Author Topic: What do you look for in a main character?  (Read 5899 times)


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What do you look for in a main character?
« on: December 22, 2010, 01:25:38 AM »
Not just when you play a game...but when you design a game, what do you all look for in a main character? Do you like your MC brave, confident, daring? Do you like them full of *what's the point of everything*? Do you like them *new experience, have no clue what to expect, but wanting to try*?

Reason I ask this is because sometimes I think the motivation for playing a game comes from the motivations behind the main character. The reason I disliked Secret of Evermore on the SNES was because the main character just didn't seem to give a rip about anything...why should I play a game when the main character doesn't care? Maybe that's why so many main characters are *mute* now...complaints of *the MC's too much of a jerk*?

(move if this needs to be elsewhere)


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Re: What do you look for in a main character?
« Reply #1 on: December 22, 2010, 11:10:54 AM »
Depending on the story, the personality of the main character could be very different. For every story I make, I use different personality for the MC. Like in slice of life story where the MC must inherit his uncle business, I make him to be more "free" type of person so he hates his uncle to restrict his freedom by inheriting him his business. And so the MC wants to bear that burden, I make him to have some responsibility in him, despite how he loves freedom. Or for the mecha story I made, where the MC needs to steal back the mecha that was stolen from his grandfather, I make the MC to be the vengeful type and guy who will not stop to achieve his means (since if he's a "completely" good guy, he won't do it).

So basically, it's the story first and then comes the MC personality, not the other way around.

But all MC (at least my MC) have at least one thing in common. They are actually a good guy, though not always showing it (or actually realizing it).


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Re: What do you look for in a main character?
« Reply #2 on: December 24, 2010, 09:49:03 AM »
I agree with lvuer on the point that what makes a good main character depends a lot on the story, though I suppose I have some general preferences.

To me the first and foremost thing in a good protagonist is that they have to have a personality of some sort. In general, characters are very important to me in stories, and this applies to MCs as well. Especially in VNs the thoughts, actions and lines of the protagonist make up a large part of the whole experience, so if a VN has a dull, impersonal protagonist, chances are it is a dull, impersonal VN. I'd even rather see a slightly annoying or overdone MC than one that doesn't make me feel anything at all. A part of having a personality, I suppose, is that the protagonist has to care about something and have some ambition or goal, preferably one that makes the story more interesting or intensive.

Another thing is that personally, I dislike MCs that are very slow, weak and insecure. They do work sometimes, if the writer really knows what they are doing and the story is right, or if the MC is like this for a short period of time, but far too often these kind of MCs just tend to make the story drag on and irritate the reader. An example of this would be the harem protagonist syndrome: an insecure guy who never gets romantic advances, yet who attracts all nearby women like a sexual magnet of some sort. These can be funny in the beginning, but if they stay the way they are and the story doesn't develop at all, the story is no longer gratifying for the reader.

I think the reason people are so much into mute or neutral/"faceless" protagonists these days is that many creators think making the protagonist unexpressive makes it easier for the reader to identify with them. I suppose this is true to some extent, especially in short stories where introducing special quirks of the MC would only distract the audience, but in longer stories, I believe the effect is quite the opposite. At least in my personal experience, the more personal the MC is, the stronger I can identify with them as the story progresses - assuming the story is well executed, anyway. The MC can be very different from the me, but if the story tells me the inner logic of the MC, I'll understand them even better than a faceless protagonist. After all, getting to know and understand someone with absolutely no personality is not very easy...
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Re: What do you look for in a main character?
« Reply #3 on: December 26, 2010, 02:55:26 PM »
My approach to creating games is to start with a theme (below the name), which is the "primary objective". Then, I mostly continue with the location / setting. This I choose relatively arbitrarily, by instinct, if you will.

It's only after I choose the theme and the setting that I start thinking about the characters. Usually by this time a lot of "character design" freedom is restricted by the theme and setting. But this is okay, because I really don't want to show or present characters - I want to show or present my theme.

Therefore my characters aren't really "standalone", meaning I don't think they would "work" in other stories or games, because I made them to be integral to that one game. Often in an autonomously designed character, you can imagine him/her in various circumstances, knowing or having an idea how events would affect them and how they would react. In my games, I don't think this is the case. But I don't think that's a bad thing, it's just a different approach.


As for how I like my protagonists as a player - there is always a selection of how I experience the game / story that occurs. When I play and realize the character isn't very much like me, I continue experiencing the story as a detached spectator, and enjoy it without feeling like "I'm the main character". When I realize the character is similar to me, I will then enjoy it "as if it were me". This latter case doesn't happen very often though.

All in all, it's not really my place to tell artists how to make their characters. I tend to try to accept the artist's proposal - his vision of the main character - and play / enjoy it accordingly. Mostly this is because I also expect others to accept my main characters and experience them for who they are, rather than complain that they're not catering to their (the players') current preferences.

Anyway, this above is for games / works from people I like or respect - with the artistic mindset when playing.


There are other works which I may want to play mainly for fun and entertainment - here I would say that a few years ago, I liked relatively bland and good-natured MCs, but now I tend to like MCs who are egoistic. This doesn't mean an  "evil" or "mean" protagonist. It just means that he/she is looking after their own interests.

This is now, of course - I can't really know whether in 5 years I will still enjoy this kind of protagonist. I think the protagonists you enjoy playing as aren't ever fixed in terms of who they are and what they represent - sometimes after some emotionally draining event you want to play as the mean guy, sometimes when you are frustrated you might enjoy a weak and loved MC.

