Whether it’s an Italian plumber or the world’s fastest hedgehog, gaming has created many recognisable heroes over the years. But surely, these characters couldn’t have saved galaxies and rescued princess on their own? In G Minor is here to celebrate the little guys of gaming, the supporting characters, the NPCs, the ones that make it possible for the heroes to achieve their goals, and sometimes even outshine the heroes themselves.
In order to discuss some characters in depth, we have to refer to a game’s story. Spoilers ahead!
“Look, I don’t call you “brother” just because I like the way it sounds.”
A difficulty that’s often presented in superhero games is the lack of a connection between the player the game world. It’s very easy to make enjoyable games with a superhero format by giving players the chance to toy around with superhuman powers, gaining more attacks, gadgets or special moves as the game progresses to give a sense of growth for both the player and their in-game avatar. This aspect of game design is often employed in superhero games to connect the player and the hero, but the importance of the game’s environment is often downplayed, mostly to emphasise the fantasy aspects of the game, but for many this is often wasted potential, and one that the Infamous franchise took full advantage off through its characters, most notably, Zeke.
Zeke Jedediah Dunbar, the gun-totin’, beer-swillin’, monster-fightin’ best friend of Cole MacGrath. One of the player’s few companions in the Infamous series, Zeke always has a trick or two up his sleeve to help his buddy out, whether it’s jury rigging a makeshift cattle prod or firing at a crowd of mutated junkies with his trust six-shooter. Sucker Punch did an extraordinary job of expanding Zeke’s character over the course of both Infamous games, and what’s most interesting about his character are the ideas that are conveyed through him, which we’ll see later.
What’s established from the very start of Infamous is Cole’s bond with Zeke. Even in the wake of an apocalyptic disaster, Zeke always manages to crack a joke now and then. The wisecracking best-friend has become ever more popular as a character in gaming, often coming across as very awkwardly portrayed and forced, but Zeke’s dialogue feels very natural and comforting, which effectively works in tandem with his surroundings, juxtaposing the crumbling wrecks of Empire City and New Marais with Zeke’s optimistic, easygoing attitude. Exchanges between Zeke and Cole are dynamic and often hilarious, feeling more like a natural conversation than a scripted event. Because of this, it’s much easier for the player to assume the role of Cole and be immersed in the story, since “they” already have relations within the game world with a realistic and believable character. Zeke acts as a conduit (pun definitely intended) between the player and the game world, providing a friendly face in a not-so friendly environment.
Not only providing a sense of familiarity, but Zeke’s actions tend to convey the concerns or the needs of the common player. For example, Zeke activating the ray sphere in an attempt to receive superpowers during the first game, as well as his wish for everyone to receive powers mirrors the player’s desire for the same thing. I can’t have been the only one to put the game down and wish I could hurl electricity from my hands. Zeke has his fair share of flaws too, messing things up for Cole more than once during the first game, but developing more as a useful character during the second game, evolving from paranoid, self-profiting (but well-intentioned) lowlife to a charitable and resourceful right-hand to Cole, juggling the roles of mechanic, spy, rebel leader and best-friend, as well as overcoming his inferiority complex towards Cole’s superpowers. There’s a definite sense of role-reversal between the two games as well. While Cole would often be rescuing Zeke from tight spots during the first game, Zeke comes to the player’s aid on many occasions during Infamous 2. This increase sense of worth for Zeke’s character makes it much easier for the player to connect to him, and of course for those of the evil karmic persuasion, ending up with one of the hardest and most tear-jerking fights in modern gaming.
At any rate, Zeke is a great character. He’s incredibly fun to watch and manages to ground the player’s experiences in-game, keeping Infamous from dipping into a melodramatic representation of superheroes. Sporting an unbelievably high amount of appeal and charisma, he’s won many a player’s heart and contributed heavily to Infamous’ success. If it were possible, I think we’d all like to take a seat on the rooftop HQ, gaze out into the New Marais coastline and have a beer with our good buddy, Zeke Dunbar.
“Half as long — Twice as bright.”
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