hian

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So lately I've been thinking a lot, and breaking down/analysing narratives, and one


thing that has struck me is how under-developed heroic characters often are comparatively to the


villains.


Before you object, just hear me out here -


Is it not the case, with the exception of cookie-cutter run-of-the-mill "Evil" villains, that most


antagonists are given back-stories to explain how and why they became the people they are?


Now sure, protagonists are affored conventional character-development - that is to say character flaws


they need to over-come and perhaps even explanations for their flaws, but that's not what I am talking


about here -


I am talking about "goodness" as being a default assumption about the human condition and not


being in need of explanation in the same way as evil or moral bankruptcy.


Most heroes seem to just be good because, well they are, and that's what makes them the hero.


They might have character-flaws, but the reason why they're all essentially good,


that is to say, motivated to do the right "thing" as opposed to the


"wrong" thing is seldom explored, and I think that's shoddy writing to be honest.


Humans don't form with fully functional moral inclinations. Ever seen young children fight?


If you think for a moment that a young child couldn't easily beat another child silly, or


even sometimes to death, for completely superficial and inconsequential reasons given time,


anger and opportunity outside of adult supervision, then I'd call you naive.


Being good, and altruistic is just as much a result of time and enviromental pressures as


being selfish and egotistical, and as such, I think it ought to be explored.


The depth of a hero, and the narrative, to my mind, is severely compromised if it isn't,


because when time comes for the hero to make a choice between good and evil, you


won't have any concepts of the stakes or the factors going into that equation.


If our hero is just good, because he is the hero and heroes are good, then you know


what choice he or she will make right of the bat.


If you know what makes the hero a good person, then you can also see those factors


being measured against the influence of evil, and that can lead you to feel uncertain,


or anxious about the choice the hero now faces.


Ex. Will the strict moral lessons of the heroes parents hold up against the lure of eternal life,


at the expense of his or her soul etc.?


VS


Will the lure of eternal life at the expense of the heroes soul win out against the heroes inherently


herioc and good character?


At the top of my head, pretty much every main character I can think of are just good by default.


True, they struggle with moral dilemmas, but we, as the spectators,


never really know why they end up making the right choices,


despite the fact that we're always told in detail why they don't,


again as if you need more reason to do the bad than the good.


So, what's your guys thoughts about this?


Know of any good protagonists who breaks out of this mold?


Or do you simply think people are good by default unless something happens to them?
 
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Yui

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Kirigitsu, from Fate/Zero comes to mind for a hero that is well defined. Although he is an example of deconstruction.

I personally feel that the reason most people write stories in this way is because as you said they are under the assumption that humans are naturally good. Their heroes don't need as much back story because they don't feel the need to justify the heroes as much as they do the villains. This is perplexing as a reflective writer myself, I often times find that people I have sample my works (I don't really use my actual writings for games as they don't translate well to a game setting) get really bothered by the way I define my characters. While my literature professors will applaud me, people such as my mother, or even my sister will feel uncomfortable. The reason for this being, is that as an reflective writer, most of my characters have an internal struggle and I spend more time building their internal world and personal reality then I do with the mundane "hero's epic" that nearly all stories follow. People are under the impression for whatever reason that heroes should be perfect and held to a higher standard, because they wish for that type of person in their own life. So when they encounter a hero who is filled with regret, or has their own personal demons, it becomes too real and forces them to take a look at themselves. Instead of "I wished someone like this would come save me" it becomes "I should save myself" and people dislike that. NOW don't get me wrong when in the confides of major media, such as literature, drama, gaming, music, etc people are attracted to this sort of story, but it is because they come to it with a mindset prepared for it. When they are caught off guard, unless they are an fellow artist, it leaves them nothing short of being bewildered, and challenges their image of what a "hero" should actually be.

Nice Topic!
 

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There are quite a few aversions out there on both sides (very developed protagonist motives/backstory or undeveloped antagonist motives/backstory), but I think you do make a good point.  Heroes tend to be developed more in RPGs through their personality whereas villains are developed more through their motivations, and it does leave some missing potential on both sides.

My instinct is that this happens because of the characters' roles in the story, their intended relationship to the player him/herself, and the amount of "screen time" they receive.  It's probably a better balance than heroes having backstory (but no personality) and villains having personality (but no motivation).  But yeah, again, you bring up an important truth that there's a lot of storytelling money being left on the table.
 

