have much investment in the half a gazillion side-characters which are caught between a rock and a hard place, we often get to choose between evils, the only thing we don't get to choose is to disneyfy the world. This avoids entitlement,There's still lots of opportunities to be kind, and generous, avoiding things to get too gritty. Witcher 3's atmosphere is a contrast between tough choices and easy choices.

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Paarthurnax, OTOH, is one of the rare, very rare occasions in Skyrim in which we're even forced into a moral choice, and he's a main cast member. He even bloody argues that there's good reasons he should be killed. Which, in a sane script, would even make the Blades reconsider their position, or at least delay the decision: First he's our mentor, then he's suddenly the bad guy, not because of his actions, but some faction's say-so, and we can't even lie to that faction even though they worship us. Given those factors I'm not surprised there's a mod out there that allows you to spare him and still continue the Blades questline. In my first playthrough, I slayed him, after having decided not to slay him, simply to game the game and still do the Blades questline, erasing me slaying him from my head canon. This is fan fiction: "The writers got it wrong, I'm going to write my own story". It's the kind of thing that bunches up underwear.

I never felt that need to game the script in the Witcher series, sure, there's tough calls to be made, traps you easily run into (unless you consult the wiki for every single descision, which I wouldn't recommend doing), but in the end it all still makes sense, because I do not expect the game to suddenly declare that the world is saved and everyone's going to live happily ever after.


As such, to sum up, what I'd identify, in a first pass, as the core things to keep an eye on are

  1. Toughness of choices should not lull and spike, but be evenly distributed on something like a bell curve, to aid in
  2. Choice limiting must be organic. The Red wedding is unavoidable? You better explain why no action our main cast could take would avoid it, or at least lead to something even worse. The player will be shocked, they will grieve, but they will accept. This is how the Crones thing works out in Witcher 3: They're simply too powerful to take on. They are the land, and we don't expect Geralt to shout "Lok Vah Kor" (clear skies) anytime there's a storm, either. As such, we can't save both the kids and the village (and, arguably, Velen's future).

Or, to put it even more bluntly: Script writing does not entitle you to sledgehammer your edginess. If you wanna have an edge, go ahead, but contextualise it properly.


Pfew that's pretty generic and, on the face of it, a lot of words for moderate results, pretty much only explaining what I already knew simply due to observing my own reactions. Which is why I posted this, there's got to be more perspectives on this.

Source: Original link


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