22 October 2010

Perspective, the protoganist and games - by Bjorn Bednarek

      Posted 10/18/10 11:31:00 pm  

I watched a couple of episodes of the rather excellent Sherlock yesterday, and was struck by a fairly common device used in TV, film and literature that I can’t remember being used at all in games: a difference in knowledge between the protagonist and the viewer.

The example from Sherlock was a scene where the viewer sees the title character fight off an unknown assailant, and then no mention of this fight is made throughout the rest of the episode. The viewer knows that a fight occurred, but not with whom or why. Sherlock knows more about the fight than the viewer does.

The device is used to create intrigue and separation between viewer and protagonist. As the viewer follows the protagonist through the story, there is a difference in knowledge between them, even though the viewer and protagonist are seeing the things.

In games, a common (ubiquitous?) goal is to align the player and the protagonist as closely as possible. Male power fantasies are the dominant vehicle, and the avatar’s knowledge is equal to the player’s knowledge. The only time I can think of a knowledge difference between the two is when the player receives help form the game, and the agency is stretched by the protagonist telling the player the current goal (or talking to himself if done more subtly).

I’m not sure if it’s a good idea to purposefully create a separation between protagonist and player in the interactive medium of games, and I haven’t really thought about how to do it; it was just something that struck me.

Here's some ideas to maybe kick off further discussion and ideas:

1. A knowing, smirking protagonist who knows more than the player whilst goading the player by breaking the fourth wall might be fun.

2. Separating the protagonist and the player would seem to be a simple way to achieve knowledge difference - the player becomes a part of the story, not the driver.

3. The player is directly adressed and given lots of information, then cast in the role of a protagonist who knows little of that information (there's something of this between the playable character in Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy)

4. The player's goals are shrouded in mystery to them, but clear to their character. So the goals are specific "unlock that door" but not general "why do I need to unlock that door". The character knows, the player does not.

--note: Dr Watson is the secondary character in Sherlock, but he often fulfils the role of the viewers’ perspective, which is an important but not necessary part of this structure. In this case, he knows even less than the viewer, not having witnessed the fight at all. It might be argued that Watson is the protagonist, but in this case he would know less than the viewer, which is just another difference between them.

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