Rhaeami

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It seems like your entire hang-up is over good/evil morality, interpreting the lack of moral ambiguity as a shallowness of character.  I like to think there are more ways for a character to be deep and interesting than slapping on a few moral grays.  Although good and evil are (arguably, in my opinion) thought of as social constructs these days, they are quite real to the people who ascribe to them, and that tends to be the heroes.  They do good because it's the right thing to do - I don't find that unbelievable, it's exactly what I'd do in their shoes, perhaps minus fighting dragons and such. >_>

Personally, I don't think the backstory antagonists typically get really makes them deeper characters.  They need a motivation to be evil in order to avoid being hollow cartoon-style villains, and I think most writers have realized that now.  What you're asserting, though, is that the protagonist needs a reason to be good in the same way.  I don't really agree with that, because very, VERY few people genuinely don't see any virtue in being a good person.  People get it, being good is something someone would want to be.  It makes sense. :|

While I agree that characters could and should be deeper, I don't think the best way to do that is to make them question their "good"-ness, necessarily.  As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't make them any more interesting, because these days we have *TONS* of morally grey characters, and it's no longer surprising to see.  The real world has people who range from totally altruistic to unrepentantly evil, just as it has people who fall in between.  Morality doesn't make or break a character's narrative, whether they be the villain or the hero.  But, again, that's just how I see it. :)

I rather liked the way the protagonists were handled in Final Fantasy XIII, myself, as much criticism as that game got.  The characters' morality wasn't even an issue, and the plot of the game made it unclear, even to the player, what the heck they should be doing from a moral perspective.  Instead, it was their personal desires and mental struggles in the face of hopelessness that drove the story.  Who are they as people?  How do they react to the situation?  That, I thought, was far more interesting than the whole good/evil thing.
 
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kerbonklin

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There's usually two types of "good" protagonists I see often in games, and those are:

1) Those who are righteous and morally good from the start to the end, with maybe some internal confusion in the middle of the plot but gets resolved.

2) Those who are more driven by desire and reward rather than what's "good", but they usually end up doing good things anyways cause plot.

I usually favor the general concept of #2 as a personal choice, and even more so if the plot doesn't exactly push "good" in their face. However if #1 is done really well, I like it just as much. Sometimes though #1 can be super cheesy and easy to predict.
 

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I'm reminded of a line I once heard when I was first starting out in writing.

"Everyone is the hero of their own story".  That means, your villains should be actual people too.  They're doing what they believe is right, or necessary, and have all the proper justifications for it.  They should be well-prepared (and even able!) to convince you that their motives are true, right, and proper.  You and your heroes should have a hard time arguing those points of view away.

Interestingly enough, it's one of the reasons I started on the journey of trying to tell the story I'm telling with my current game (if I can ever get off my lazy rear and just work on it and finish it).  I wanted to explore a game in which you're not a good guy.  You're not a hero.  You're the sum of all of your decisions.  The player is the accomplice to all the horrible things the character does (either because there are no other options, or because the choice seemed to be 'the lesser of two evils' to the player).  What is the measure of a hero?  Who gets to decide who is and is not a hero?  The victors.  The victors write history and they decide who was a hero and who was a villain.

Nobody sets out into the world thinking, "I'm a good person who does good things and I'd be a hero if there were some evil to vanquish".  No.  People go out into the world and just do what they would do.  They try to make the best of every situation they run into.  They're just trying to get through the day.  Sometimes, they set lofty goals like protecting their families or running for public office to make their community better, but that's rare.  It's something interesting to take into account when you make or play games.

I think I once posted a piece of dialogue in the forums that got quite a few likes and even a couple inquiries about my game, but it was something I'd been thinking about.  I was writing dialogue between my "hero" and my "villain" and I was thinking what the "villain" would actually say to the "hero" in the situation where they finally have their showdown.  It wouldn't be, "prepare to die!".  It wouldn't be, "I'll try to distract you because I don't think I can beat you".  It would be, "you absolutely disgust me and this is why".  For me, writing it, it was so powerful and amazing and right.  It captured the idea of heroes and villains so perfectly.

"You are no hero!  You're just a sad and scared little boy who has slaughtered thousands to get to me.  Even before you knew I existed, you slaughtered in the name of a king as a soldier.  The stupid part about this whole situation is that you think by murdering me over a difference of opinion that you can cleanse yourself of the rest of your sins.  In a story told to children about chivalry, you would be the villain."

