The Plight of the Mary Sue Character in Games

Yahtzee Croshaw

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The Plight of the Mary Sue Character in Games

Tragic figures in games are nothing new, but their skills almost always outweigh any visible flaws. Yahtzee examines the Mary Sue-style character in games.

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Neurotic Void Melody

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*Scribbles down extra notes for Yahtzee's psychological profile*
Fascinating. This is a colourful picture of majestic despair somehow spiralling upwards.

Usually the Mary Sue character (why that name?) would grate with me, though by now i may be desensitised to it, however, Geralt at least this time conveys some humour and the weird odd human moment now and again. Made I chuckle once or twice too. That already puts him above the seas of undeservingly praised other protagonists.
But it is annoying to be loved without reason in these fictions. It is immediatly suspicious. Like some sinister cult of smiles just waiting for you to lower your guard so they can smother your soul and devour your skin. Fuck off, happy people! I know what you are! You won't have me!! Er but yeah, knowing that the author is probably getting off to their totally amazing creation that can have all the exotic sex their crushingly isolated real self could never have, is...a little off-putting to say the least. In the very extremes, we get 50 shades of projected fantasy grey and, well...almost all bad male action movies.
 

ExileNZ

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Dude, this is why you (EDIT: Yahtzee, not any other posters) needed to play more of the first game - Witchers are generally reviled because they literally kidnap children, then train them to death Spartan style.

I don't know how they come across in The Witcher 3, but certainly in the first game a lot of relatively ordinary people disliked or distrusted Geralt - including a fair share of hypocrites and bigots, because the whole point was that everyone is a hypocrite or a bigot one way or the other.

Geralt is also famous for saving a princess, so he's about as liked as Witchers ever get. He is the rockstar of Witchers - young ladies love a bad boy but their parents all want to keep him at arm's (or pitchfork's) length.
 
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You know, this part made me think:

But in a video game, the plot revolves around the protagonist by necessity
Could a game ever work where you are not the star of the show? There's someone more competent than you, around which the story revolves, and you are an observer or support. I'm curious if this could work, although it'd definitely be difficult to justify it to the people asking "Wait, why am I not playing as him?"
 

UrinalDook

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This is the possibly the most nitpicky quibble I've ever committed to the internet, but fuck it.

Geralt is a master swordsman (who uses two swords 'cos he's so great)
He carries two swords, he only ever uses one. To use Yahtzee's plumber analogy, it's like calling a plumber a cocky nobhead for using a wrench and a plunger (alright, alright I know nothing about plumbing). They're different tools for different jobs.

Anyway, agree with the rest of the piece. Witchers are pretty Mary Sue as is - and Geralt's the mary sue-est of the mary sues, given that the biggest witcher drawback - lack of empathy and emotion - doesn't seem to stop him from showing a ton of both where Ciri and Yen are concerned. But fuck it, it makes for an entertaining video game protagonist. Games are all about letting the player do things they can't do in real life. May as well double down and let the player do all the things they can't do in real life.

EDIT:

The Almighty Aardvark said:
You know, this part made me think:

But in a video game, the plot revolves around the protagonist by necessity
Could a game ever work where you are not the star of the show? There's someone more competent than you, around which the story revolves, and you are an observer or support. I'm curious if this could work, although it'd definitely be difficult to justify it to the people asking "Wait, why am I not playing as him?"
I don't whether you think this counts, but arguably (as far as the main story is concerned) you are not the main character in Oblivion. Martin "Sean Bean" Septim is the destined hero who saves the world, not you. You're basically his sidekick.

Of course, you can also literally become a god so maybe that's not the best example.
 

Thanatos2k

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I've found that if I like a character, I have no problems whatsoever if they're a Mary Sue. Conversely, if I don't like them, their Sue-ness only increases my hatred.

So I guess it all comes down to likability.
 

Areloch

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Pretty interesting article.

I also read that the books imply that Witchers are becoming less needed because monster attacks are tapering off. So you have weird, for-hire monster-hunters that kidnap kids, and what they ARE good for is becoming less and less needed anyways.

That aspect works pretty well in Witcher 3, I think, as the major cities don't have monster problems, so most of the populous has the 'ew, a freak' reaction, while the people out in the middle of the swamp that DO still deal with monsters are more than pleased to have a witcher show up and fix the problem properly.

