Factions are the enemy of the character

| Tuesday, May 7, 2013
"Terrible things!"
"And then... a hero!"
"The hero is you, or at least is supposed to be, if you're not bad, but I hope you get my point!"

I'm going to go ahead and say that there are two types of dangerous worlds.  In one type of dangerous world there are bad guys and you will kill them.  Maybe the bad guys are being opposed by good guys and you're breaking a stalemate.  Despite this, it's clear that you're the hero, because you're why the good guys won.  You aren't merely helping people, you're Saving the Day.

In the other time there are two or more factions.  Maybe some are better than others, in the sense that they better fit your own personal code or in the sense that the developers clearly intend for you to think they are the good guys.  Despite this, the plot isn't a clear Good vs. Evil.  Rather, it is a struggle between factions.  They are deadlocked.  Since good always wins, logically this means that the factions are of insufficiently differentiated Goodness or Badness.  They're blue and orange rather than black and white: possibly opposites, but that doesn't make one better than the other.

In the first you may struggle with your own demons, but ultimately you go along the Path of Goodness and Heroism and are Totally Awesome.  Essentially it is about you and your character.  Those demons you struggle with, those are part of the story and they help create complexity and contrast with your eventual Being a Good Hero.  If you prefer, you can flip this over and make everything about Being an Evil Villain, such as if you're playing as a Sith or Austria.  Ultimately, it is about you picking a path and punching anyone who interferes, though not without first being tempted by their ideas and offering to subscribe to their newsletter, before determining that it is filled with lies.

When there are factions, even when one seems a little or a lot better than the other, you're not the hero picking a path, but rather you're just someone signing up for a side.  You may be important to the success of that side, but you're not the hero of the story.  You don't win; the faction wins.  Your struggles are therefore secondary.  At worst, they may just look stupid.  When struggling with evil you expect a struggle.  When picking a faction, any straying just makes you either indecisive or treasonous.  Neither of those are particularly sexy personality flaws.  Those are traits given to annoying side characters and villains, not heroes.

This all leads me to a mystery question: What if there are two (or three) factions, and myself?  I'm thinking of Fallout: New Vegas, which I picked up again recently.  While I'm guessing most Westerners would identify more closely with the NCR than the Caesar's Legion, neither side is unambiguously good or evil.  Mr. House does not strike me as good or evil, but entirely neutral on the concept of morality.  If you pick a faction, what you're doing is picking a faction and supporting it.  You're great and all, but once the faction wins the Big Battle, your story is over.  Maybe that's because it's easier to write an ending slideshow than to rescript the whole world to account for the changes.  Or maybe it's because, despite supposedly being the solitary badass, you're not much of anything without the factions.

Yet there is the fourth option: win.  Not help others win, but win yourself.  Crush your enemies, neutralize challengers, take your land, and declare your independence, backed with the firepower to repel any invaders.  You might take the exact same path the entire way, fight every previous battle just the same way, do every side quest the same way, talk to everyone the same way, and yet at the very end you make a single defining choice to back yourself rather than any faction.  This leads me to wonder if I was wrong at the start of this post.  Maybe the character was always being developed, fighting demons, making decisions, and yet because some join a faction, we ignore their development and focus instead on the faction.


Ephemeron said...

A faction is just the sum of individual heroes, villains and hanger-ons fighting on the same side.

Klepsacovic said...

A faction may be the sum, but then on average, what is the member of the faction? That's the difficulty: it's tremendously hard to present a large number of unique individuals. We can't even remember them in real life (which is why we invented stereotypes, despite their flaws). The result is that a faction tends to be represented as either the sum or the average, neither of which are representations of heroes, villains, or hangers-on.

flosch said...

Well, so much for the experiment of allowing anonymous posting again, I guess...

I'm not 100% sure where you're going with the post, or whether my thoughts go anywhere into the same direction, or ricochet off like you climbing a tower in Far Cry, but to add at least something of (dubious) value:

I prefer games in which factions have as little influence as possible. Where I can pick and choose where to go, what to do. Not a lot like that exist, I think. EQ2 comes close in that you can switch factions whenever you want, and they don't have much influence on your daily affairs anyway.

Next come games where everyone is implied to belong to one faction, which therefore doesn't add much additional restriction inside the game. MMO-wise, I guess you can put LotRO into that category.

My least favorite is the two-faction setup with entrenched, but strangely artificially trumped up differences. That's WoW for me. Why do I have to follow Jerk #1 when he's clearly behaving like an idiot? Thanks, but no, I'll do my own thing.

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