Video Games Worst: Character Archetypes

We’re getting closer and closer to Hollywood with the current generation of games and, along with that, we’re becoming scarily close to diving head first into precisely the same pitfalls of the big budget blockbusters. Movies have long been following the same pattern of predictability, both in plot and character, that allow you to guess the ending way before you’ve seen the middle parts and the more I play of the latest blockbuster releases, the more parallels I find I’m able to draw between what I’m not watching on the silver screen and what I’m encouraged to play on my flat screen.

I’m all for games taking the glitz and glam route but for an entirely different medium; I just wish that they would do it their own way rather than rely on following the examples of others. So please allow me to name and shame the worst video game character archetypes; those that are guilty of employing their services and perhaps along the way, we can maybe find a better solution. My nominees for Video Games Worst Character Archetypes are…

Token Black Guy
Synopsis: The one ethnic character in a game of predominantly white people.
Character Role: Usually action, traditionally the first to make a sacrifice. Occasionally used for comedy.
Movie Ties: Just about every film ever made.
Worst Offenders: Cole Train – Gears of War, Barrett – Final Fantasy 7, Carl ‘CJ’ Johnson – Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

It’s best to tackle this one early on. Video games seem to have a problem with writing a believable and respectable black character into a game; far too often are their characters used as abstracts of black culture and rarely are they used simply as characters that happen to be black, relying instead on the Hollywood approach of black people that happen to be characters.

Looking at my list of worst offenders, it’s pretty clear what the stereotype is:  take a black guy, give him a gun and then make him swear a lot. If you can possibly manage to imply that he’s either good at sports, an irresponsible parent or part of violent gang culture then you’ve fulfilled every Hollywood obligation you have to ensuring the ‘popular’ image of black society remains dominant amongst what would otherwise be a well integrated, non-prejudice and entirely level society. I’m not about to being my own Althusserian social doctrine on what is and isn’t acceptable about gaming in modern society, but surely for such a modern medium as gaming, there’s room for a much more modern approach?

There are some mainstream games that are getting it right of course; Eli Vance of Half Life 2 perhaps goes down as one of my all time favourite characters in a game. He’s one of the most human characters in any game I’ve ever played and not once is his ethnicity ever used as a base for the construction of his character. If you don’t want to know the score of Half Life 2, Episode 2, then please look away now – The conclusion of Episode 2 generated one of the greatest sensations of shock and loss that I’ve ever felt in gaming. For many, that feeling came in the form of Aeris from Final Fantasy, but for me, it was watching Doctor Vance die in the hands of his daughter. If in Epic Games conclusion to the Gears of War series, Cole was to suffer the same fate, I’m not sure I’d bat an eyelid. I think my full response would probably be “Aww, no more boom boom, funny funny”, not exactly the response they hope to generate.

Of course, the blockbuster titles are too stuck in the stereotype to dare to do any different. For every Eli Vance, there’s a Staff Sergeant Griggs with a rap song to help keep things in check. There’s of course a massive argument for the use of characters such as CJ from Grand Theft Auto that are more representative of the culture than simply a product of conformity. The setting of San Andreas lends itself more to the civil unrest of the early 90’s in West Coast America and CJ is something of a dilemma within the stereotype in that he wants out of the gang lifestyle yet can’t escape those around him and everything that ties him to it.

It’s a contentious issue but it’s one I would like to see less of.  Characters can be so much more than race and, if developers were willing to stand up and address that, well then we’d all have an Eli Vance to hold dear in our hearts.

Look after my porch an' rockin' chair, I'm gonna go shoots me some dogone racial stereotypes.

English Guy with a Moustache
Synopsis: The stern English guy who requires interesting facial hair to make him… interesting.
Character: A stern authoritative figure, usually pompous and generally has a moustache.
Movie Ties: WWII movies that acknowledge the participation of British forces
Worst Offender: Captain Price – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

Ok, so this one isn’t quite at the level of epidemic that I can suitably complain about too much, but it’s something I’ve seen more than once in two major titles and I’m worried that it’s a trend just waiting to be set.

The indisputable success of Modern Warfare installed Captain Price into the halls of recognisable video game characters and, while I doubt he’ll ever attain the same cult status as his similarly moustached Italian brother, the phenomenal player base of Call of Duty ensures that everyone knows his name.

As a rule, British characters get a pretty rough treatment in any medium these days with us often cast as the over-confident bad guy or slightly homosexual comic relief. Of course Captain Price is none of that; in fact, he’s pretty darned cool! So, why complain?