I, personally, think heroes are born of normal everyday people who have their mettle tested in extraordinary circumstances.  Maybe at home that person is a drunk.  Maybe they beat their children.  Maybe they cheat on their taxes or their spouse.  But, sometimes, they're driven to extraordinary acts of good for the community as a whole.  History then paints them in a much better light, because it's harder to be painted as a hero if you have character flaws.  What was the line that Malcom Reynolds says in Firefly? "I reckon' that pretty much every person had a statue made of 'em was some sort of bastard or other.".  And he follows it up with another great piece of dialogue, "It ain't about you.  It's about them.  About what they need."

It's something I'm very deeply invested in actually exploring in a game format.  I don't want to make easy choices where the "lesser of two evils" is obvious.  I want being a good guy in the game to be as hard as it is in real life.  I want the players to find the reasons they will do some things, but not others.  I want the players to decide if they're really heroes, or if they're just pretending to be heroes because it's what they want to be more than anything.  No choice such as "murder puppies" or "save the puppies" should exist.  Or, if it does, the player should suddenly have to be very responsible for them to the point that maybe they rethink their decision.

In short, why don't we ever explore what the consequences of "being good" are in games?  It's always painted as happy rainbow funtime get everything you ever wanted, including the men, the ladies, and ruler of the known galaxy perks.  Why isn't it ever painted as being "a major pain in the ass"?  Nobody slanders your name in games where you're trying to be good (as they would in real life).  Nobody goes out of their way to screw you over in games out of spite (and have it not just be meaningful, but unavoidable and with real permanent setbacks).  Our characters are never reprimanded for making a mistake once the known universe thinks of them as "angels among humanity".  Not even if those mistakes got people killed.  There's no real meaningful atonement for those mistakes either.  Just, "well, okay, you're the only one who can stop the Demon Lord, so I guess I have to forgive you if you're going to get on with the slaying of evil and all that".  It's sometimes maddening to me, as a player, that we don't have real consequences for being good.

I mean, why shouldn't we? 
 

hian

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It seems like your entire hang-up is over good/evil morality,


interpreting the lack of moral ambiguity as a shallowness of character.
No, the lack of reasons provided for why the character is good as opposed to evil, is what I am


hung up about.

I like to think there are more ways for a character to be deep and interesting than slapping


on a few moral grays.
So do I. That's not the point I was making - I was making the point that people are the way they are


for reasons, and that includes the degree to which they are good or evil.

Although good and evil are (arguably, in my opinion) thought of as social constructs these days,


they are quite real to the people who ascribe to them, and that tends to be the heroes. 


They do good because it's the right thing to do - I don't find that unbelievable,


it's exactly what I'd do in their shoes, perhaps minus fighting dragons and such. >_>
"They do good things because it's the right thing to do" is a tautology.


It's a meaningless sentence that simply affirms itself.


My question is, "why does the characters consider a certain thing to be the right thing to do,


and what has lead them to form that perspective?".


That, for instance, stealing is wrong is not self-explanatory.


If you were born dirt poor, living as a street-rat under an oppressive regime,


raised primarily by other street-kids because your parents died before you even reached your teens,


I can assure you that the "morality of theft" would be ambiguous to you at best.

Personally, I don't think the backstory antagonists typically get really makes them deeper characters. 


They need a motivation to be evil in order to avoid being hollow cartoon-style villains,


and I think most writers have realized that now. 


What you're asserting, though, is that the protagonist needs a reason to be good in the same way. 


I don't really agree with that, because very, VERY few people genuinely


don't see any virtue in being a good person.
And this is wonderfully short-sighted because it begs the question why it is that people see


virtue in being good people.


This post of yours is merely an affirmation of the "fact" that they do, and letting it stop at that.


However, when you look at the real world, where humans suffer from cognitive biases, psychological


phenomenons like the "bystander effect", where crime is a fact of life even in the best of societies, and


where most people lie and cheat on a daily basis to one extent or another, when I am presented


with a hero who is "essentially good", and consistently picks altruistic choices, I am left


wondering how this person become something akin the second coming of Jesus, when the vast majority


of people are not like this.

People get it, being good is something someone would want to be.  It makes sense. :|
Firstly, there is no monolithic idea of what "good" is to begin with, so I reject that notion.


