Dead Wives, Girlfriends, and Daughters

Spoilers for NWN, NWN:HotU, KOTOR, KOTOR 2, and Jade Empire to follow.

I know, I know. This is kind of my dead horse to beat on – the trend of having romancable male NPCs have dead wives or girlriends. But with the addition of Jade Empire I have to say that trend has gone from simultaniously annoying and confusing me, to somewhat disturbing me.

I first noticed it in Neverwinter Nights, though the roots may go back further than that. When you start getting all snuggly with Aarin Gend, he tells you he has a dark secret to reveal. For duty to country he had to kill the only woman he had ever loved. You comfort the git and every conversation after that is a vartion of “I love you but my job is so haaaaaaaard”.

In Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark the dead girlfriend story arises again. This time your romance target is a tiefling named Valon. His story is one of being forced to fight for thousands of years in an eternal war, being resurrected every time he dies, until he became a mindless killing machine. Despite this rather difficult history, he still blushes and fumbles about like a schoolgirl when you express interest in him. Then out of no where, he tells you a story of woe about falling in love with a human serving girl and her being killed by his master. The dead girlfriend story here is particulary jarring and unnecessary. It added nothing to his character at all.

KOTOR has Carth and his dead wife. KOTOR 2 tries to throw you for a loop with Atton’s abrupt confession of having killed a lady Jedi that he was in love with, but it was only an agape sort of love, really!

And now we have Jade Empire. Our romancable male NPC this time around is Sky, a roguish theif with a wife that died in childbirth and a daughter that died to slavers. Pretty tragic stuff, bringing up the spectre of an everyday horror like the unfairness of a parent having to bury their child is tough stuff. Naturally they don’t really do anything with it – even when in the thick of avenging his daughter he’s mostly interested in flirting with the main character, and afterwards he announces that it was 3 years ago so he’s pretty much over it already.

So why a dead wife and daughter? The story actually makes more sense if the avenged party is an adult, I personally have a hard time thinking of how a 5 year old is going to make some slavers so much trouble that they have to kill her. It could have been a brother, a father, an uncle. But instead it’s a dead daughter, with the everpresent spectre of a dead wife looming in the background.

The trend bothers me a lot. Are we to assume that the death of a female is inherently more tragic than the death of a male, are we supposed to continue to feel pity even though the characters all appear to have moved on with their lives? If they have moved on with their lives, what is the point of these “dramatic” confessions?

Frankly, I just want a nice, happy character who, when I am given the option to demand sex, doesn’t turn me down out of modesty. Fade to black, sure, but “I want to wait for a real bed” or “I don’t want to be a distraction” is just annoying.

And please, for the love of god, stop with the dead wife and/or girlfriend stuff. It’s not romantic, and it’s only tragic in how frequently it is being used.

And, in Jade Empire, the Master Li has a dead wife and daughter as well.

If you’re a woman in an RPG, it’s safest by far if you’re frigid.

If I started listing non-romanceable NPCs with dead wives, daughters, and girlfriends I would be here all day and into the night.

What about all the widows? Yeah, there’s really a lack of those too :)

obligatory women in refrigerators link.

Obligatory Disney link:

What an idiot. He’s blaming Disney for something that’s found in 90% of childrens books (most of the Disney stories that aren’t fairy tales are books). The answer is simple: Laziness. If you kill a parent or both then the author:

  1. doesn’t have to explain why the parents aren’t helping the child protagonist with whatever the danger is. This is a bigger problem than you might think.
  2. enjoys instant audience sympathy/empathy with the main character.
  3. it plays on the most basic childhood fear.

Lets make a website decrying Disney for always making children character experience DANGER!

As far as what Angie noticed, wow, she’s right. Someone over at BioWare is a bit of a lazy storyteller. I can see why they do it. Ancient to modern heroic storytelling is rife with the dead girlfriend/wife revenge motif (even James Bond was married once and that’s why he’ll never love again!) but to repeat it so obviously? Hmmm.

It’s almost always the menfolk who have to save the world a corpse at a time. The fragile flowers up and dying is a quick and easy way to bring tragedy, which is otherwise easy to forget what with all the corpses that need to be made otherwise.

The story only gets more potent when a character has amnesia, and gradually recovers the memory of his girlfriend/wife being dead. Plot twists can reveal the dead ladyfolk wasn’t actually dead, but then kill her for real after the relief of that reveal. (Expect that kind of thing to happen as game stories “evolve”.)

