Think about some of the most memorable characters you’ve ever come across in gaming. For me, I can name a few off the top of my head: Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid, Mort from Mass Effect 2, JC and Paul Denton from the Deus Ex series, Phoenix Wright from the Ace Attorney series, etc. All of these characters have one thing in common: they reach out to the player and affect them in a positive manner. They improve the game as a whole and raise it to that next level.
But why? What is it about the characters I mentioned above and your favorite characters in gaming that make them so compelling? These characters are al;, and believe it or not, but there is a formula for developing strong, characters. And it all starts with…
In terms of the game’s world, that is. But believability does not refer to whether or not you believe the character could exist in the real world or even if they are indeed real characters in the game’s world. Rather, believability is referring to whether or not we are able to be convinced that the character in the game is real to us. A huge difference.
A character must also be able to interact with its environment and other characters as well in a manner that feels natural to the world around them. For example, in The Walking Dead, you wouldn’t expect Clementine to be worried about cleaning her house before her parents come home, right? How believable would that be?
The more you watch a character interact, learn, grow, etc., the more you believe that the character is truly a real, living being. Even if it’s an inanimate object, if it feels as if it has ‘life,’ it can be believable.
Aesthetics also play a vital role in the believability of the character. If the believability of a character is the ‘tone,’ then the aesthetics is the ‘visual’ element that ties everything together. Aesthetics and believability of a character go hand-in-hand. Think about it: if Mario looked realistic, fat, grungy, grumpy, and essentially homeless, you wouldn’t believe that he is part of a colorful, vibrant world, would you? Thus, you wouldn’t buy Mario as a strong character.
But he looks like he belongs in the world, but has enough of a unique touch that you totally buy that a plumber is able to jump on monsters and shoot fireballs out of his hands. Why? It’s because of the proper aesthetics of the Super Mario Bros. series.
Let’s flip the switch for a moment: what if Mario starred in Grand Theft Auto V? It would be laughable to watch a cartoonish Italian plumber trying to survive in the world of GTAV, but beyond that? You wouldn’t buy Mario as a believable character. The look of the game’ world, his look that looks out of place, and the way he behaves would immediately take you out of the world of the game and cause you to stop believing that Mario is a real person. Again, aesthetics and believability truly go hand-in-hand.
Tying it all together is consistency. It’s simple: the aesthetics and believability of the character have to be consistent at all times. Going back to The Walking Dead, you wouldn’t expect Clementine to start talking in a peculiar accent from time-to-time, and you wouldn’t expect her to randomly use big words that a little girl shouldn’t have in her vocabulary. Clementine is a young, innocent girl after all, and to be inconsistent with the character in that manner would kill the believability and the function of the aesthetics of the character: essentially, everything that makes Clementine a compelling character would begin to unravel, and thus, player’s connection to Clementine.
Do you have any advice/tips/comments on what makes a solid character? Let us know in the comments below!