Well, having only just gotten around to playing Halo Reach lately, I couldn’t help but notice that Chief Warrant Officer Jorge was sporting some rather spiffy facial hair under his Spartan Helmet and that he was ever so slightly English. Again, Jorge is pretty damned awesome and hardly anything to complain about.  If you’re like me and are way behind the times, then please skip on to the next paragraph for here be another spoiler. When you consider that every Halo fan already knows of Reach’s demise before you even stood in line to buy the game, Jorge along with the rest of Noble Team’s demise was already on the cards. The actual sacrifice that Jorge makes to ensure that Operation: Uppercut didn’t fail was a brilliantly told sequence of events that Bungie can stand proud of in their final hour on the franchise. The way he lets his helmet fall to the floor with total dejection and the look of determination as he carries you to the edge genuinely makes you proud to have fought alongside him.

You know, in a previous life I was Tom Selleck.

It’s that level of brilliance that scares me. Somewhere, there’s a team from marketing that has a plan; a plan to put an English guy with a Moustache into their game too. With Modern Warfare and Halo standing as Market leaders in their genre, it would be hard to argue against them that inclusion of English guys with moustaches would not increase sales by 20% but that’s because, in order to successfully argue with any marketing department, you need big sticks with pointy objects duct-taped to them.

Let this stand simply as a prediction of what is to come. Savour your time with Captain Price, Remember the good times with Jorge.  Storms-a-comin’.

The Creepy Child
Synopsis: Small children in horror games that are at some point bound to embarrass you.
Character: Silent, tend not to make eye contact, usually possessed by a demonic force.
Movie Ties: Stretching back all the way through horror movies from The Exorcist and back to Hammer Horror.
Worst Offenders: Little Sister – Bioshock, Alma – F.E.A.R, Cheryl – Silent Hill.

As a rule of thumb, I have an un-natural fear of things which are bigger than they’re supposed to be such as giant ants or Justin Beiber. Creepy children have also made the list o things that give me the Heebie Jeebies at some stage or another (Justin Beiber is, again, included) and are more than worthy of a nomination as one video games’ worst offenders for throwing down with the Hollywood archetype.

As much as I love how well the character has been used in some titles, the saturation of the model has sullied the effect it once had. It was once possible for me to engage with the character but once you’ve boiled it down to the only three outcomes that movies have allowed for, the magic is sadly lost. You see, small creepy children are capable of only serving 3 possible outcomes:

1) You’re going to have to sacrifice it in order to save the world.
2) The kid’s not actually a kid at all; it’s a demon/alien/mutant you’re going to have to kill in order to save the world.
3) The kid’s already dead and you’re batshit crazy.

There’s no middle ground and no chance of redemption whatsoever for the kid in question; it was over the very second they put on a red coat or started walking around holding a balloon and I’ve no confidence at all that anyone’s ever going to do anything different with this archetype . It’s completely locked in the Hollywood way. Is it not possible to make any more of this? Can we surely not have a reset on this?

How about instead of introducing the creepy child as a creepy child, a game looks instead to chart the fall and demise/redemption of said child sequentially rather than presenting us with the arse end of the tale which, upon showing signs of wearing thin, then looks to feed us with the back story in a hope that the gamer then finds cause to save them. Sorry, but that thing you did where I was climbing up a ladder and then you turned out the lights only to turn them back on as I was reaching the top, to find you standing there screaming which then had me screaming and launching Monster Munch everywhere? Yeah there’s no chance in Hell that I’m saving you now. You’re going to pay for that kid, oh you’ll pay.

Synopsis: All powerful deity that’s there, whether you asked for it or not.
Character: Manifested in so many different ways, usually has a slight whiff of gas.
Movie Ties: The Ten Commandments, Time Bandits, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
Worst Offenders: Talon – Prey, Minerva – Assassins Creed II, God – Dante’s Inferno.

God is just about the worst excuse for anything; let me get that one out there right away. Have an implausible plot that you can’t quite explain? How about a character that you want to maintain is a guy just like me and you but will inherit supernatural powers that allow him to be awesome without having the benefit of science or technology in your game? Fear not my friends, for there is God and he is unquestionable.

Well, how about no? How about instead, you invest a little bit more time and effort into your product to give it a strong pair of legs to stand on rather than shoving a coat hanger between the shoulder blades and just dangling it from up on high? What’s that? It’s ok because lots of people believe in a higher power with a divine purpose and it would be folly to ignore a widely held system of belief? Sorry but I have my reservations here; we gamers have never once questioned the power of mushrooms, the gravitational impossibility of George Stobbart’s pockets and the existence of talking pig mechanics, is there honestly any need to restrict your product to the sacred realm of bullshit?

