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Character topic: Do game characters differ from animation characters?


July 2nd, 2013

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Character Topic

The Characters Engage Linkedin group recently discussed whether there is a fundamental difference between characters in interactive media formats, such as games, and those from linear narratives, such as animated films, or TV shows.

At the beginning of the discussion, a Canadian Character IP Developer said that in games and animation, characters serve different functions. According to him, there is very little room for deep character development in games that are mostly concerned with shooting, racing, or smashing things up.

A Brazilian Character and Environment Designer added that both animation and games tell stories, but that they do so in very different ways. Animation, she thought, cannot succeed without a script that manages to touch us. Games, on the other hand, can sustain themselves without a story, because they make us do things. In games, the story is often simply a backdrop for our own actions.

A European IP Developer replied that he would call that the difference between 'storytelling' and 'storyliving', or 'storyexperience'. What matters, he said, is the relationship the audience has with the story. While we are a spectator in traditional storytelling, we 'live' or experience interactive stories, as an active part of the narrative.

He then picked up a on a point the Canadian Character IP Developer had made, and asked, why game or VR characters seem to lack, or not to need, character depth. He also wanted to know what the implications of this lack of 'depth' are, when it comes to the ability of game characters to engage their demographics beyond the gaming experience?

A Brazilian Animation Director pointed out that Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of "Mario", said that he prefers characters without a great deal of depth, because he wants the gamer to fill the character with their own personality, during gameplay. Miyamoto thought that this would create a stronger emotional connection between the gamer and the world of the game.

The European IP Developer replied by saying, that if the gamer identifies with the game character by embueing it with his/her own character, this would constitute a major difference between game and animation characters.

He pointed out that, in traditional narrative, the audience identifies with characters because of their backstory, instead. This backstory, and the indentification it produces, are what's needed for characters to become 'sticky'. He then asked whether the different way in which game characters achieve identification makes them less sticky, in comparison.

"Is there a fundamental difference between storytelling in games and movies?", he wondered.

An American Illustrator thought that there is such a difference. In good films, he said, everything is designed to move the story forward, whereas in games, players can develop the characters with devices such mini games and side stories.

A Character Designer from the UK thought that this point underlines the fundamental difference between linear and real time interactive storytelling, because in the mind of the player, interactive stories are open ended.

To this group member there is a fundamental difference between observing and acting, and he thought that these two things work differently in the human mind.

"One of the things that differentiates us from our closest cousins, the chimps," he explained, "is our heightened ability to empathize. We are highly social creatures, who, to a unique extent in the animal kingdom, are concerned with how others feel. This aspect of the human condition aids collective cooperation and has, together with our intelligence, propelled us to where we are today."

He pointed out that the ability traditional storytelling has to trigger our empathy for protagonists, utilizes this unique mindframe, and that the interactive stories we 'live', or experience, trigger our emotions differently.

In short, he said, there is a difference between being an empowered 'player' and feeling for a protagonist in a pickle.

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