I actually don't know what to write as a conclusion, because it doesn't feel like I have one - the MC is but one of the elements of a whole, so perhaps his integration should be the primary concern - if the character feels natural to the story, then I think the artist has done his job and it's now up to the player to find a way to appreciate him.


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Re: What do you look for in a main character?
« Reply #4 on: January 01, 2011, 06:27:21 PM »
As to designing a main character, I never really think actively about what type of traits he/she should have. It all depends on the concept that inspired me to write the story. For example, if I wanted to write a story about overcoming adversity, I'd want to design a main character who possesses some vulnerabilities as well as the traits to be able to compensate for these vulnerabilities. Usually, the main character is not actually some kind of "the chosen one" type of character, although I have done some stories in that vein. My main character would most likely be someone with an interesting experience to relate to the reader.

As for preferences as to main character, I don't think I have any. The character could be the greatest asshole in the world and I'd still like him if the story somehow pulled it off well (Death Note: Raito Yagami, Code Geas: Lelouch etc.) So I'd agree with lvuer as well.

What I do know is that I don't like characters who are far too perfect or overpowered and remain static throughout the entire story, especially for serious/semi-serious pieces. Comedy characters actually work better if they are static, since there would be that certain sense of familiarity with how the character would react given almost any kind of situation after you've been acquainted with him/her after a few episodes.

I also don't like characters who seem like they were created specifically to pander to the audience. Sky Girls and Nanoha fall squarely into this category.

Furthermore, I really hate being put into the shoes of the MC, as in the game expects me to be the MC. Most of the time, I really won't be able to relate with the game mainly because I have a very weird (unique? :P) personality. This is not the same, of course, as the game telling the story from a first-person perspective, which is fine. What I don't like is when the game becomes too interactive that it expects you to actually play as yourself.


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Re: What do you look for in a main character?
« Reply #5 on: January 03, 2011, 08:43:36 AM »
The main character is a character, so I suppose he/she should be thought out or written in the same way. The exception would be when you have the nameless/faceless/characterless main character. The character goes through things, does whatever and gets the job done while the story progresses around him. The other characters are the characters. Can be good for fps but not the best when your main goal is telling a story. Sometimes, the character can also be quite well developed even though they don't speak, e.g. Cave Story. Doesn't work too well in a vn, in my opinion.

When the focus is on the story, however, the characters are important. And especially the main character since he/she is the one character that is always present. To me, it is often the case that the main character's personality can be figured out but looking at what you want to happen in the story. The main character's goals and how he goes about them are what is going to drive the story forward. And more than that, they're going to colour the whole story -- give it its flavour. This doesn't mean that the character is always directly derived from the story, but that once you know what the story is about and a bit about the main character you can almost just let the character loose to do what needs to be done.

As an example, in the project I am currently working on, the main character has a very distinctive personality even thought I didn't sit down and work out what his personality would be. If I changed his personality, I would probably have to change the plot to some degree as well.

As to what sort of character I like to read about as the main character, it doesn't really bother me. In fact, it's not even something that I would think about. I think that it is probably the case that if the main character becomes annoying, it is more the writer's fault than anything else (or the subject matter is actually not interesting, perhaps). So what if the main character never does anything an keeps on complaining, and when he does act he always does the wrong thing and then mopes about it? If that's what you're writing you'd better be writing it so that it's interesting.


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Re: What do you look for in a main character?
« Reply #6 on: February 03, 2011, 05:00:29 PM »
I think what Mikey says it's really important.

The protagonist has a role, like everyone else.
And there should be a reason why he's the main character.
Im not talking about beign "the choosen one" or anything of the sort.
Its about what the author is trying to convey.

Choosing a Main character is choosing a point of view.
So. the Protagonist should adapt to the plot, not the other way around.
Of course, the plot will bend according to the leading character. But that's true for the rest of the cast too.
(Except certain MC's that are just destiny's toys, much to their grief)
What I am trying to say is that, a certain story, can change completely if it's told from the point of view of another
Thus, the protagonist, most of the time, defines what kind of story it'll be told.
Both a role and a plot device, The main character (Or the lack thereof) in my opinion, makes or breaks a story.

As for personal prefferences.
The only thing I need of a protagonist is to "feel alive"
A main protagonist should feel, have opinions, comment about the world that surrounds him from time to time, have multiple facets, yet avoid being just an author's alter ego.
Most of the times they are our only eyes and ears on the story.
I like it better when they are less of a couple of senses and more of a tour guide.



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Re: What do you look for in a main character?
« Reply #7 on: February 10, 2011, 09:01:02 PM »
Absolutely nothing.

No matter what the story is, I usually don't carry any preconceived expectations for the protagonist. I do prefer that the protagonist has a personality of some sort, but I'm not partial towards neutral/faceless characters who only act as a mediator between the player and the game. In a few VN's, the ones with actual gameplay, it's better that the protagonist is a faceless character, or isn't doing his/her own thing without the player's consent, I think.

For me, as long as the protagonist moves along and enters into conflicts that makes sense/is interesting/isn't boring, then I'm fine with it. All too often, the problem is in the plot itself. The protagonist does impact the direction of the story, but it's what happens to him that makes it either interesting or boring.

So, yup. Absolutely nothing.