I’ve never found that divinity works outside the realms of awesome and comedy in video games. Games such as God of War and Black & White that are all about the gods manage to do just fine in my books because of how they treat the archetype. There’s no preaching in either one, nothing implied, just a setting for the gameplay and it works great.

Assassins Creed II (that’s right, more spoilers) got my back up for many reasons, but one of my biggest gripes with the franchise is how it asks the player to question faith. The death bed repentance of the majority of the game’s villains was just annoying and only made moreso by the inability to slay the dragon’s head by killing the Pope in the game’s conclusion. What should have ended as a traditional tale of revenge, has to then step away from the character driven plot to deal with the much bigger issue of what’s been going on this whole time. Well it just so happens to be that humans were created by an all powerful race of omnipotent beings that thought it best to make a secret home inside the Vatican, only to be revealed inside the genetic memory of a guy living some half a century later. Buying it? No, me neither. Can I just kill the pope and watch the credits please? No! Why Not!?

God ruins everything. Stay out of my videogames please.

But despite all of that! The Winner of Video Games Worst Character Archetypes is….

Synopsis: Female Gendered.
Character: Smart, brilliant, funny, sexy and can sometimes kick more ass than the ACME Ass Kicker.
Movie Ties: Anything to come out of Hollywood in the last ten years rated 12A
Worst Offenders: Princess Peach – Super Mario, Navi – Legend of Zelda, Yorda – Ico

On the off chance I haven’t alienated enough groupings, allow me to deliver the Finish Her! Fatality. Games and women have a problem. Games can’t seem to make up their mind how they want to treat the female form. Occasionally there’s a glint of brilliance as witnessed in Alyx Vance of Half Life and Jade from Beyond Good and Evil; both manage to demonstrate how it’s possible for a female character in a video game to serve a greater purpose than to simply make for good oogling, with both standing as a testament to well rounded character design. But just around the corner there’s a whole legion of blithering, hot pants wearing and survival incompetent brain dead pairs of legs and boobs that are all too happy to drag feminism back down into the dark ages.

This is NOT the real Princess Peach. FYI.

Ico for example – a much loved and critically acclaimed game that dared to be different. As great as many found the game, I found myself only getting annoyed with Yorda. She wasn’t lovable, don’t give me that look, she was just about the single most useless character in video game history. The constant need for her hand to be held the entire time I found incredibly patronising and I don’t even have a uterus. I think the only way her character could have been more detrimental to feminism would be if she’d brought a pie along with her to feed Ico in the event of him getting a little peckish. You could be standing in a room full of bad guys with a ladder in the centre of the room acting as a simple and brilliant escape route, only for Yorda to instead concede defeat and just let the bad guys wail on her with sticks. Way to go Yorda, way to go.

The dawn of Lara Croft, caricature breasted as she was, surely proved that there was more to the female role in video games than simply hiding out in castles? Is it any wonder that games are an alien concept to so much of half the world’s population when designers are too busy trying to sell sex rather than the story? It wasn’t so much about a woman living dangerously and showing that there’s no such thing as a man’s world but more that you can do the same job as a man in impractical, tight fitting clothing. Sure, she’s one of the most iconic video game characters of all time and maybe her appeal helped get some girls into gaming under the impression that they were about to get a woman’s perspective in a game when all anyone really got was a character whose only well rounded assets were…

Sorry girls, there’s still a long way to go but it is getting better. Whilst some studios are just trying to fill a quota by tagging on a female character (cough, Gears of War 3, cough), there are some brilliantly written, voiced and respectfully crafted characters out there. While we’re yet to see more of Alyx and Jade is still off on un-announced hiatus, we can all look forward to spending more time with Commander Shepard later this year, and if you haven’t played Jenifer Hale’s variant, I suggest you get started. Until then, good luck finding the diamonds in the rough.

Hey Yorda, look over there... it's a clump of trees and it serves more purpose than you do!


Last five articles by Adam



  1. Ste says:

    I really enjoyed this article, and it’s all completely true. Other token black guy that you missed, Drebin from Metal Gear Solid 4, he had no purpose in the game other than to sell you guns and ammo, oh and he had a pet monkey which was addicted to fizzy drinks.

    You’ve gotta love Capt. Price though, he has been around for years, even before the Modern Warfare games I was rescuing his ass from the nazi’s in the WW2 games. If I recall he had a good old tash in them games too. I’m struggling to think of any more creepy kids other than the ones you’ve already mentioned but I don’t think women are portrayed that badly in games anymore. Claire Redfield and Jill Valentine from the Resident Evil games weren’t that bad, and who can forget Samus Aran from Metroid. Legend.

