This was part of my last post, but it turned into a writing rules of thumb post. Even if it seems like it only contains this one notion, it’s a big enough lesson or whatever that it overrides the rest of the content.
NEVER WRITE A FRAMING STORY WITH A WEAK MAIN CHARACTER IF YOU PLAN HIM OR HER TO CARRY THE FRAME THROUGHOUT A SERIES.
There. That is the most major problem with this series. Desmond, the main character whose life and actions take place in the game’s present–and therefore the ONLY hero who is not dead and unable to make a choice that affects the outcome of the story–is flat, boring, and without any personal drive or distinction after the first game.
By no personal distinction, I mean there is nothing that makes him special. He’s just… not things. It doesn’t help that in the second game (and ever after), he is dropped into a group of characters who, though a bit flat, have things that they are.
- Lucy is an empathetic leader, stressed out and a bit dull. One of the weaker characters, but then, she’s closely linked to Desmond, and I think that the characters’ personalities decay with each game. So it makes sense.
- Shaun is a history buff with a short temper and a chip on his shoulder. There is a lot of implied history and personality in this character. Until he becomes an overt Snarky Brit stereotype, thanks to the decay.
- Rebecca is an adrenaline-junkie programmer. I find this supremely annoying and possibly badly done, but it’s a personality type. She also clearly had a life and never lost the character that came with it. Decay didn’t seem to hit her as hard, but she’s not that deep.
And… Desmond. Oh Desmond. How I wish I could hate you. But there is barely a you to hate.
Okay, I did want to give him a bullet to go in here, to make my point, so here it is.
- Desmond is not a leader or plagued with self-doubt. Desmond is not well-educated or self-taught. Desmond is not excited or ambitious. Desmond is not passionate. The rest of the group IS.
Desmond is just Not. As though “not” is a bloody adjective.
In the first game, the framing device and Desmond’s wispy characterisation worked fine. His situation worked as a wonderfully subtle parallel to that of the hero he was vicariously becoming. They each carried the theme of being trapped, but Altair was able to (seemingly) freely wander his world. What trapped him was perception, lies, and loyalty.
Desmond’s background and character were fleshed out almost entirely through dialogue, in a white room that he could not leave, save for another plain room that contained a bed and a wardrobe. If one chose to speak to Lucy throughout the game, then they both received great characterisation.
His background was not a big fat interesting mess. But he didn’t have to be bound to it. That may well be where this all started to fail. They never moved Desmond beyond the constraints of his initial character. Even after he escaped, the game still needed him to be in the Animus, and although the situation outside of it has changed, Desmond has not.
He still has nothing that he personally wants or even likes. There is no sign of the affect that his background would have had on him, aside from the plot-relevant side effects of spending too much time in the Animus.
This could have been circumvented so easily. Just make the guy a reader. He didn’t even have to read anything good. Like most people, including me. Comic books, Sarah Palin’s book, only the smutty bits of romance novels–we don’t even know if this guy likes porn.
Give him a guitar. Make him a dancer, struggling with the changes he has to make to the way he moves, while trying to marry some of his previous discipline to free-running. Show him teaching Shaun how to make origami tanks. HAVE HIM PLAY PAPER FOOTBALL WITH REBECCA, SOMETHING.
He seriously has nothing. It’s almost like Twilight, which should make us all weep. Video games have a rich plethora of tools with which to spin narrative. The first game managed it, and the second managed to make a game about an Italian that was shoehorned into the series. When I’m not in a bad mood, I feel like it never really continued.
Which is kind of sad, all things considered.