Secondly, if people got it so easily, human history wouldn't be written in blood, suffering and injustice.


It's very easy to say "people just get it", when you're born in the 21st century in a first world country.


In many ways, I would make the argument that "evil" is actually easier to explain than good,


because suffering, envy, anger etc. very easily explains "evil".


When someone is essentially and primarily good on the other hand,


I am left wondering how they made that work when they live in a world where you'd expect them


to get exposed to the same factors that corrupts others so easily.

While I agree that characters could and should be deeper,


I don't think the best way to do that is to make them question their "good"-ness, necessarily. 


As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't make them any more interesting, because these days we have


*TONS* of morally grey characters, and it's no longer surprising to see.
Again, this has nothing to do with grays.


It has to do with explaining, through the narrative,


why your character is what he or she is, whether that is virgin white, raven black, or something


in-between.


What I am questioning, is why writers often seem to think that the need to


explain their character's dispositions somehow ceases to be when the character is good.


You're getting tripped up in the good/evil thing here. This is not a discussion of good versus evil,


moral grays etc. It's a discussion about why so many authors seem to think that good,


whatever you take that to mean, requires less character-development to justify, than evil.


By any standard, I'd make the argument that it's the other way around, because humans are more


often grey/black than they are white, and as such, a white character demands better character-development


than the others in order to make sense in the world.


Yet, that's not what we see. We see long flash-back scenes, and monlogues making us sympathize with the


morally ambiguous and evil characters, while we're just supposed to accept that heroes are heroes,


because they are heroes. That breaks immersion IMO.


I'm not saying, heroes are bad - I am saying heroes who're heroes for no reason are overdone


bad, at least from a perspective of realistic human depictions.


It made sense in old literature, such as the greek and roman myths, because the heroes in these


sagas were supposed to embody virtues for the sake of illustrating a point - namely what humans


should aspire to be.


But, unless you're writing a story for that specific reason, a hero that is good for no reason,


is not a realistic nor compelling character.
 

Rhaeami

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Perhaps I could have worded it better.  What I'm trying to get at is that a lot of people don't think that they need to justify what "good" is, or why they should be it.  It just is.  They just do.  You're right, it's a tautology, but that's how real people (some, not all), think.  And that bleeds into the fiction that they write.

I do apologize if I misunderstood you, it's a big topic and easy to get tripped up on when writing these long posts, so I'll just keep it short this time.  In order for a protagonist to need a "reason" to be good, the person writing that character needs to believe that being good requires a reason.  And, at this present point in time, a very large number of people, writers or otherwise, no not believe that to be the case.  You can consider the presentation of the characters to be an expression of the author's worldview.  Some people still think in moral absolutes.  So, then, will their characters.

As a side note, that's also the reason villains get more backstory.  The idea that you'd need a good reason to fall that far.  It's, again, an expression of the author's worldview.
 
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- Aërendyll -

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Maybe this will sound naive to some, but I think that most people are inclined to do good. This reason is pretty simple to me - humanity as a species thrives due to working together. We're all part of a social species that wouldn't have gotten anywhere, if it wasn't for collaboration and being selfless to some degree.

Now, I do think that morality and standards of good and evil are in part human instinct, part culture, but also part personal preferences. Most of humanity knows that murder of fellow human beings is wrong, because it would hurt the survival rate of our species if we all just gave up on this moral standard and started murdering left and right. Then there are cultures where it's seen as morally wrong to have an absolute dictatorship, as these regimes often are oppressive. (Just think of North Korea, where the dictator is propagated to be a literal god and the entire population is brainwashed - they won't argue that their dictator is in fact a dictator, as they would risk serious consequences.) Then there's personal moral standards, like not eating meat, because you think the meat industry is an abomination and mistreats the animals it uses.

What I'm trying to say is that there's no moral standard that is completely set in stone, but that there are morals that are shared among the vast majority of human beings that are consistent with each other and that most people know, whether they realize this or not. You don't need to explain why the hero who is doing good is not a murderer - most people aren't, so it would feel like you're beating them over the head with a thing that's obvious to them. Unless your hero goes against the moral standards of the culture that surrounds them (whether it's one they live in or one they meet on their travels) and/or the standards of humanity in general, exploring the morals of your character is not really very constructive to their personality, but needless details that don't seem worth it to explore. I won't argue that it's good for writers to makes notes about where their characters' moral values lie, even for characters whose morality falls perfectly in line with both humanity's standards and the one of their culture, but if these are not plot relevant, why elaborate on them in your story if they don't really add anything, but instead state the obvious?

