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Video games have many icons; characters that are inspiring in several ways that provide a familiar face for the gaming industry. These icons are instantly recognizable, but beyond their visual design and use as player avatars, such characters offer a degree of depth that may often go unsaid.

With Character Select, the goal is to showcase some of the best video game characters ever made and dissect why they are memorable. Looking outward to other forms of media, literature, psychology, history, and other fields of study, these characters contain many recognizable traits that stick with us because of their use of familiar and well-ingrained tropes, while simultaneously providing a deep, recognizable character with the dramatic gravitas for players to connect with.

The following is in chronological order with the newest article in the series first. Each are written by Robert Grosso unless stated otherwise.

Crossing The Line – Martin Walker

spec ops the line martin walker character select - Character Select

The story Heart of Darkness has been retold countless times in other forms of media, but in 2012 the video game version of the tale finally graced game systems. Spec Ops: The Line is remembered mostly for this narrative, a deep, disturbing look into the duality of man and how easy it is to embrace your darkside. All of this is done through the eyes of the game’s protagonist, Captain Martin Walker. Walker’s journey is not a heroic one but rather a tragedy into how easy it is for a real soldier to “cross that line” of no return, where the only way to find peace is death itself. Read more here…

Confronting Truth and Ideals – N

pokemon n character select - Character Select

Most people don’t associate the Pokémon series with deep character interaction. The Pokémon series, however, has several interesting characters. Perhaps the most significant character in the series is one of the villains you face in Pokémon Black and White, the King of Team Plasma, N. What makes N such a good character? Partially the use of N as a direct foil to the player character, focusing on the duality of leadership, of fighting for your beliefs in the truth of the world, or of the idealism you have. Read more here…

The Ghost in the Machine – GLaDOS

glados portal character select - Character Select

The mandate for science is like a drug for scientists, but when taken to its most absurd extreme, it can become deadly. One example of this is the callous, murderous machine GLaDOS, the literal ghost in the machine. GLaDOS has many unique qualities to her, but her singular drive to conduct tests for a long dead institute sets her apart, providing the perfect, sarcastic foil for the silent protagonist Chell in the Portal series. GLaDOS of course, has more to her than meets the eye; one that centers on her very origins and almost maniacal drive for scientific experimentation. Read more here…

A Rebel Without a Cause – Garrett

thief garrett character select - Character Select

Byronic heroes have a romantic tradition in literature, a charismatic hero or heroine with flaws that ultimately affect them. Often considered anti-heroes in most form of fiction, the tradition of Byronic heroes is alive and well not only in literature, but also in the world of video games.

The most iconic example would be Garrett, the titular character in the Thief series. A Byronic hero in the sense of his fervent independence, his quiet, charismatic appearance in the series hides his own character flaws, and his adventures in the Thief series showcase his reluctance to stay above world-changing conflicts and how futile it is for him. Read more here…

More Than a Sex Symbol – Lara Croft

lara croft tomb raider character select - Character Select

Lara Croft is one of the video games earliest sex symbols, but as time has gone on her design and character have been further fleshed out. Early on just an avatar for the play, the continued growth of Lara Croft across the Tomb Raider franchise has moved her beyond being just a femme fatale. Her recent incarnations attempt to provide more depth and character, to mixed results, but in many moments in the Tomb Raider games, we see the growth of her character in ways never shown before. Read more here…

Psychological Trauma – James Sunderland

james sunderland silent hill character select - Character Select

Psychological trauma is hard to overcome, but imagine it being made manifest around you. The Silent Hill series has often focused on this idea, giving ordinary people with damaged pasts a grotesque look at the macabre world around them. James Sunderland of Silent Hill 2 is a perfect example of this. Arguably the series’ best game, James is a character going through grief and guilt, and the world of Silent Hill provides the horrific backdrop of the trauma that James goes through, Pyramid Heads and all. Read more here…

What Pride Had Wrought – Dorian Pavus

dorian pavus dragon age inquisition character select - Character Select

The Dragon Age series is littered with many memorable characters, but one of the recent additions is perhaps one of the more controversial characters created by BioWare, the Tevinter Mage Dorian Pavus. What makes Dorian controversial is a misunderstanding of what gives him depth; a surface look at his sexuality misses the point entirely on his own prideful self and the worries Dorian has that it will be his own downfall. Dorian is a product of his culture for better or worse, and his sexuality is just the doorway into understanding why Dorian is who he is. Read more here…

A Modern Myth – Link

link legend of zelda character select - Character Select

What makes Link one of the best characters in video games, when he has barely spoken a word in nearly thirty years? It has less to do with his actual characterization, which Nintendo toys with now and then, but has more to do with his symbolic status as a character. Link is the textbook example of a mythological hero, and his stories spanning thirty years are emblematic of the use of mythological heroes of ancient times, compacted into a modern setting. Read more here…

The Value of Compassion – Squall Leonhart

squall leonhart ffviii ff8 final fantasy viii 8 character select - Character Select

Squall Leonhart is a controversial character for the Final Fantasy series, coming from one of the more controversial games in Final Fantasy VIII. His sort of “emo” status was a turn off for many, and his heroics less pronounced than other titular characters in the series.

However, Squall’s entire journey through Final Fantasy VIII is one that sees a gradual change in his demeanor, from the purposeful lone wolf to the protector of his friends, all of this under a strong undercurrent of love and heroism that Final Fantasy is known to emphasize. It may be a cliché to say “love conquers all,” but Squall is proof of how to do that old trick well in a video game. Read more here…

The Identity of the Idealist – Arcade Gannon

arcade gannon fallout new vegas character select - Character Select

The world of Fallout is uncompromising and cynical, but it makes sense considering the setting. A world ravaged by nuclear radiation, Fallout often punishes the most idealistic among us, a world where survival is paramount over anything else.

This does not stop some from trying, taking on the self-identity of the idealist as their badge of honor. For Fallout: New Vegas, we see one character take this mantle, the former Enclave member Arcade Gannon. Arcade, however, must struggle to find this identity for himself, as he suffers in a crisis to overcome his past to look towards a better future in a world too callous to care. Read more here…