Yeah, it’s pretty stupid. It just ties into one of the many reasons that games with good stories are very rare beasts.

Dead wife stuff is relatively common in wuxia novels. Of course, so are dead fathers.

If they’re out of ideas they should run a competition for players to come up with the best reasons.

“I’m sorry, I have a communicable sexual disease and penicillin hasn’t been discovered in this world yet.”

Dead relatives and friends are tthe easiest way to give typical cookie-cutter game-character caricatures backgrounds and motivations. Dead women carry more emotional resonance for men than dead men.

Game story writers (including I must admit, myself, at times) tend to follow the path of least resistance requiring the least amount of actual creativity and the most bang for the buck in terms of implied context for word. This is why we see the same old stupid cliches over and over again no matter how loudly reviewers, gamers, and other designers complain about them. It’s also because most writers just suck, but even when they don’t, there’s a lazy tendency to resort to hackneyed abbreviations such as the tragic loss of the wife or child that at the same time provides some revenge motivation and frees the character for future relationships.

Anyway, I have to say I agree with you about the inanity of the Sky thing in Jade Empire. I created a female character, and my reaction to Sky throughout the game was one of annoyance, but the game almost insisted on having the female lead fall in love with him despite his inanity. All I was trying to do was explore his conversation tree while being polite, and as I recall the choices were something like (I paraphrase) “Oh Sky!!!” or “Get out of my face, dumb-ass.”

On the other hand, I think the female character was generally not as objectionable as usual in her own person. She admittedly had the usual D-cups, but her build was somewhat burly (as you might expect for an empire-beating martial artist) and less exaggerated than usual, and her attitudes and conversation choices seemed generally reasonable, neither the usual hyper-aggressive fantasy female warrior type nor some kind of simpering adolescent daydream character.

These kinds of story cliches are one reason I like the storytelling approach used by Atlus in, say, Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne, and Digital Devil Saga. First of all their NPCs are generally not all that stereotyped, they tend to have unusual (if bizarre) motivations and are often not easily dismissed with a single descriptive line like most RPG NPCs. Unlike the main character in most other RPGs, the protagonist in these games is almost a cipher; this is deliberate on the part of the designers, so you can invest him with any emotional background you like based on the story and cut-scene events. Kazuma Kaneko, the overall creative director and lead artist talks somewhere (link not at hand) about the choice to make the protagonist relatively expressionless compared to his companions in order to allow the player to imagine the character in any suitable direction.

Well, you could PM Ray Muzyka and ask, but he hasn’t posted in a while, so I’m not sure if he hangs out here anymore.

Reminds me of Aerie in BG2 (a bioware game you forgot to add ;)), that broken winged tease. But then in that one you had, Jaheira (lost hubby but moves on real quick), Viconia the evil(but maybe a good girl) sadist, and Aerie the whiny do gooder girl. Gals had Aoen or whatever his name was, the whiny do gooder wuss.

Also, could Bioware please, please, please write a plot that doesn’t rely on “find the missing pieces of an ancient artifact?” NWN, KOTOR, and JE all use it (I forgot if HotU used it). Its incredibly lazy, moreso in Jade Empire because its not even used as an excuse for a modicum of non-linearity.

Worst… movie… ever.

When a guy dies, its assumed the death was involved with his passions, his wars, his exertions. Its thus seen as just.

When a young woman dies, its assumed the death is a tragedy, since the death is not involved with her passions, wars, exertions. Most likely the death is involved with being overpowered by men. Also, unlike a man who is killed fulfilling his destiny, a woman’s death aborts her destiny of bearing and raising children. Its thus seen as unjust.

Men don’t just protect women because they are stronger, they protect women because the woman’s life is more valuable, at least historically resulting in embedded instinct.

You’re killing me here Brian. “It’s” is the contraction for “it is”, not its. “Its” is the possessive case of it.

Thanks for the correction. I can only imagine how many times I’ve used it incorrectly over the past several years.

I was Googling for male romantic archetypes to see if widower men were somehow popular enough to justify Bioware’s obsession with them, and found this little gem.

The CHARMER: more than a gigolo, he creates fantasies. He’s fun, irresistible, a smooth operator, yet not too responsible or dependable. He might be a playboy or a rogue, but he’s doesn’t commit to a woman easily. Think Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic, James Garner/Mel Gibson in Maverick, Don Johnson in Nash Bridges, Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy

WTF? Ratso Rizzo? What a hilarious mistake, or misunderstanding of the movie.