There's also quite a few characters that see Geralt and just think he's weird, but otherwise indifferent(interestingly, these seem to be characters in relatively high positions, such as the one Nilf general you meet, or the one head witch-hunter guy).

UrinalDook said:
The Almighty Aardvark said:
You know, this part made me think:

But in a video game, the plot revolves around the protagonist by necessity
Could a game ever work where you are not the star of the show? There's someone more competent than you, around which the story revolves, and you are an observer or support. I'm curious if this could work, although it'd definitely be difficult to justify it to the people asking "Wait, why am I not playing as him?"
I don't whether you think this counts, but arguably (as far as the main story is concerned) you are not the main character in Oblivion. Martin "Sean Bean" Septim is the destined hero who saves the world, not you. You're basically his sidekick.

Of course, you can also literally become a god so maybe that's not the best example.
Would Halo 3: ODST count? You're the chump rookie that got knocked out on your first major deployment and then spend the rest of the adventure trying to catch up to your seniors who were actually getting stuff done while you were unconscious.

You only really help the main events towards the end when you meet back up with everyone.
 

Thanatos2k

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The Almighty Aardvark said:
You know, this part made me think:

But in a video game, the plot revolves around the protagonist by necessity
Could a game ever work where you are not the star of the show? There's someone more competent than you, around which the story revolves, and you are an observer or support. I'm curious if this could work, although it'd definitely be difficult to justify it to the people asking "Wait, why am I not playing as him?"
Go play White Knight Chronicles.

Spoilers: Doesn't work very well.
 

CrystalShadow

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The Almighty Aardvark said:
You know, this part made me think:

But in a video game, the plot revolves around the protagonist by necessity
Could a game ever work where you are not the star of the show? There's someone more competent than you, around which the story revolves, and you are an observer or support. I'm curious if this could work, although it'd definitely be difficult to justify it to the people asking "Wait, why am I not playing as him?"
That might be able to work... I can think of one example, but it leans heavily on competent AI.
You can see it in MMO's, which rely on teamwork, and where AI incompetence isn't a factor (due to the multiplayer nature)

OK, so by design an mmo party is intended so no one person stands out.

But boiled down to it's essence, it is basically a 3 man team. (larger teams are just multiples and variants of this)

Dps, tank, support.

Thematically, the tank is usually the hero type. (though not always Star Trek online follows this model closely, and the 'tank' is an engineer in this case, which is not the typical hero in that setting)
However, mechanically you see it pretty clearly.

The DPS person is the one doing almost all the damage. They are the one doing the actual 'work', and they are what end up taking down the bad guys. (and thus potentially taking all the credit, if they are jerks).

The tank's job isn't to defeat anyone. Rather, it's to distract the enemy, and draw their fire. They are there to protect the others, and keep the more fragile team members alive, by virtue of taking the hits for them,

The support... heals and buffs, and generally keeping everyone else alive, and making what they do vastly more effective.

The support especially rarely gets much of the credit for anything. But if you look at this model, I would argue you could still build a viable game around being the support. As long as the 'hero' ai is competent enough to avoid just being a frustrating, useless thing.
Could be interesting, actually...

On topic, I would say the nature of a video game protagonist often leads to them being a mary sue by design. Even if story-wise the character isn't, by virtue of their role in the world, how the actions of a player look in context, and even the fact that, in a quite literal sense, a game world revolves entirely around it's players...
A player character can't help but be a mary sue no matter how the character itself is portrayed.
To portray them as anything else is in fact just going to create various degrees of narrative dissonance, and make the gameplay and story seem more and more disjointed.
 
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UrinalDook said:
I don't whether you think this counts, but arguably (as far as the main story is concerned) you are not the main character in Oblivion. Martin "Sean Bean" Septim is the destined hero who saves the world, not you. You're basically his sidekick.

Of course, you can also literally become a god so maybe that's not the best example.
I think the fact that Patrick Stewart Uriel Septim just needs to look at you before saying "You! You are destined for greatness" is a bit of a shot against it as well.



Thanatos2k said:
Go play White Knight Chronicles.

Spoilers: Doesn't work very well.
Who's the main character in that one? Reading a plot description it sounds like it's Leonard (who I'm guessing you're playing)

EDIT:

CrystalShadow said:
That's kind of what I was imagining myself. I like support roles a lot, and I think that could actually be rather fun. However, as you said, it relies on AI being a whole lot less shitty than it currently is. Plus there's the issue of coordination being really difficult when you're just dealing with computers.

