A while ago I watched a pretty good video on YouTube called Should Video Game Characters Age??. When I think about it, this is a really interesting concept. The kids who grew up reading Harry Potter (not me; I was the nerd who read them all within a year) grew up alongside the characters. In the first book (1997/1998) Harry is eleven years old and in the final (2007) he’s seventeen. Not only do the characters themselves grow and mature, so do the plot and themes. The early books were overall more whimsical children’s stories but towards the end there were topics such as race/class warfare and death. This is the best example I can think of that shows how to keep your audience with a story. So why don’t video games do it?
Take a look at some popular franchises (especially Nintendo ones) and see if we can find a pattern. Did you guess what they all have in common? No? I’ll just keep the prize to myself then. For the most part, the age of their protagonists and the tone of the game stay consistent. Some have been around for so long that they’re over a decade older than their target demographic. I don’t have a problem with this, but you really don’t feel as much of a connection to a character who was the same age as you were when you first played the game two kids and a wife ago. This has been done a little bit before. I’ve seen it in Kingdom Hearts 2 and maybe in Jak & Daxter (I say maybe because I never played much). But what if we had a game where the maturing of the character is really a huge focus? As always, I have a great game idea. Maybe if I do this enough someone will pay me… Nah.
We start off with our character. Billy, for boys or Jenny, for girls. Billy and Jenny are 10 years old and they deal with ghosts and monsters in their town. I know it’s vague, but the story isn’t what I’m focusing on right now. The first game is rated E10+ and Billy and Jenny have childish additudes, childish dialogues and childish personalities. Just like the real ten year-olds playing the game. Five years later the sequel comes out. Billy and Jenny are still fighting the ghouls but they’ve matured. Not so much that you forget they’re kids, but just enough that is believable to have happened between ten and fifteen. The game is rated T for teen and has darker themes and a more serious tone. The fact that Billy and Jenny are teenagers will noticably change the gameplay. Since a high school student generally has less restrictions than a ten year-old, the game world will be significantly larger.
Finally we end the trilogy five years after the release of the second game. Jenny and Billy (now Jennifer and William) are young adults just like the kids who played the first game ten years ago. The game is rated M for Mature and it really starts to get dark and serious. There’s murder, religious themes, torture, intelligent glimpses of how the characters have grown and also been affected by these supernatural occurrences. This would be the only game franchise to go this far into following their original customers into adulthood.
Unfortunately, this game may never be made. No one with a budget wants to do anything original. Also, I doubt many studios could really plan a franchise ten years ahead. Even after L.A. Noire was such a big hit, the studio closed its doors. Oh well. It’s not like it’s my first game idea that will never happen.