Video games have come far as an artistic medium. Now more than ever are we seeing their narrative prowess, complete with rich, fantastical worlds and nuanced characters, strengthening our cultivation of empathy to the art form and tackling the stereotype of games as being shallow. In a demonstration of this, I have compiled a list of four video game characters that I find to be compelling both within their respective worlds and our own – tackling such subjects as ethnicity, sexuality, and mental health. Please note minor story/character spoilers for the following games: Fire Emblem Three Houses, The Outer Worlds, InFAMOUS: Second Son, Persona 3
Parvati Holcomb – The Outer Worlds “What if she’s not okay with that?”
The Outer Worlds depicts economic strife through its unwieldy terrain, eccentric characters, and outlandish capitalistic satire, making for an exciting game with even more exciting inhabitants. Travelling through orbit on your spaceship deemed the Unreliable, you as the player assume the role of ship’s captain, picking up crew members along with your expeditions of new worlds; one such crew member, the introverted mechanic Parvati Holcomb, is one of the first characters you come to welcome aboard your ship. Our first impressions of Parvati are endearing; she’s shy but warm, quick to relay her passions in engineering, a trade her father helped her to pursue. This passion helps to ignite a connection between her and a woman by the name of Junlei Tennyson, another female engineer you meet across your travels. Parvati is smitten at first glance, though ultimately apprehensive. She reaches out to you as the player character, expressing her concerns about pursuing a relationship. In a heartfelt moment between you and her, she opens up about her lack of interest in physical affection, and how this has ostracized her from people in the past.
“What if she’s not okay with that? What if she IS, but later, she’s not?”
In coming out as asexual, she puts herself in a vulnerable spot, a palpable apprehension that is quickly rectified when we as the player-character assure her that she’s not broken for how she feels. In doing so, we see a shift in Parvati’s temperament; her relationship with Junlei blossoms and her self-esteem takes a turn for the better, showing just what a little encouragement and understanding can do. Representative of the fear and uncertainties people may face, Parvati Holcomb demonstrates the courage of the LGBTQ+ community, and the beauty of acceptance amidst uncertainty.
Marianne von Edmund – Fire Emblem Three Houses “I was begging the goddess to take me to her.”
Fire Emblem Three Houses features a roster of personalities, from the serious to the comical, the soft-spoken to the boisterous. Marianne von Edmund falls to the former: a timid young woman who walks with her head downcast. As a student at the Officer’s Academy, in which you as the player assume the role of a professor, she appears mostly in the background; other students jump for your attention while she treads softly behind. Often found tending to animals or praying in the cathedral, Marianne strays away from human interaction. When approached, she stutters her words, interspersing her thoughts with apologies and self-deprecating remarks. Upon speaking with Marianne, we come to understand her afflictions; in a world in which blood lineage dictates all, it is rumoured that she carries the blood of a terrible beast, something that she believes will cause herself to turn into a monster. Labelling herself as cursed, she pulls away from others, feeling unworthy of friendship and acceptance. Little by little, with your acceptance of her and her interaction with the other students, she comes to open up. Other characters encourage her to laugh and smile, to keep her eyes towards the sky rather than the ground.
After a jump in time, she reveals to you as the player that she had previously struggled with her desire to continue living. Feeling so burdensome, she felt as though she served no purpose in life, though after making friends with the other students and feeling accepted for who she was, she was able to conjure up the strength to keep going. In a heartfelt conversation, she remarks about these cherished memories, relaying just how important human connection is. The journey she takes throughout the game is one that is both heartfelt and bittersweet, as we see her character grow from adversity into a confident and happy woman who values her sense of worth.
Delsin Rowe – InFAMOUS: Second Son “We’re Akomish, we take care of our own.”
With the release of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One during the holiday season of 2013, 2014 was shaping up to be a year of great promise for the industry, one that would begin to reveal the real graphical prowess of gaming. 2014’s InFAMOUS: Second Son was a testament to the shifting modalities of gaming technology, introducing the beautifully rendered cityscape of Seattle, Washington against a blaze of fire and neon, two of the powers given to protagonist Delsin Rowe during his journey as a budding vigilante. In assuming our role as Delsin, we see a brazen, but well-meaning young man, one whose brown skin speaks volumes against the myriad of white male heroes featured in similar titles. His journey throughout the game transpires as a result of his newfound powers, perceived in the eyes of those around him as catalysts of destruction and harm, and yet, when his powers are revealed, the fictional Akomish tribe to which Delsin belongs still sees him as family, nothing less. Delsin’s character is further shaped throughout the game by the player’s agency of choice, making him even more of an interesting case – Delsin being “good or evil” is predicated upon our in-game actions, in which playing the hero allows his character to protect and honour the selfless ways of his tribe, and playing the villain does the exact opposite. The events that shape his story come to show what a great example of a complex protagonist he truly is, a character representative of his tribe, though not necessarily bound by their ideals.
Akihiko Sanada – Persona 3 “I can’t carry this guilt forever.”
Persona 3 is a video game that concerns itself with heavy themes – grief, death, acceptance. This wasn’t territory well-tread in-game narratives at the time of its 2006 release, and though not entirely unprecedented, would prove to be a big discussion to undertake. Despite this, the developers decided against the subtle route; the words “Memento Mori” flash in the game’s intro, opening up to a palette of blues, telling of the tone the game will take on. Silhouettes of the cast of characters appear on the screen, a mix of personalities that grow nuanced throughout the game’s story. One of the main cast, a young man by the name of Akihiko Sanada, dons a red vest in contrast to the shades of blue; he comes across as strong-willed and focused, though we find at times these attributes feel forced. More personal interactions throughout the game relay a sense of timidness that lies deep within, masked by an urgency to protect those around him. Having previously dealt with the death of his little sister, he channels his grief into fighting – though this pursuit of strength quickly becomes an obsession. Halfway throughout the game, he is met with his friend’s death, an unexpected turn of events for the entire cast. At first, he is angry; he blames himself and his lack of strength for his friend’s death. Then, that anger shifts. The guilt and anger turn to a resolution to keep going for the people he loves. In this moment, the sorrow hits tenfold; we see Akihiko grieve, weeping openly about his frustrations and sadness. The tough bravado dissolves, even if just for a second, and we see him in a vulnerable state. This depiction of grief feels raw and human, marking a stronger connection with our ability to empathize with him genuinely. The emotional display, primarily through the lens of male depiction, comes to represent these complicated, tangible feelings that we all come to face in life, allowing for a compelling expression of death and acceptance.
Edited By Keshav Kant