Bring Your Daughter to Murder Day

Shamus Young

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Bring Your Daughter to Murder Day

Within the last couple years, there have been several AAA games that have adopted a father-daughter type storyline (or the reverse in the case of the Tomb Raider). Shamus explains why the trend may be a logical progression of game design.

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Belaam

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Or perhaps it's also influenced by the fact that older gamers now have kids. The father-son thing has been played to death and generally also involves the death of the father so the son can come into their adulthood. Which is a little awkward when it's the real world father playing the game. But it's a little more comfortable having the dad survive (at least the length of the game) if they are protecting their daughter.

But I do expect to see more female protagonists if only because more gaming parents are going to want to introduce their daughters to gaming. Of the recent batch of AAA games, I personally enjoyed Farcry 3 and Bioshock Infinite over Tomb Raider, but Tomb Raider will almost assuredly be the first FPS game I have my daughter play.
 

Casual Shinji

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I actually kind of thought Booker and Elizabeth were gonna be an item from the amount I've played of Infinite. I never finished the game, and it wasn't untill later that I heard she was actually his daughter.
 

Albino Boo

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It's like seeing a child with an asthma inhaler in the story. Sure, in real life kids can and do carry around their inhalers with no problem, but in the context of a movie you KNOW sooner or later the asthma / inhaler will be used to ramp up tension or justify some course of action. The expectation is there, and if the kid never has any problems then it kind of feels like the story was wasting our time introducing all the asthma stuff.
I think you mean Chekhov's gun.

Anton Chekhov said:
Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there.
 

Scow2

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I for one am waiting for a game where the protagonist is a middle-aged soccer mom trying to protect her family with a shotgun and minivan.
 

remnant_phoenix

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Great article. It explains a lot. And I do wonder if the father-daughter thing in games that strive for meaningful storytelling is going to become overplayed the way that modern military is overplayed in shooters. I also, like Shamus, wonder what the next storytelling trend will be.

Scow2 said:
I for one am waiting for a game where the protagonist is a middle-aged soccer mom trying to protect her family with a shotgun and minivan.
I support this.
 

deathbydeath

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Scow2 said:
I for one am waiting for a game where the protagonist is a middle-aged soccer mom trying to protect her family with a shotgun and minivan.
You are dangerously close to describing Beyond Good & Evil. EDIT: I mean that in the good way, as BG&E is a fantastic game and very much worth playing.

Shamus Young said:
In movies, we can switch to other viewpoints and have scenes that don't feature the protagonist. In a video game that sort of cutscene sometimes feels strange and unwelcome.
This might come off as a bit nitpicky, but I'd argue that the Opening of Deus Ex [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9prGzsxt7Po] manages to make this work (admittedly this is the immediate introduction that serves to set up the story before we even find out who the protagonist is, so it's not like there's a jarring perspective shift. Plus it has the added bonus of a Cliff Stephens monologue).
 

rembrandtqeinstein

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Not a father daughter thing but in terms of action couples Broken Arrow remains one of the best movies of all time.

The action guy and action girl fight and survive deathtraps and save the city together. And on screen they don't screw, make out, or even kiss. Instead at the end after the bad guys are dead they look at each other, hug, and clasp hands. And that 6 seconds of hand clasp cements their relationship as partners, comrades in arms, and equals in each other's eyes.
 
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But whether you're tired of it or not, I'm willing to bet game writers are tired of it. If you're the one playing, then you might not mind the repetition. If you spend all your working hours slaving over video games, then it would probably get really boring after a few projects. It's like being an accomplished landscape painter and all anyone wants is for you to paint one particular mountain, over and over again. It's likely to get boring and pretty soon you'll be restless and looking for the chance to mix things up.
Not necessarily. There's a lot of plots that can be done with a certain person, especially a white male of adult years. I'm not saying you're wrong that writers might want to try something new, just that I know a lot of storytellers who have cheerfully used "white man" as the basic bones and built a thousand wildly different stories out of it.