Also, I personally don't think that every story needs to be complex in order to be enjoyable, especially in games. There are numerous examples of games that are popular without being complex in story - just look at the Mario and Zelda franchises. Even if not all the games in these series are simple in story, especially the earlier games are so. But for more complex stories, elaborating on the reason why the hero does what they do is more important the more complex the story is.
 

hian

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Perhaps I could have worded it better. 


What I'm trying to get at is that a lot of people don't think that they need to justify what "good" is,


or why they should be it.  It just is.  They just do.


I do apologize if I misunderstood you, it's a big topic and easy to get tripped up on


when writing these long posts, so I'll just keep it short this time.
I got that part, but that's essentially what I am objecting to. It's a perspective very


far removed from both facts about human psychology, and general observations about world history -


although that's a different debate altogether.


And, no need to apologize mate. It's just an open discussion.

In order for a protagonist to need a "reason" to be good, the person writing that character


needs to believe that being good requires a reason. 


And, at this present point in time, a very large number of people, writers or otherwise,


no not believe that to be the case.
I realize this, and that's another reason I brought up the topic - to see how other people


feel about this. I think that belief leads to flat heroes, because it creates a


discrepancy in the narrative, where everything else follows logical sequences of events


where the personality of all the other characters are treated as results of complex events,


except the hero.

You can consider the presentation of the characters to be an expression of the author's worldview. 


Some people still think in moral absolutes.  So, then, will their characters.
This is not necessarily a given though. I rarely, if ever, write stories while expressing my


values, because my values are so far removed from most people that I don't think a story


centered around them would be appealing to most people.


It's also possible for authors to separate their own values from their characters.


In fact, authors have to do that in either case when writing villains, if


you assume the hero is a representation of their actual core values.

Maybe this will sound naive to some, but I think that most people are inclined to do good.
I think it's productive to avoid the term "good", because it's so ambiguous.


Most people are inclined to act in ways that make them feel good, and as social creatures


that's often altruistic behavior especially concerning their close relations.


Unfortunately, sometimes being good to someone you care about, will be at the expense of the


well-being of someone who's not as close to you, and this kind of selective priorization quickly


becomes a problem between groups when there is only a limited amount of resources and people


must fight for them to survive. This is essentially the reason why human history is so twisted.


All that being said though, children don't even develope the ability to empathize until somewhere


around 3-5 years old, and this process is helped along the way by parents.


When you say "people are inclined to do good", you're looking at people who've already


had years of positive reinforcement and socialization to kick back on.

This reason is pretty simple to me - humanity as a species thrives due to working together.


We're all part of a social species that wouldn't have gotten anywhere, if it wasn't for collaboration


and being selfless to some degree.
This isn't really true though - or rather, I should say, it's only a half-truth.


Humans trive on competition and challenge - most of which is facilitated by tribalism and tribes


in opposition fighting for land and resources.


Yes, humans are social beings who work in groups to survive - but if you look at small tribes


in secluded areas with enough resources for social stability,


their development stops entirely after a while.


Also, self-lessness isn't really even a thing in psychology. Even apparently "self-less" acts


are ultimately motivated by individual emotional gratification, and as soon as the emotional


gratification of self-lessness is overshadowed by emotional gratification gained by


simpler and less collectively centered means, humans tend to opt for the selfish option instead,


with everything else being equal.

Now, I do think that morality and standards of good and evil are in part human instinct,


part culture, but also part personal preferences.


Most of humanity knows that murder of fellow human beings is wrong,


because it would hurt the survival rate of our species if we all just gave up


on this moral standard and started murdering left and right.
Altruism and moral systems developed as a result of that, and is indeed a product of evolution -


however, evolution does not make perfection, it only makes things that work "well enough".


Human concepts of morality are founded on our ability to empathize and sympathize, and leads


to limited altruism, but it's just that, limited - and that is the difference in priority between


familiar relationships and strangers.


Most people don't know inherently that it's "wrong" to kill - they're simply uncomfortable with


it to the extent that they don't want to die, and don't want the people they care about to get killed.


