September 19, 2021
The Latest Protagonist Trend

With the release of Bioshock Infinite and the more recent release of Last Of Us, it seems like “grizzly hero and spunky young sidekick that the plot revolves around” is the new popular trend for dark, edgy narrative-heavy games. I’m not saying that it hasn’t been done before — Alyx Vance from Half-Life 2,  Cortana from Halo, Midna/Navi from the Zelda series, and Sheva from Resident Evil — but these more recent relationships are different. They’re father-daughter relationships rather than “main-guy-and-assistant/teammate” relationships, and it really makes me think.

I’m not saying this is bad, not at all! Just interesting, mainly because if you had a sidekick of any kind in previous generation games, there was a high chance that it’d be a guy. Think Sonic & Tails, Mario & Luigi, the protagonists of Army of Two,  Ratchet & Clank, Snake & Otacon/Raiden, etc. There’s plenty of those!

But now we’re getting a healthy influx of female sidekicks, which I think is awesome — and not only are they sidekicks, they’re helpful sidekicks! In fact, in the first two games I mentioned, one could argue that the games are about them more than they are the player’s character! Sure you have to save them once in awhile, but that’s just a common plot cliche in any video game nowadays. Most of the time these ladies can hold their own both in battle and up against the protagonist himself, acting as the primary instigator of conversation and narrative when the player would otherwise be completely alone and no reason to discuss plot details outside of internal monologue. Plus they can sometimes take out enemies, throw the player much-needed provisions, and  hit switches or open doors that the protagonist cannot.

So what’s the motivation behind moving the female sidekick from the position of a teammate to a familial, daughter-like role? The answer is the plucking of heartstrings — Bioshock Infinite and The Last Of Us are just as much emotional stories as they are exciting action-adventure games. I wouldn’t say those female teammates leave less of an emotional impact than daughter-like companions, though. Daughter-like companions, however, are a lot easier to care about because (no matter their age) they represent a child left in the player’s care. And no matter how gruff or masculine a gamer may be, there is that internal sense of responsibility for and desire to protect a child that many people have. In simplest terms, you’re more likely to cry if your child gets hurt than your adult best friend.

Add to the fact that girls like Elizabeth from Bioshock Infinite and Ellie from The Last Of Us (Hmmm, similar names! ) are written as genuinely kind, brave, clever,  and human characters that get put through a whole lot of hell throughout the game, and you’ve got a giant pit for players to pour their sympathies into. If done right, these ladies can be one of the most memorable and beloved points of your game. So the question is: will there be like them?

I think so. I think that this might be a bandwagon future game designers are going to jump on, which makes me a little worried that it’s going to be overused to death. Personally, I’m waiting for a mother-and-son dynamic in a game…but I won’t hold my breath. The gaming industry is progressing in allowing more than just Caucasian males into the spotlight with baby steps towards a more diverse set of heroes to play as; and it’s baby steps because they’re afraid of losing publisher support or not selling their games more than “ew girls don’t belong here”, not because of blatant sexism. I won’t deny the fact that there are several overly-vocal troglodytes in the world who firmly believe such nonsense, though.

No matter where this trend — if it turns out to be one at all — goes, I think it’s a move in the general direction of progress for the gaming industry, and I am proud of it.

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