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RPGs: The Cliche Male Protagonist
Posted on Saturday, November 3 2007 @ 22:20:36 Eastern

As to why male protagonists in RPGs have become cliche, I find that the gameplay in RPGs restricts the main character more than anything else. It's still about a character who defeats monsters for experience, gains money to buy better and better weapons and armor, defeats progressively more difficult bosses, gains access to more places for exploration - you get the drill. There's little room for a character other than a young male protagonist that follows the traditional male hero archetype to tell the story with how the gameplay traditionally progresses.

One reason why Hayao Miyazaki uses female heroines, with the exception of Princess Mononoke, is his affirmation that they allow for more emotional development than a male one. The development of masculinity from boyhood to manhood is rigidly classical, so trying to tack on some emotional richness usually ends up failing. And in an industry where male protagonists rule, the gameplay has only had to cater to those male story arcs. Even silent protagonists have a Clint Eastwood quality, where silence not only allows the player to enter the shell of the main character more easily, but can remain unemotional in the face of danger and war - stemming from the fact that men are more easily emotionally flooded than women. Silence (and pithy) is a natural defense that men can identify with more easily than talky and whiny.

I find it fascinating that Suikoden III works a large part because of Chris, a woman in a knightly role but still is feminine without being overtly sexified. Without her, the story would have had been led by two male archetypes, Hugo (boyhood into manhood) and Geddoe (the silent type). This isn't to say that Hugo's and Geddoe's story arcs were generic, because they were developed quite well (the manga is great, by the way). It's just that the addition of the other gender, along with the drama of warring factions and experiencing different points of view, turns what might have been a common story on its side.

Now, I'm not saying that adding a woman will solve the problem. It's that our ideas on the male action hero and how we want that male hero to be confines the story and its emotional depth - and all of that is encompassed by how the gameplay is structured in a way that tracks classical male development. Trying to tell the story of the "serious" yet more passive, gentler, romantic, or melodramatic male - that of Bill Murray's character in Groundhog Day or Tom Hank's character in Sleepless in Seattle - through the predominantly active male protagonist in a video game is near impossible without being sappy and unbelievable.
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