If they did know this, things like gladiator matches would never have happened.


Moral systems are meant to create social systems that indulge the instinct of self-preservation


and the want to protect familiar relations in the best way possible,


and creating social contracts of mutual "I won't kill you if you won't kill me, and vice versa"


are excellent ways of increasing the rate of your own survival.


When many people realize this relatively at the same time you get a society of perpetual peace


for the most part.


However, even with this going on, you'll still have a lot of people who murder. Our entire history


is literally written in the blood of murder-victims.


There's a distinction to be made here, between seeing murder as ah-OK, and seeing murder


as not being inherently wrong. Most humans, when pressed, see murder as being acceptable at times,


and not in others.

What I'm trying to say is that there's no moral standard that is completely set in stone,


but that there are morals that are shared among the vast majority of human beings


that are consistent with each other and that most people know,


whether they realize this or not.
The gray-area here is pretty big though, and when you have places and periods were people


though human sacrifice was the way to go, that arguments kinda falls apart in this context.

You don't need to explain why the hero who is doing good is not a murderer - most people aren't,


so it would feel like you're beating them over the head with a thing that's obvious to them.
And herein lies the misunderstanding of the topic -


There is a very big difference between not being a murderer or a thief, as opposed to


being altruistic and heroic - and there is an area in-between, where I would argue


that you find most people.


A hero is not a hero just because he or she does not murder people. I am not asking that authors


provide reasons why the hero isn't a criminal psychopath.


However, I am sure you see the distinction between an ordinary person, and a person who "self-lessly"


jumps into harms way to save a person who has nothing to do with them what-so-ever.


Those kind of acts require justification IMO, because just like most people don't murder others


for no good reason, most people don't scale mountains for strangers for no reason either.

exploring the morals of your character is not really very constructive to their personality,


but needless details that don't seem worth it to explore.
I disagree, because I see values as being integral to a persons personality.


Values inform behavior, and therefore I think it's interesting to know why a character


holds one set of values as opposed to others.


I am not saying all writers or stories should devote large arcs to explaining how


characters found their values, but a character gains a lot of it's covered to a certain extent.


This is why, while I don't really like Naruto, and there is a lot of bad stuff one


might say about the general plot, I still think it's a manga that treats it's characters quite well.


You know exactly why characters like Naruto, or Sasuke are the way the are.

Also, I personally don't think that every story needs to be complex in order to be enjoyable,


especially in games. There are numerous examples of games that are popular without being


complex in story - just look at the Mario and Zelda franchises.


Even if not all the games in these series are simple in story, especially the earlier games are so.


But for more complex stories,


elaborating on the reason why the hero does what they do is more important the more complex the story is.
Of course, I agree with this, and I never implied the opposite.


I don't expect depth from Super Mario.


I was specifically talking about stories where depth is provided to the villain's values,


but not the protagonists.
 
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Off-topic human tendency to do good: Humans are not inherently good or evil; they are designed to survive and propogate. Saying men are inherently good is a belief that stems from living in a first-world country in an era where you're never exposed to serious conflict.

On-topic: I agree with OP, and believe it is just because JRPGs and mainstream games are targeted at a younger audience who want to imprint themselves on a hero. They don't want "to be" an uncool or conflicted character, they want to be superman. As you get older, you appreciate complex and tragic characters without the need to be them (you just need to relate or understand). Which is really killing my video game career because I'd rather watch an HBO series nowadays than play another JRPG with an unrealistically altruistic hero that kills everything with the power of friendship.
 

TherainED

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OK, hear me out, for I don't possess the answer, but I certanly know about this ****. Getting a grade on screenwriting has a thing to do with this.

TL;DR at the end.

There are seven things that every person has, seven things that every person thrives to obtain if they're absent. It is a very important thing for a story to have relatable characters, who you can understand or identify yourself with, thus, adding those seven factors is a win/win position for every storyteller. First of all, it's easy to create situations with those seven...uh...let's call them primal necessities (Y'know, survival, security, love, blah, blah blah.) and second, you ensure a large part (Around 95%) of your audience will identify themselves with the character, making it seem like a good character.

Note that I said "seem", not "be".

One of those seven primal necessities is the need of a purpose. What purpose? It doesn't matter as long as it's something that can keep the character moving.