Huh, I don't know why I'm implying that's not the case with people
 

JCAll

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The Almighty Aardvark said:
Who's the main character in that one? Reading a plot description it sounds like it's Leonard (who I'm guessing you're playing)
The game starts you off letting you create a custom character. But your custom character isn't the main character, he's the main character's mute generic pal that decides to tag along on the adventure.
 

Covarr

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Thanatos2k said:
Go play White Knight Chronicles.

Spoilers: Doesn't work very well.
It fails in White Knight Chronicles for several reasons, but the concept could still done properly. It doesn't work here because there's really no incentive to play as not the main character when you can also play as the actual main character, and frankly the game had a lot of other flaws not related to the presence of a distinct avatar character at all.

Ideally, a game where you play exclusively as a secondary character would do a few things:

[ol]
[li]The true hero of the story is not always (or even usually) around. They can be off doing something that impacts the story in a significant way, and you have to find out after the fact, once the consequences of his actions impact you.[/li]
[li]When you and the hero are fighting together, you play an active support role, not just an extra party member. This could mean playing healer, or disabling enemies so that the hero can get hits in, etc. Not too different from how teams play in an online game.[/li]
[li]The game's major plot revolves around the big hero, but the emotional story and themes revolve around the player character. Perhaps a focus on feeling powerless compared to the hero, or annoyed at being dragged on someone else's quest.[/li]
[/ol]

I think the idea of two at-odds stories running at once, one driven by an external conflict and observed almost as an outsider, the other driven by internal conflict and human growth of the player character, could be really interesting. I've actually been thinking about this a lot lately as an idea for a novel or movie, but it could work especially well as a game if done right.

P.S. Thanks

P.P.S. But seriously, White Knight Chronicles isn't all that good and doesn't even attempt something on this level; its storytelling style is pretty bog-standard, and the avatar concept it employs feels like an afterthought. It's hardly an example of the "you are not the main character" concept being used to anywhere near its full potential.
 

Spushkin

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UrinalDook said:
Anyway, agree with the rest of the piece. Witchers are pretty Mary Sue as is...
Well, if you don't count Lambert, he doesn't give a damn about anything or anyone and is a pretty horrible, remorseless, cruel person. However, he still manages to be a cool character, and I actually liked him, so kudoz to the game writers and the actor.
 

shrekfan246

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The Almighty Aardvark said:
That's kind of what I was imagining myself. I like support roles a lot, and I think that could actually be rather fun. However, as you said, it relies on AI being a whole lot less shitty than it currently is. Plus there's the issue of coordination being really difficult when you're just dealing with computers.

Huh, I don't know why I'm implying that's not the case with people
Party-driven RPGs have kinda already tackled that problem.

Particularly Dragon Age and Final Fantasy XII, where you can set up exactly what you want the AI to do and when they should do it. And even then you can still manually step in at any time.

Not that it helps with the "playing a game where you're not the star of the show" thing.

I suppose in a way the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare games did that, though it's a pretty thin line between secondary protagonist and supporting character.
 

Sheo_Dagana

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The Almighty Aardvark said:
You know, this part made me think:

But in a video game, the plot revolves around the protagonist by necessity
Could a game ever work where you are not the star of the show? There's someone more competent than you, around which the story revolves, and you are an observer or support. I'm curious if this could work, although it'd definitely be difficult to justify it to the people asking "Wait, why am I not playing as him?"
Technically speaking, we observe this in Final Fantasy X. Tidus isn't so much the person the plot revolves around as he is the trigger for change - the outsider in a world full of people that don't ask questions. He sparks change, but it's Yuna that ultimately carries it out and is the one whom the plot revolves around. For all his talk of it being his story, Yuna is truly the star of the show, while Tidus takes on the role of protagonist purely for the sake of exposition. Tidus is a bit of a Mary Sue as well; his perfect hair, body, blitzball skills, and natural talent with a sword are the only reason he's along for the ride, but he's definitely not the star of the show.

OT: I'd kind of been bothered by this about Geralt for a while now, but as Yahtzee says, almost any video game protagonist fits this role. Especially in RPGs, where the main character has inexplicable ties to all the world's major players and villains. This is especially obvious in games like Mass Effect or Dragon Age, where being diplomatic means being really, really nice.