Assuming we don't actually want to write a romance story, how do we avoid this? We can change the age of the sidekick of the protagonist to negate the reflexive romantic demand of the audience. But if she's just too old to plausibly have a relationship with a 30-something guy then she's probably too old to go on a violent adventure with us. (Again, I'm sure it's possible to make a fifty-year-old woman that's a good combat buddy, but that's not exactly the path of least resistance. There are lots of pitfalls on that road.)
One of the best things about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is Ming-Na Wen, aka Agent May, a 51 year old woman who goes on awesome adventures, has some well-choreographed fight scenes, and at one point has a fling with an agent 20 years her junior (which, now that I think of it, may be the only romantic arc in the story that wasn't aborted before we got to the actual romance). And nobody makes a big deal about her age. It may be a bit tricky, but at this point it's not at all an insurmountable task. There are easier paths for romantic coupling, sure, but it's comparing a gentle slope to level ground, rather than mountains to molehills.
 

freaper

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Belaam said:
Or perhaps it's also influenced by the fact that older gamers now have kids. The father-son thing has been played to death and generally also involves the death of the father so the son can come into their adulthood. Which is a little awkward when it's the real world father playing the game. But it's a little more comfortable having the dad survive (at least the length of the game) if they are protecting their daughter.

But I do expect to see more female protagonists if only because more gaming parents are going to want to introduce their daughters to gaming. Of the recent batch of AAA games, I personally enjoyed Farcry 3 and Bioshock Infinite over Tomb Raider, but Tomb Raider will almost assuredly be the first FPS game I have my daughter play.
I was thinking exactly this. Hopefully the new batch of female devs can get to work within the next five years.

Captcha: yeah right

*sigh* You're right, Captcha, why even get my hopes up...
 

svenjl

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Quite a few of these games involve the simple concept of protection of a female character, whether a sidekick (Bioshock Infinite) or a theoretically vulnerable child (TLoU, TWD). Crystal Dynamics explicitly stated they wanted the player to feel protective of Lara in the reboot. It's an easy technique used in story writing all the time to exploit people's natural tendency to sympathise with those in need, specially when in video games you so often get to play some kind of hero. It's a bit of a lazy crutch sometimes, imo. In my playthrough of TLoU Ellie turned into a viscous murder monkey towards the end of the game, which I regretted doing but I wanted to finish the game without spending hours being stealthy!
 

Errickfoxy

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albino boo said:
It's like seeing a child with an asthma inhaler in the story. Sure, in real life kids can and do carry around their inhalers with no problem, but in the context of a movie you KNOW sooner or later the asthma / inhaler will be used to ramp up tension or justify some course of action. The expectation is there, and if the kid never has any problems then it kind of feels like the story was wasting our time introducing all the asthma stuff.
I think you mean Chekhov's gun.

Anton Chekhov said:
Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there.
That and Conservation of Detail. If the asthma inhaler has nothing to do with the story, you don't show it, because it's an extraneous detail. I feel Chekov's Gun is more about showing something early so when it does become important later it doesn't seem like it came out of nowhere. Though there's a fair bit of overlap there.
 

Errickfoxy

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And what I wanted to say for myself, reading this article made me think. How about a story where the player character is a mother with a young son to protect from whatever the bad guys in this particular story are? I think that would be pretty interesting to see and/or play through.
 

lesterley

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Is a sister/brother duo completely out of the question?

(I'm an only child, by the way...)
 

TheMightyMeekling

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lesterley said:
Is a sister/brother duo completely out of the question?

(I'm an only child, by the way...)
There is Costume Quest by DoubleFine, but I can't think of any AAA titles that have one.
 

Kingjackl

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I like that all three of the big father-daughter games (The Walking Dead, Bioshock Infinite, The Last of Us) were able to make their daughter characters protagonists in later instalments. If this is a gambit by developers to get more characters out there than generic middle-aged white dudes, it's nice to know some of it's paying off.

I'm interested in the idea of a gender-flipped version of the father-daughter thing. Are there any games that involve a mother protecting her son, or something of that nature?
 

Kahani

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Errickfoxy said:
I think you mean Chekhov's gun.

Anton Chekhov said:
Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there.
That and Conservation of Detail. If the asthma inhaler has nothing to do with the story, you don't show it, because it's an extraneous detail. I feel Chekov's Gun is more about showing something early so when it does become important later it doesn't seem like it came out of nowhere. Though there's a fair bit of overlap there.
The trouble is that these should not be taken as absolutes. See here [http://www.giantitp.com/articles/YUMiX2JPVjHIJ6h5VlD.html], for example. In some cases adding plenty of extra details can actually be extremely important. That article is about roleplaying games, but it's applicable in lots of other areas. Take a murder mystery, for example. If you don't fill the world with lots of details to mislead both the audience and your characters, there can be no mystery at all.