What happens in most JRPGs is that the writers ignore pretty much any semblance of any primal necessity that is not the need of purpose, thus having characters who only react to ending the villain. Obviously, this lacks a reason, a why, which is lazily added as an "inherent goodness" at some point.

There are, still, plenty of characters that show a great development and a marvellous composition. For example, take a look at one of my favourite heores: Spider Jerusalem. He is moved by the need of knowledge at the beginning, the need of security later on, then back to the need of knowledge and finally the need of a purpose. Also, there are several substories that refer to the need of love, the need of happiness and the need of security.

The result is a set of characters that, while not extremely complicated, have a well-paced and good development along the comic.

TL;DR

There are 7 needs that are common to everyone. Using one of those, tends to make a stale and boring character. Using many tends to provide a fine development to the character.

If there are any questions regarding this subject, I'll have no issue answering them. Have in mind that I'm still a student, so maybe you'd get more data asking someone else.
 
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Rhaeami

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I mean, when you're talking about altruistic heroes, my mind goes to things like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest characters, who tend to do what they do because the Big Bad burned their village or kidnapped their girlfriend or whatever, so maybe we're approaching this from different angles.  Most RPG protagonists do have motivation to do the things they do, but they also tend to take it as a given that slaying foul beasts is a good thing, rescuing people in distress is a noble venture, and saving the world from some impending apocalyptic event is, for lack of a better term, the right thing to do.  And, for the most part, I think the people playing these games agree to some extent with that way of thinking, though it's understandable that some wouldn't.

Now, it's perfectly alright to have differing worldviews about what's right or wrong, or what defines good and evil, but ultimately I don't think it's "unrealistic" for characters to act in this altruistic fashion, simply because I know people in real life who do their best every day to do that exact same thing.  It's rare, yes.  Extremely rare.  But, so is the ability to slay dragons with a level 3 Lightning Bolt spell.  I think the extraordinary nature of the protagonist is kind of the point of those stories.  And, for when you want to explore the depths of human nature in the more common everyman, then, well, there's stories for that too.  But they probably won't involve battling evil overlords. ;)

Oh, I should probably clarify that I'm talking about these simplistic kind of RPG stories that you find those sorts of characters in.  It's not uncommon to find RPGs with deep characters in them, so to be honest, I'm not sure what else you could be talking about when you cite there being so many pure good-guy protagonists.  They're really only prevalent in certain kinds of games, from what I've seen.  Anything marketed toward older audiences, like the Witcher or Dragon Age, tends to avoid those tropes like the plague.
 
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Touchfuzzy

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Kain from the Legacy of Kain series is a character who does good, but is not a good person at all.

Throughout the first game he was fueled by revenge, attempting to kill the people responsible for killing him (he was a vampire), and then at the end of that game, when he realizes that his destiny is to either die in order to restore balance to Nosgoth, or refuse, Nosgoth falls into ruins but he survives, he bets everything on the long shot of taking over the ruined Nosgoth and setting forth a million plans within plans to attempt to "land the coin on its edge" to change his destiny, save Nosgoth and himself.

But it really isn't because he's good. Its because his entire destiny, and the way he was manipulated into it pissed him off.

On the other hand, Raziel from the same series is an interesting countercase, because he fully intends to do good, selfrighteously so, but usually ends up just screwing things up because he is being manipulated and fed incomplete information to further someone else's dark plans.

Basically, Kain does the right thing for bad reasons. Raziel does the wrong thing for good reasons.

I would say though, that in general, a person doesn't need a reason to want to do good. By default, we possess empathy, at least to some degree. Now, what good is might depend from culture to culture, and extreme circumstances can screw up our natural empathy, but the default position is not one that lacks empathy for the human race.
 
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Seacliff

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I didn't get the chance to read all of that, but my two cents is that Villians are almost always as underdeveloped as the heroes. However, their are much more interesting ways to develop a villain than you can with a hero. So I can at least understand your stance.

Maybe I'm playing the wrong games or watching the wrong anime to make my own stance, but a villain without any motivation is even worse than a hero without motivation. Doing good things without reason is a bit more logical than doing bad things without reason and both are done TOO often. Again, my two cents.

I could give examples, but I think being vague and asking you to look back at times when the villain is just not mentally stable or wanting to take over the world with no motives is enough.
 

