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!
What was she fighting for? What am I fighting for? What are you fighting for?
It’s safe to assume that the ‘90s was an excellent time for the games industry. The tentative transition from 2D to 3D for developers, along with rising, new teams with original IPs and concepts for games showed a huge amount of promise, with the industry positively bubbling with new ideas on the brink of the millennium. And we didn’t even have wireless controllers yet. As always with the advent of new technology, many developers battled over who could utilise it best, while others saw it as an opportunity, namely an employee at Konami named Hideo Kojima.
Now Kojima had been directing and producing games at Konami for at least ten years before his first breakthrough title, but he decided to utilise the then-next generation capabilities of the Playstation to create a game with an adult-oriented narrative. An interactive tale of espionage, action and giant robots, which grew into the franchise we’ve come to know as Metal Gear Solid.
Before MGS, there were very few games that featured characters that the player could relate to on a specifically personal level. You can admire the qualities of an evil-vanquishing hero or aspire to be Solid Snake, but it’s hard for the player to actually relate to them. Enter tonight’s spotlight character: Hal Emmerich, aka “Otacon”.
At the time, Otacon wasn’t the kind of character you’d expect would have a supporting role in an action game. The player receives a pretty pathetic first impression of him as he loses control of his bladder and hides in a locker, leaving you to deal with a psychotic killing machine. Despite this, the sense of pathos in Otacon’s character immediately establishes a kind of “endearing responsibility”. The player feels obliged to care about this character for how feeble they appear. Otacon is the awkward nerd caught out of his element and just doesn’t know how to adapt.
It’s very easy for fans to become attached to Otacon for how many parallels that he shares with the player himself. He was designed in mind to reflect the qualities of the average nerd, geek or gamer, so that the player would see elements of themselves mirrored within the story, which can turn a game into an experience. Much like Zeke in the first instalment of In G Minor, Otacon acts as the bridge between fiction and reality that allows the player to connect. One of the ways Kojima pulls this off is through the insertion of references and allusions to geek culture directly into Otacon’s character, the most obvious example being his first name, Hal, taken of course from the computer AI in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Oddysey. While references to pop and geek culture can often be obnoxious nowadays, MGS used them tastefully.
Coming back to the idea of “endearing responsibility”, Otacon’s many negatives traits gave his character a much more grounded, realistic edge, and at times a surprising amount of depth. Take for example his infatuation with Sniper Wolf, probably the first time the effects of Stockholm Syndrome had been conveyed in a videogame. Disorder or not, Otacon’s attraction to Sniper Wolf is an example of the responsibility the player can feel second-hand from watching the exchanges between your avatar (Solid Snake) and your conduit (Otacon).The prospect of a relationship with the enemy is a shocking one in any medium, and as such the player feels obliged to “educate” Otacon.
After Metal Gear Solid was a success, Kojima had the opportunity to flesh out Otacon’s character much more, placing him in different positions, situations, giving him different responsibilities, etc. This all adds to what players would interpret as “endearing”, and is all the more rewarding for long-time fans of the series, as they experience one character’s journey with them, watching him progress, mature, and feel all his ups and downs, all the more amplified when the character is a representation of the player. It’s not just a journey for the character, but for the player.
Whether he’s a caricature of the common nerd, a complex portrayal of the modern man, or just a cheeky self-insert from the director, there’s many different ways to approach Otacon as a character, and as such, so many different reasons to love him. He’s a great example of the way a character can evolve over the course of a franchise while still retaining the qualities that won fans over first-time around.
Do you think love can bloom even on a battlefield?
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