Even in other stories and genres, background detail can often be a good way of just setting the tone or giving things a bit more character. That gun hanging on the wall might be mentioned simply to let the audience know that the person who lives there is the sort of person who has a gun hanging on the wall; maybe a hunter or a retired soldier or something. The gun itself could be completely irrelevant and never mentioned again, but the world and characters are that little bit more fleshed out because of its presence.

When it comes down to it, Chekhov was simply wrong to say that the gun should not be there if it's not going to be used. The overall idea of conservation of detail is not a bad one, but it's not something that should be adhered as an unarguable dogma. You don't want to flood your works with unnecessary details that just confuse your audience and get in the way of the important parts, but neither do you want to remove all extraneous detail to leave a dead, flavourless world with the characters simply jumping from plot point to plot point.
 

VondeVon

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I always groan with irritation when 'the main people' hook up. Partly because I find the link between sex and love to be bizarre and partly because it always 'closes off' other options.

lesterley said:
Is a sister/brother duo completely out of the question?
I'd enjoy something like that. It sidesteps this apparent player expectation for sexual hookup between similarly-aged heterosexual pairs too. I'd also enjoy a range of siblings in something like a disaster-event game where all of them are at different places and communications are down and their only hope to find each other is to set off for home and hope the others do too. You could play it from multiple perspectives.

Kingjackl said:
I'm interested in the idea of a gender-flipped version of the father-daughter thing. Are there any games that involve a mother protecting her son, or something of that nature?
That would be nice to see. We kiiinda saw it a little with Tess and Elli.

I think it might not happen for a while, though. I can't think of any movies or tv shows with a similar theme (although I don't watch many). For some reason I can picture a woman defending the home very easily but it is slightly more difficult to imagine one actively roaming the way, say, Joel would.

Maybe that's just tied into my personal style. If I were in the world of Last Of Us, for example, I'd move a lot more slowly and cautiously, seeking to avoid, snipe or escape danger rather than slug it out. I'd use knives instead of fists because I know I don't have the power behind my blows that a guy might have. I'd pick up mace along my travels because a quick spray would make the stabbing easier. Grenades and noise-makers would also be preferable to a shotgun. As a woman, I have absolutely no problem killing people (and in fact would be much more likely to do so I think) - but my gender and personal strength/fitness levels would absolutely change my tactics.
 

CaitSeith

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It's like seeing a child with an asthma inhaler in the story. Sure, in real life kids can and do carry around their inhalers with no problem, but in the context of a movie you KNOW sooner or later the asthma / inhaler will be used to ramp up tension or justify some course of action. The expectation is there, and if the kid never has any problems then it kind of feels like the story was wasting our time introducing all the asthma stuff.
Oh, The Goonies! The main character's asthma was pretty much useless in the plot. It was only used as an explanation of why he wasn't allowed to go outside that rainy day (and as a minor pun in at the end).
 

UberPubert

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Thunderous Cacophony said:
Not necessarily. There's a lot of plots that can be done with a certain person, especially a white male of adult years. I'm not saying you're wrong that writers might want to try something new, just that I know a lot of storytellers who have cheerfully used "white man" as the basic bones and built a thousand wildly different stories out of it.
Ah, thank you. This is a big reason I came to the comments.

Stereotypical looking protagonists aren't a writer's problem; they're barely even the artists' problem, considering most of these superficial characteristics are assumed simply by looking at the head - they can (and oftentimes do) go gonzo everywhere else. "white male" is not a limiter unless people begin making assumptions about what "white males" can and cannot do in a story.

Fundamentals of game design (how to teach players a skill, increasing complexity, testing their knowledge etc) are much larger stumbling block due to the inevitable call for story contrivances demanded by what people expect in a game and indeed are the foundation upon which some of the greater ones have been built.

OT: I think it's funny to note that male-and-male protagonist-sidekick relationships are still commonplace, but almost always in militaristic settings. Maybe if people saw two guys in a close relationship wandering around on an adventure outside of a predominantly male occupation people would start questioning their sexuality? I dunno, something to chew on.