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I think you kind of *have* to make your villains a little more developed than your heroes. In most games--and in fact, most stories--the villain is trying to upset the status quo, whether it's committing theft or murder or kidnapping, or taking over the world. Most people will just go on with their lives, so a person would have to have some pretty good reasons to put in the effort to mount a campaign of world domination.

Now look at your heroes. They are knights, soldiers, detectives and government agents. It's their job to stop the bad people who want to muck things up. Even those who aren't professional heroes are usually thrown into their role by circumstance, bolstered by personal ethics and morals. They aren't just neighborhood dentists who here about an evil overlord and set off to save the world.

Cecil is a knight. Mario's girlfriend was abducted. Donkey Kong's bananas were stolen. Mega Man is following his programming. Isaac and co just don't want their world destroyed, and there aren't a lot of other people who can prevent it.

Also, not making the hero super-super developed makes it a little easier for the player to immerse themselves in the game.
 

NPC

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Adding onto what captainproton said, you can choose to either have the player immersed in the story as the character, or immersed in the story and the character. Simplfying a character can work to help the player insert him or herself into the protagonist and connect with everything around him or her, or by creating a rich character, you can force the player to choose how they feel about the protagonist as well, which is sadly harder, and experience everything around them, not necessarily directly connected to the story in a traditional sense, but allowing the player to have their opinions on the world as someone detached from a body, but attached somewhat souly, so to speak.
 

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One of my favorite things to do as a writer, is to not define "good" and "evil", and keep my characters true to their own agendas.

Bad Guy 1 wants to accomplish Objective A.  He's not an evil man, but he does an evil deed to accomplish Objective A.  Regular Guy 1 is offended by what Bad Guy 1 does, and wants revenge.  He slays hundreds of Bad Guys soldiers and eventually Bad Guy himself.

This is a common story arc for most games.  Only the details change really.  But flip that around, and it totally changes.  Good Guy 1 does a bad thing to complete Objective A, and Bad Guy 1 is offended and goes on a tear.  Dynamics change.

It's all about how you tell the story.  The finer details, little minutia, that make all the difference.  Story details, interactions with others, and how that character approaches their problems, is what most players will relate to.  I use a very different writing and storytelling approach than almost everyone else here, so my view is differing.  In my opinion, developing the character is less important than developing "The Why?", or their motivations.
 

Lowell

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A read a chunk of this and skipped down to the bottom but we need to recall that at our core, we're all animals. It's our intelligence that separates us from the rest of the animals of the world. What we perceive as good and/or evil is pretty much programmed into us from an early age. It's not in our nature to do good or evil, but rather to act on our desires.

What makes heroes heroic are the deeds they accomplish according to the views of the people. The hero from one angle can be seen as a devil from the perspective of another civilization. A good chunk of what we consider to be good stems primarily from the people of that time. Back during the times my grandparents and great grands were living (I'm 28 btw), premarital sex was thought of as an abhorrent deed, whereas nowadays people sleep around with others with no regard to whether it's right or wrong. Good and Evil, Justice, etc are all subjective to the person in question. What I perceive as such most likely doesn't sync with what you believe in.

Another thing, Heroic Epics are kinda like Funerals. The person in question has revered as a "good" person and they tend to highlight all of the good deeds they accomplished in life. Rarely will you see funeral were people are ragging on the person about the wrongs and misdeeds they did.

I recall back when Super Heroes like Superman and the others were first conceived, they were absolutely good, and invunerable, with no weaknesses or flaws. After time the writers developed varying flaws with the characters, sometimes a physical weaknesses at other times a psycological one. What we need to achieve as writers is a balance that reflects the type of story we're trying to tell. The protagonist will not always be a hero, nor the antagonist a villain. sometimes heroes and villains will fight amongst themselves due to some moral dissonance or even out of jealousy. Each and every character written needs to be written not as a a character to fill this role, but as humans with desires that reflect their inner nature.
 

The Mighty Palm

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 It's sometimes maddening to me, as a player, that we don't have real consequences for being good.

I mean, why shouldn't we? 
This. I love this concept. As the old parable goes, "no good deed goes unpunished".

If you're given a choice between what is right and what is wrong, I tend to throw in a choice of "should I be selfish, or selfless?"

In the game Heavy Rain, you are doing dangerous and immoral things so that a murderer won't kill your son. Things like killing someone, or cutting off your own finger.

These are the kind of choices a protagonist should face. The dilemma of "Do I really want this?"
 

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