Thursday, October 16, 2014

"Player-sexual" NPCs

At the New York Cantina Event, Bioware announced that the romance arcs in the upcoming Shadows of Revan expansion will be "player-sexual". Bioware defines this as: "if you are a player no matter your gender you can romance [the non-player character]."

I disapprove of this.

Oh, I don't care if the NPC is gay or straight. If Bioware wants to include a gay NPC, that's fine by me. If the romance is heterosexual, that's fine as well.

What I object to is defining the NPC's characteristics in terms of the player. An NPC's characterization should exist independently of the PC. Otherwise, the NPC feels less like an actual character, and more like a reflection of the PC, a mere object to fulfill the player's fantasy.

As a silly example, imagine if at the beginning of the game, you were asked "What is your favorite ice cream?"  Later, you meet the love interest in the game and she goes, "My favorite ice cream is [player's favorite]." That's rather odd and narcissistic. The character should have her own opinions on ice cream.

There's a really good example of this in the Imperial Agent story line. Watcher Two is one of the main supporting characters. She is can be romanced, but only if you are playing a human male. If you're playing an alien, you get shot down. It's part of her character that--as awesome as Watcher Two is--she's an Imperial to the core, and still bound by the prejudices of her culture.

It's okay for an NPC to change in reaction to the actions taken by the player. But the change should be a reaction, driven by the existing independent personality.

Of course, we know why Bioware is choosing this path. It cuts down on the number of characters and permutations required, while still allowing everyone a romance option. But I think it makes for weaker characterization, and leads to a lesser and overly player-centric story.


  1. It's also a pretty similar tact to romance novels, which are effectively fantasy fulfillment. The main character in many romance novels is ill-defined or has very little personality of their own, such that the reader can insert themselves more easily into that position, and it's supposed to make it seem like the love interest is into you, the reader.

    I see this as basically the same approach, which as you mention, does significantly reduce permutations, though I don't know if I agree that it necessarily ruins their personality entirely. It only really does so if you run through the game and make the same decisions with different characters.

    Let's put it this way, if the Internet didn't exist and you played the game by yourself, would you have ever noticed?

  2. I fully agree. But it's exactly what Anita Sarkeesian preaches and for some reason you don't like her.

  3. @Gevlon, this is not the only thing Anita preaches. This is the kind of low hanging fruit she begins with, before jumping off the cliff of logic with something like "Players are meant to derive a perverse pleasure from desecrating the bodies of unsuspecting virtual characters. It's a rush streaming from a carefully concocted mix of sexual arousal connected to the act of controlling and punishing representations of female sexuality".


    Also, she's wrong. Players are penalized for the actions she took in Hitman.

  4. @Talarian, you prove my point. "Bad" romance novels do that.

    In a good romance novel (at least among those I've read) both characters are fully defined and memorable, and the fun is seeing how the match comes about, how the two play off each other.

    @Gevlon, I don't really think this has anything to do with Anita Sarkeesian. I think this issue is orthogonal to the issues she discusses.

  5. @Gevlon, Also, I don't think I've ever commented on Anita Sarkeesian. Are you confusing me with someone else?

  6. I wouldn't necessarily qualify them as "bad" romance novels. It's a literary technique, nothing more, nothing less. Granted, if you don't like those novels, that's totally valid, but given how gigantic that industry is, it's clear there's a huge audience for it.

  7. Sorry, yes I did mistaken you with another commenter of mine, my bad.

    The rest stand though. This "player-sexual" gives control to the player over NPC characters. The feminists are right that in most cases this is a heterosexual male player controlling and objectifying a female NPC.

    This is similar to something I wrote in this topic: