Tag Archives: story based games

All My (Virtual) Children

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it upwards of a thousand times: the secret narrative weapon of video games is the ability to put the player into the story. They’re seeing, hearing, and living the adventure before them, in a way that no other medium can match.

Since the first time a sentient piece of fungus told players their monarchal love interest was, in fact, in a different fortified structure, game developers have used in-game character relationships as boosts to keep players going. Sometimes you’re saving a loved one, avenging a loved one, redeeming a loved one from the sins that she unknowingly committed because you were actually the one who sinned and thus made her an accessory (Dante’s Inferno is a weird, weird game…), so on and so forth. Almost always, that “loved one” is a significant other. Not every time, mind you, and we’ll get to that, but that’s definitely the most common convention.

The thing about this particular type of connection is that the suspension of disbelief can only go so far. The majority of the players out there aren’t trying to save/avenge/redeem/whatever their digital objects of affection because they are emotionally in love with these characters. The players are doing it because they know their character is; and players want their protagonist to get their own happily ever after.

Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying we can’t be emotionally invested or attached to a fictional character or their relationships. Quite the contrary. I jumped through so many hoops in Dragon Age: Origins for my Warden to end up happily ever after with Morrigan that it was ridiculous… but that’s just it. I did it for my WARDEN, not me. If it was actually me in that world, I don’t think Morrigan and I would have lasted too long. She doesn’t exactly have the personality that would win Mom and Dad over.


“What are you talking about, I am smiling.”

But because of the narrative that I chose to pursue with my character, it was a perfect match. All of BioWare’s games demand that same level of commitment when you’re trying to pursue a successful, and lasting, romantic attachment to a character… but in the end, it’s the romantic attachment of one character to another character. You’re setting up your happily ever after for your Warden, or your Inquisitor, or Shepard…not yourself. That’s how it should be. If you’re actually, deeply in love with a video game character, and you’re not the main character of the movie Her, please seek help.

Side note: In editing this blog post, Nerissa and I realized we have referenced a BioWare game in pretty much every other post we’ve written. We are not just a BioWare fan club, we promise. That being said. BioWare, if you guys are reading this and you’d like to pay us to be a BioWare fan club, we are 100% down. Anyway, back on track.

The thing is, most game developers that aren’t BioWare, or even CD Projekt Red in the latest Witcher titles, have realized they’re never going to truly rope in a player beyond a certain emotional point without a ton of extra work. So as opposed to trying to craft a rich, meaningfully romantic narrative around the characters, many developers often default to a tried and true, albeit extremely lazy and overdone, trope:


“I’m emotionally complex.”

It’s sex. If the image above didn’t convey that clearly enough, I’m talking about sex.

Now, I’m not saying there isn’t a place in games for sex and sex appeal. I’ll even admit using that picture of Ivy from Soul Calibur is a little below-the-belt considering she’s just a side character in a fighting game series, not even a romantic interest like we’ve been discussing… but come on, can you blame me for using that picture to make this point? Looking at that, you really have to wonder who’s the better fighter: Ivy, or the poor strap that’s hanging on for dear life.

The trait of our industry I’m cheekily poking fun at is the particularly bad habit of using sex as nothing more than (usually very objectifying) eye candy, or in the case of romantic interests: an incredibly lazy way of getting you interested in the characters ending up together. Unlike the comparatively few games out there that work to make you like the characters themselves, far too many are just hoping they can entice you with the potential prospect of some flashed skin or awkwardly animated character models playing poke the polygons.

And when it comes to romantic relationships, that’s about as far as players can get with games. You either care about the relationship for the sake of the characters, or you have some very lustful expectations for their immediate future. But what about non-romantic relationships. What about something like… oh, I don’t know, parenthood? Can a game make you feel some genuine emotions typically involved with that? I will argue that yes, it can.

I am not a father. I plan to be, and that’s a journey I’m sure my wife and I will be taking in the next few years or so, but I am not a dad yet. But I’ll be darned if there aren’t a few games I’ve played, particularly two, that very smartly tapped into the emotional part of my brain that has that already in me.

SPOILER WARNING: Just to warn you, I am going to spoil the living DAYLIGHTS out of the Last of Us and the BioShock series. So if you haven’t played these masterpieces, would you kindly exit out of this window, proceed to your nearest console or PC, and get to work. If you have played these games, I just made you chuckle.

Within the first half hour, The Last of Us makes it very clear we are not in for a happy ride. You get front row seats to the apocalypse, see a ton of civilians meet their very scary demise, and what was that last one… oh yeah.



The death of Joel’s daughter, Sarah, is probably the most gut-wrenchingly painful video game intro I’ve ever played. If you have a heart, you will cry. If you don’t have a heart, well that’s a pretty big medical red flag, and you should seek help.

The scene sets the tone for the rest of the game, and in particular, the emotional state Joel is in for a good part of it. He’s devastated, he’s hardened, and couldn’t care less about the fate of the world. But a little bit later into the game, he’s charged with taking care of a young teen named Ellie, and the relationship they form is one of the most meaningful and realistic in video game history. Joel comes to terms with Sarah’s death, and the father in him finds new life in taking care of Ellie.

The two girls couldn’t be any different. In the short time we have with Sarah, she seems sweet. She’s innocent, kind, and sentimental. Ellie, on the other hand, swears like a sailor, is short-tempered, and will stab anyone who wants to harm her right in the heart. But in the time we spend with her, we see that Ellie does have a softer side. She’s vulnerable, and she does need someone to be there for her, and that person ends up being Joel.

The great thing is, because of the way Naughty Dog constructs it, you don’t just want to protect Ellie because Joel does… you just want to protect her. Period. See, Naughty Dog gets you invested in Ellie through Joel, but unlike the romantic relationships we talked about earlier, the buck doesn’t stop with that. She might be leaning on Joel for support (and vice versa), but she’s leaning on you, the player too. You care about this girl, and that’s the genius. You care. Not you as Joel – you. After the hell she has been through, and the hell you have been put through AS Joel with Sarah’s death, when this girl puts her faith in you, by the end of the game you are willing to, almost literally, go to war to ensure that she comes out okay. Joel is still the representation of you in the game, yes, but you aren’t just doing what you do for Joel. You’re doing it for Ellie, because Ellie deserves it. The devotion Joel develops for Ellie as the story progresses is funneled so smoothly to us that we barely even notice it, but by the end of the game you cannot help but feel an obligation to take care of her… no matter the cost.


Let’s be honest, none of us even tried to see if we could spare this dude.

And by the end of the game, after an ending I can only describe as “overwhelmingly thought-provoking” without getting completely off topic, I realized what Naughty Dog had done. They had tapped into my emotions by making me feel very, very real feelings for a fictional character. They tapped into an emotion all of us should have: wanting to protect an innocent life. In particular an innocent life that is looking to us for protection. In this case, our kid. It didn’t matter if Ellie was “real” or not, because of the way the narrative was constructed. When we were playing that game, our priority was protecting her. It was to help her keep going. And that’s awesome.


And then RIGHT when we had finally stopped crying, they released THIS.


Ellie tapped into the parental side of me that I imagine I’ll experience mostly in the first two decades or so of my children’s lives: he need to protect them, to shelter them, from the dangers and darkness in the world. What BioShock did though… what they tapped into was the side of parenting that I think is probably the scariest part of all: not being able to protect your children, because it’s time they faced the world on their own.

The whole BioShock franchise has so many themes and metaphors for parents and parenting, it could give the Andy Griffith Show a run for its money. In the first game, you play as a protagonist who has been unknowingly brainwashed since birth to go on a rampaging Terminator-esque killing spree to take out none other than, surprise, your own father.


Who’s da good murder baby? WHO’S DA GOOD WITTLE MURDER BABY?


BioShock 2, though a lot of people give it flack, has a phenomenal final act that deals with, amongst other things, a young child who wants nothing more than to feel loved by a parental figure… and then also proceeds to go on a vengeful spree of destruction. But this time we’re totally cool with it and it’s justified – we’re not just along for the ride because we’re brainwashed. It’s complicated.

Finally though, the real kicker for this franchise is Infinite. And particularly, in my opinion, the gem of all video game companion characters: Elizabeth Comstock.


So. Many. Emotions.


Now, I told you I was going to have spoilers here, so I’m going to spill this right out the gate: Elizabeth is your protagonist, Booker’s, daughter, but neither you nor he know it until the very end of the game. See, Booker had gambling debts, and like any upstanding citizen, to pay them off he sold his infant daughter to some scientists who came knocking on his door saying they’d make all his problems go away if they could have the girl. Turns out, these particular scientists were from a parallel universe, where Booker is actually regarded as a Prophet and is looking for a successor, so who better than his own flesh and blood… sort of. Anyway, Booker decides that selling children really isn’t the most morally pure option, and tries to save his daughter, but doesn’t succeed. The beginning of the game is decades later, when Booker has been so eaten apart with guilt he’s repressed this event entirely. However, when he and Elizabeth’s paths cross again, he’s almost immediately drawn to care for her and protect her. And, like with Joel, we feel the exact same emotions. But here’s the kicker with Elizabeth… we can’t. At least not for long. Elizabeth is a grown woman, and no matter how hard we try to keep the bubbly innocence she has when we first meet her intact, a world of despair and death very quickly takes its toll on her. Gone is the sweet girl who was excited to see the sights of the world. Gone is the girl who laughed as she danced with complete strangers on a pier. Very quickly, a world of violence and corruption turns Elizabeth into a hardened, stone-faced woman who loses faith in the world she used to dream about living in… and it’s absolutely heart-wrenching to watch unfold.

I won’t completely destroy the ending of Infinite, or the absolute must-play conclusion of Elizabeth’s story in the Burial at Sea DLC’s, but I’ll give away enough to make my point. No matter what we do to try to make Elizabeth okay again, no matter what we do to protect her, to take care of her, to try and let her live a happy, care-free life… it doesn’t work. The ending of Elizabeth’s tale left me completely speechless, and numb inside. Because, like with Ellie, I wanted to protect this daughter figure. I knew it was my job to watch out for her, but in the end, I couldn’t. And it was devastating.

As I said with Last of Us, though, that’s the genius. Anyone who plans to be a parent knows it won’t always (or… you know ever) be easy. At the end of the day, there’s going to be a time when they’re driving off to college, and we’re waving from the front door. The same door we waited for their bus, the same door where we watched them head out for their first date, and the same door we can only hope and pray we’ll be able to greet them at for many decades to come. Watching Elizabeth’s choices beyond my control was extremely tough, but also incredibly real. Because like a real kid, at some point… you have to let them go. You have to let them make a choice, and you did your best to ensure they’ll make the right ones, and be okay. Sometimes they will… and sometimes they won’t.

Video games are a way to throw someone into a story. To make them experience it firsthand. We all know they aren’t real, we all know that when we turn off the TV the characters don’t know it, but stories have a way of getting in your head. Fictional characters can touch us so much because we relate to what they’re enduring, even if it’s just a metaphor for things that have happened or will happen to us, or our loved ones. If there are any kinds of stories I want us at Wyvern to be known for in the years to come, it’s ones that can grip you like these can. Ones that use fiction to speak to your heart. Ones make you recall emotions that you have felt, or will feel, in your real life. So hug your loved ones tighter, and watch out for them… be they Ellie, Elizabeth, or the much, much more important figures in your life that they represent.

Jonathan Wine, Creative Director, Wyvern Interactive 2017


NOTE: The images used in this blog post are not the property or creations of Wyvern Interactive, LLC. These depict characters from other games and companies who own them in their own right. We do not claim any rights over these characters, companies, or their affiliates.


The Morrigan Complex

You know how, throughout history, there are those characters that everyone seems to feel the same way about? As an example, on one hand, take a look at Disney’s Mulan: An incredibly strong, determined, brave warrior, and an overall great representation of exactly what amazing things women can do. On the other hand…What about Dolores Umbridge? Let’s be honest, all of us were cheering when the abusive wretch got dragged off into the forest by centaurs.

Whether it be in films, books, TV-shows, or another single-story medium, most characters (with some exceptions) bring out the same reactions in people because those characters were written in one script to make the viewer feel a certain way about them during the course of their story. Those characters only have one set sequence of events to show who they are. (I’m not saying these characters are flat, as many of the greatest characters of all time are extremely fleshed out and have huge backstories that span an entire series.) The problem, though, is that the viewer only sees what happens to them. If that character dies, there is nothing the viewer can do to prevent their death. If a character is romanced, we have no power over how that happened or who it happened with. Basically, we have no say in the matter.

Video games, however, do something pretty amazing. In a video game, especially in the more modern ones that are driven by the choices the player makes, we don’t just watch these characters. For the time we’re playing, we’re living in the same world as them, and many times our own opinion is brought into the discussion on whether their choices are morally right or wrong, and if they’re a character worth keeping at your side or if they’re not worthy of your trust at all. Your decisions completely change the world around you, and those choices not only impact who you are in the world, but who the characters around you become, what they do, what happens to them, and more. So, in short, if you and I play the same game in different ways, your best friend could be my worst enemy.

After realizing just how earth shattering these differences can be, I nicknamed this character-evolving phenomenon “The Morrigan Complex”.

Morrigan and Alistair

Why that title, you ask? My best friend and I began discussing this topic more and more recently, and we both found out after describing our gameplay experiences of the Dragon Age series that the main characters in her game vs. my game were COMPLETELY different people. The characters who I trusted with my life were the ones that she described as being so weak that they dragged her down. On the flipside, the characters who she developed strong friendships with were the ones I thought were going to betray me in the end and I was just waiting for them to prove me right. Both of us were stunned to hear how things were on the other side and I couldn’t help but sit back in wonder, realizing that literally no other medium could ever do this to people.

The two characters who really drive this point home for us are Morrigan and Alistair in Dragon Age: Origins. If you have never played the game, Morrigan is a mage who lives by her own rules with an extremely famous and widely feared mother known as the “Witch of the Wilds”. Alistair is a warrior who is part of a huge alliance known as the “Grey Wardens” that you join at the beginning of the game. Those are pretty much the only similarities our characters had. After that, things just went insane.

SPOILER WARNING: Major spoilers for the Dragon Age series follow this. If you do not want spoilers, skip down to the “SPOILER SAFE ZONE”.


My play through of Dragon Age: Origins had me more emotionally invested in it than I think I have ever been with a game in my life. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of playing into the obvious “romance options” that most decision-based games give you. In fact, I actively try to avoid them. Most of the time, the dialogue feels forced and there’s something about a character breaking from the story to suddenly be like, “You’re the protagonist and I LOVE YOU BECAUSE THAT IS HOW I WAS WRITTEN,” that takes me out of it. I’m just not interested.

Origins, however, was different. At first, I was not a huge fan of Alistair. He seemed cocky and mean, and if he existed in the world today, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see his sword and armor replaced by football gear and a brew. He definitely seemed like the fantasy version of a sports jock to me. However, at one point maybe thirty minutes to an hour into the game, I remember him making a joke that made me stop, look at him, and burst into laughter because it was exactly like my sense of humor. I took a breath, thought about it, and realized that hey, this guy wasn’t that bad after all. After a bit of joking back and forth, we basically became best bros, with the two of us warriors fighting in the front side by side. As the game went on, I got closer to him and eventually, it passed the point of us being friends. I did what I could to help him find his family and joked when he needed a second to lighten up and come back from a dark place. I had never experienced something this personal in a game before, but dammit, I was in love with this character. In the end of the game, without giving me any choice in the matter, he even sacrificed himself to save me.

Which made the storyline with Morrigan a little…tense. From the beginning, I never got the feeling that I could trust Morrigan. She would constantly insult Alistair and she would try to take things for herself with no regard for the rest of the party. She would refuse to give me information on old magics that she clearly knew about, kept secrets from the party that could have helped us, and she constantly questioned my decisions and insulted what I was fighting for. Eventually, when she finally opened up to me and expressed her fear of her mother and interest in recovering her book of magic, I decided to help, hoping it would allow me to see the true Morrigan and repair some of the damage in our relationship. However, the moment I retrieved the book for her, she would barely speak to me about what it really meant. She was constantly reading it, and the more she hinted at its secrets, the more it sounded like she wanted to use the same evil magic her mother was infamous for. Then, when she, towards the end of the game, came to me wanting to perform an ancient ritual from her mother’s texts, I turned her down and told her to get out of my sight. I was not going to make a deal with the devil and she had given me NO reasons to trust her. My “Alistair” was the warrior who loved me and saved my life and my “Morrigan” was the witch who tried to take everything away.

Morrigan and Alistair 2

Allison played things a little differently. She made decisions that she thought would benefit the whole world, looking at problems from all sides without letting her emotions get in the way. Her priority was ending the blight, and she would stop at nothing to achieve that goal, even if it meant making some morally gray decisions. Her first opinion of Alistair was not much different from my own, seeing him as this cocky jock-like character. After the first major battle she tried to rally Alistair to push past his personal emotions in order to fight the blight. Alistair did not take too kindly to her methods and as a result, Alistair was weak in her game and she thought of him as extremely whiney, so she never took him into battle with her. When Allison took charge of the politics in choosing the future ruler(s) of Ferelden, she arranged for the current Queen, Anora, to marry Alistair (which he hesitantly agreed to) because she believed this would be the best course of action for the country.  However, Anora had requested that Allison show leniency towards Loghain (Anora’s Father), who betrayed several people during the blight.  Allison decided that killing him would be destroying a wealth of military knowledge that could aid in the final battle against the archdemon, so she decided to make him a grey warden.  Alistair strongly opposed this idea and stormed off and became a drunkard.

Since Allison didn’t have this innate bond with Alistair it made her interactions with Morrigan vastly different. Allison immediately saw the potential in Morrigan to be a powerful ally that could help end the blight, because she brought a unique understanding of the blight and magic to the party. Since Allison’s only motivation was to end the blight, she quickly decided that she needed to earn Morrigan’s trust/friendship.  Allison quickly gained Morrigan’s trust largely because the decisions she made in game were to help end the blight even if that meant choosing a morally gray option.  During personal conversations with Morrigan she was always brutally honest with Morrigan and always called her out when she said something that was inappropriate/wrong.  Morrigan eventually trusted her and after receiving the grimoire willingly discussed the contents with Allison. Prior to the final battle when Morrigan confided in her there was a ritual that could save her life, Allison agreed.  Allison also agreed that the safest course of action to protect Morrigan from her mother was for her to disappear. Allison’s “Alistair” was the drunkard who wasn’t worth her time and her “Morrigan” was her best friend who used her powers to save her.


Allison and I are best friends with very similar personalities, yet when it came to this series, our decisions were so varied that our characters became completely different people. Hearing about her play through was like seeing into a parallel universe. So, why is “The Morrigan Complex” so important that I felt the need to write about it?

Because this is the power that games have. Video games, at their core, are an art form that is used to allow the player to directly impact what happens in a world based on how they interact with it. You didn’t dodge Bowser fast enough? Say hello to the Mario Brothers “Game Over” screen. You decided to harvest a few little sisters instead of saving them all in Bioshock? Congratulations, you have just become Satan incarnate. Your decisions, whether they are rooted in your emotional investment, skill, moral choices, or carefully planned strategy, are what influence what you see, and that makes games all the more beautiful. Your play through of a game and mine will never be exactly the same, and that is an achievement that should be celebrated. Games are designed specifically to put that power in your hands, so you can have a say in how your story will end. Those differences between our characters doesn’t make them any worse. In fact, even though I never got along with Morrigan, I still think she is a fantastically written character, especially now that I know how other people see her, too. Your best friend may be my worst enemy, and that’s completely okay. In the end, it’s not about who might be “evil” and who might be “good”. It’s about the fact that we, as players, actually have a say in the matter.

Nerissa Hart, Marketing Admin Assistant for Wyvern Interactive


Image 1. Artist Unknown. Link Source: https://ifunny.co/tags/morrigan/1455809336

Image 2. Artist Unknown. Link Source: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/73/ea/06/73ea0660bca3a70017d1a028d547ad29

Image 3. Artist Unknown. Link Source: https://www.google.com/search?q=alistair+and+morrigan&biw=1366&bih=586&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj88eSHguTMAhULWz4KHSxMBs4Q_AUIBigB#tbm=isch&q=alistair+and+morrigan+art+toadstool&imgrc=tJSYnoqqGK2_DM%3A