This article contains spoilers for Diablo III, Halo 4, and The Walking Dead: Episode 4 — Around Every Corner.
This year, we’ve seen a surprising increase in the number of “chosen one” storylines in games. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, Diablo III, and The Secret World (among others) all have you playing as characters who are somehow more important than everyone else in their respective worlds.
To tell you the truth, I’m kinda getting tired of it.
How cliché is the chosen-one concept by now? It’s been used in countless forms of media, especially since The Matrix became such a popular film. It just feels lazy to keep using it at this point. An idea as pervasive as this has trouble making an impact since it is so common. I often roll my eyes whenever the concept pops up in a narrative.
Diablo III’s story, as an example, eventually reveals your character to be a nephalem, the (nearly) extinct offspring of angels and demons. This is supposed to explain how you are so good at fighting the lords of hell. Was this really necessary? They never did anything like this in the first two Diablo releases. As far as I remember, you were some warrior just trying to fight evil. No special powers, just training and luck.
I just played through Halo 4 and was supremely surprised (read: pissed off) at the insertion of a “chosen one” story angle. The series has never featured anything like this before. It just feels like it was shoved in to make the narrative work. Master Chief doesn’t need the distinction to be a good character. He is already one of the greatest soldiers the Halo universe has ever seen. He also has some of the most unbelievable luck (something the fiction actually highlights). Why did he need to be made into some kind of messianic figure, too?
These plot devices dampen the actions of main characters. Every time they do something amazing, the impact of that action is lessened by the fact that they are fated to save the world. The games are already telling you what’s going to happen. Why should you be impressed?
I think most gamers don’t really have a problem playing as a normal man or woman being forced into dangerous situations. Take the immense popularity of Nathan Drake from the Uncharted series for example. He’s a normal guy who doesn’t have any special powers, aside from being amazingly lucky. He isn’t some divine savior of humanity. He just wants to learn about history.
Another good example is Lee Everett from Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead. He’s just some guy trying to survive in the zombie apocalypse and protect young Clementine as best he can. In the most recent episode of the series, a zombie has bitten him, which means he will soon become one himself. I’m not angry that he isn’t blessed with some unprecedented immunity to the zombie bite. I’m heartbroken that he is going to die.
Characters like these are still interesting because we can relate to them. Fate has not given them special destinies. They are everyday human beings, just like us. We empathize with them when they’re thrown into difficult situations and try to help them out of danger because that’s what we would do in their shoes.
In the end, I feel that these characters will always be more interesting. Where’s the fun in a character we know is destined to save the day?
GamesBeat 2014 — VentureBeat’s sixth annual event on disruption in the video game market — is coming up on Sept 15-16 in San Francisco. Purchase your ticket now to save $200!