  2. Edward Edward says:

    Fucking brilliant. That’s what I have to say.
    You hit the nail on the head and I agree with pretty much everything here. Better, less-stereotyped characters will lead to better stories and better gaming experiences all around, and I’m glad you’ve written this :)

    Superb, Adam.

  3. Lee says:

    Every game needs and English man with facial hair who dies :)
    I’m with you on the scifi religion thing in Assassins Creed – while I do like how it twists the mythology of Adam and Eve, the floaty see through lady who talks to Desmond is a bit bollocks.

  4. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    I had a considerable chortle at this as I was finding images, it cracked me up even though I honestly didn’t know any of the characters in question (I’m sure Lee will have some sarky comment to make about how the guy with almost 30 years of gaming history still knows nothing about gaming JUST because I play more specialised games… twat!) but yeah you’re right about everything. Movies, literature, games…. whatever… they tend to lean more towards those annoying stereotypes that we just wish would go away. I can’t recall who it was exactly, but I remember an interview with an American actor who didn’t get a particular role because he “wasn’t black enough”. It was someone like Morgan Freeman or James Earl Jones… can’t recall, but I remember being struck dumb by that.

    The number of helpless screaming women in movies has also increased, although in gaming I think we’re doing ok for the most part… Moxxi and Lilith both kicked ass in Borderlands and Moxxi specifically was a twisted freak of a bitch – my kind of woman. Every screenshot I saw with Yorda was her being led by the hand, and usually far enough behind that both arms were completely outstretched and she looked like a rag doll being dragged behind. Way to go!!

    Also… creepy children rock. Little Sister rocks (I knew who she was, oh and Princess Peach) and I’d love a full sized Little Sister in the house, standing across from Fred making him look less threatening.

  5. Lee says:

    @MarkuzR – I was going to list a few of your more amusing quotes & questions but I fear I might get the sack so I won’t :D

  6. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Edward Price, GamingLives. GamingLives said: Today on gaminglives Adam walks us through Video Games Worst Character Archetypes [...]

  7. Lorna Lorna says:

    Really enjoyed this and made me laugh more than once. Don’t get me started on female characters as I just want to batter Peach to death with a copy of ‘Dummies Guide to Not Getting Repeatedly Kidnapped By a Giant Crocodile/Turtle’. I’ve also noticed the creepy kid thing starting to get a touch jaded, but this may also be from films. It seems that every horror lately has to feature a dead child who looks like she’s been dragged through a hedge backwards, and who has two speeds: vanish/re-appear and shuffle. Is it scary… fuck yes, I wouldn’t want to bump into one but it does seem to be a growing trend.

    As for the English… well, just be grateful that in games we aren’t always playing the villian like we are in most Hollywood films, with or without facial hair. Oh…worst example of female handholding which probably trumps yours: Lost in Blue. Hands down the winner there. Good stuff :D

  8. Pete Pete says:

    Loved that! Good one Adam!

    I must go play Reach again in story mode because whilst I remember the guy sacrificing himself on the big alien ship I don’t remember him being English lol

  9. Tania Tania says:

    Great article, made me laugh!
    Ugh that bint in Lost In Blue was fucking useless! Leave her alone for a second and she’d die of thirst sitting next to a barrel of water or let the goat, that you spent forever trying to capture, die. Stupid cow. Kept burning dinner too ;)
    I’m not sure about games, but in film and american T.V usually English characters have dodgy accents. I do remember one in a game though. It was in a Nancy Drew point and click, an creepy/annoying kid with a really bad English accent! Made me cringe!

  10. Adam Adam says:

    Thanks for all the very kind words all :)

    Was worried some of this might have touched a nerve with some of this but glad it worked :)

    Thanks again all

  11. Richie rich says:

    Good stuff. I fucking hate the creepy Japanese girl archetype as it’s been done to death now.

    Every action game needs generic-o-chopper as a boss as well.

  12. Kat says:

    Told you at the weekend but in case you need this in writing also – I chuckled! So very true, loved it :)

  13. [...] you in the back while you’re sitting down. Blokes like the real hero of the game, founder of the “English Guy with a Moustache Archetype” and grower of quite possibly the greatest facial hair ever to feature in a game, Captain [...]

  14. Dboy says:

    “WWII movies that acknowledge the participation of British forces.”

    Lol… funny American. How patronising. I’ll fix it for you:

    “WWII movies that acknowledge that British forces were fighting for far too long without the participation of American forces”

  15. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    We’re actually a UK-based site ;)

  16. Dboy says:

    Haha, and I’m Australian… just sticking up for my fellow Commonwealthians ;)

    On reading it again, I realise the original comment is actually ironic ><

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