Geralt kind of reminds me of a fantasy version of Solid Snake - bearded, handsome to all the ladies, repeats most things said to him, narrates out loud pretty often, and has the dark, rumbling "you can tell I'm a badass because of how gravelly my voice is." I don't think it makes him a bad character, since I haven't read the books, I just take it for what he is a drive him around as my vehicle for the plot.
 

RealRT

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Geralt has a pretty damn good reason for having two swords - the silver sword is good for most monsters, but it'd be a pretty poor weapon against humans and more mundane kinds of monster, hence the steel sword - AND HE NEVER USES THEM BOTH, ONLY ONE AT A TIME. He also constantly gets ripped off, framed, lied to, cheated, used, abused and screwed over - and he's not without his own sins.
Of course, to know that Yahtzee would actually have to play the bloody games.
 

hermes

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Xsjadoblayde said:
..Usually the Mary Sue character (why that name?)...
Here is the parody that originated the trope name:
http://www.wiccananime.com/amslt/amslttrekkiestale
 

CaitSeith

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The Almighty Aardvark said:
You know, this part made me think:

But in a video game, the plot revolves around the protagonist by necessity
Could a game ever work where you are not the star of the show? There's someone more competent than you, around which the story revolves, and you are an observer or support. I'm curious if this could work, although it'd definitely be difficult to justify it to the people asking "Wait, why am I not playing as him?"
It kinda reminds me the cutscenes in the Ghostbusters game (the one in the XBox, PS2 and Wii). You're a new addition to the ghostbusters team, and gameplaywise you're still who owns the show. But you never participate in dialogs (your character is silent), and in most cutscenes you're just background decoration or off-screen.
 

hermes

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Sheo_Dagana said:
The Almighty Aardvark said:
You know, this part made me think:

But in a video game, the plot revolves around the protagonist by necessity
Could a game ever work where you are not the star of the show? There's someone more competent than you, around which the story revolves, and you are an observer or support. I'm curious if this could work, although it'd definitely be difficult to justify it to the people asking "Wait, why am I not playing as him?"
Technically speaking, we observe this in Final Fantasy X. Tidus isn't so much the person the plot revolves around as he is the trigger for change - the outsider in a world full of people that don't ask questions. He sparks change, but it's Yuna that ultimately carries it out and is the one whom the plot revolves around. For all his talk of it being his story, Yuna is truly the star of the show, while Tidus takes on the role of protagonist purely for the sake of exposition. Tidus is a bit of a Mary Sue as well; his perfect hair, body, blitzball skills, and natural talent with a sword are the only reason he's along for the ride, but he's definitely not the star of the show.
Yeah, that was the example I was thinking too.

Tidus is the first character you control, is in the cover and the first line of the game is him saying "this is my story". But once the real adventure beings, he turns into The Watson and demoted to a sidekick that tags along with the real protagonist (Yuna) and her entourage.
 

Bke

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Apropos of asking about a game that has the player take a secondary role to another character, I can think of one example in Diablo 2.

You spend the whole game chasing after Diablo and Marius, the latter being the main character, and simply cleaning up after them. Indeed Marius is the one who ultimately makes the most important decisions in the game, leaving you with a case of fashionably late syndrome. However Marius' value is exclusively narrative, he does not act in any way through the mechanics of the game and never appears outside a cut-scene.

Actually if I think about it you could argue that Diablo is the main character of Diablo 2, which fucks up my thought a bit. but at least it is something to think about.

Surely there are other games where you take the secondary role? I mean we have old school adventure games that see the player character basically bumbling their way to success; but this is a genre that has waned recently so I dunno if it counts anymore.

hermes200 said:
Yeah, that was the example I was thinking too.
Tidus is the first character you control, is in the cover and the first line of the game is him saying "this is my story". But once the real adventure beings, he turns into the sidekick that tags along with the real protagonist (Yuna).
This is rather poetic. His story, his life, is to remain a sidekick to someone who is vastly more important than himself; his purpose is to remain in the shadows of those around him so that they might do important things leaving him to simply fade. The joy of his memory eclipsed by the joy of the adventure in trying to "find" him in X2. Makes one somewhat stoic if you think about it too much