We play games for many reasons, not the least of which is escapism, and being able to immerse yourself in a fictitious world. One of the primary elements that attaches us to a game world is its cast of characters. Yet, while protagonists are often spot lit, it’s high time that the supporting roles are given due credit too. They might be charming and lovable, or frighteningly cruel, or sometimes impossible to know what to make of, with that very mystery being what intrigues us. But what’s certain is that without them a game simply could not be. So, without further ado and in no particular order, here are the Top 10 Non-Playable Characters of gaming, finally in the spotlight.
Murray The Demonic Skull (The Curse of Monkey Island)
Murray debuted late in the Monkey Island series, but quickly went on to become a cult favorite. About as fearsome some as a doorstop (a particularly EVIL doorstop according to him), Murray represents the series’ strange, often cruel sensibilities. He claimed to be evil, and certainly had the laugh to go with it, but by being simply a skull and nothing more he was unable to actually carry out anything. He was the master of embellishment, and his over-the-top tales of swashbuckling and harrowing evil combined with the increasingly preposterous situations in which players came across him (such as him employed as a bouncer in Escape From Monkey Island), made him a highlight from a memorable series. We can only hope to see him re-emerge soon in Tales of Monkey Island.
Secretly, all gamers like being masochistically taunted by women. If they didn’t, why else would they choose gaming for a hobby? Valve gets this. GLaDOS, the disembodied female voice that sadistically messed with your mind throughout Portal, should’ve in theory made your life a living hell. Instead, you just can’t imagine a life of portal hopping without her. GLaDOS made us laugh, made us cry, and she had a nice set of pipes on her. If you squinted she kind of looked like a woman suspended by the ankles (that’s entirely too disturbing – Ed). I’m sorry that I had to break her heart and kill her, but I’m glad that she’s still alive – especially seeing as how I had to leave my companion cube for her. I loved that goddamn cube.
Pey’J (Beyond Good & Evil)
Casting an anthropomorphic boar as a father figure was an interesting choice. A species associated with filth is fitting enough for a mechanic, but does little to make him endearing, which is why it’s doubly impressive that he was. While Jade’s parents are dead, Pey’J had to raise her, and he became one of the best father figures in gaming doing so. He was gentle and affectionate towards Jade and the children in the orphanage she looked after, but he was also deeply determined to do whatever it took to help her with her quest, even if had little to do with him. Then there was the way Jade and he threw quips back and forth, making them as endearing as a makeshift family gets. When he was kidnapped midway through the game, it was truly heartbreaking. As for Beyond Good & Evil 2, we’ve seen snippets of him eating bugs in it, but it was MIA at E3. Jade? Pey’J? Are you okay?
Pyramid Head (Silent Hill 2)
Pyramid Head, James’s self-reflective bogeyman from Silent Hill 2, is among the most disturbing characters ever brought upon the medium. The first time players encountered him, he looked suspiciously like he’s molesting a mutant. He was a haunting, pitiful creature, covered in blood, carrying a cleaver, and always looking like he’s got one hell of a migraine. Pyramid Head was representative of unfeeling, sociopathic lust. But what made him truly frightening was the realization that he’s the manifestation of James, or how James sees himself. In short, there’s a Pyramid Head in all of us. Don’t unleash the beast!
What made Ico’s angelic companion Yorda most interesting was not what’s said, but what wasn’t said. Her origins were never made explicit, and she spoke in a made up language with made up subtitles – they can be converted to English in the European version, but I’ve always preferred not knowing what she’s saying. As such, not much is known about Yorda, but actions speak louder than words anyway. She shuddered from shadows, opened magical doors for Ico, and frail as she was, risked her own life for him. It’s a tribute to her character that while the player was tasked to protect her, it never felt like a chore. Without Yorda, Ico would be little more than a pretty, puzzling dungeon-crawler. With her, however, it became one of the most moving journeys to have graced a video game yet.
Sephiroth (Final Fantasy VII)
It’s testament to the man that he can kill one of gaming’s beloved characters, and still manage to be the coolest guy in the room. Wearing black S&M wear and carrying a sword longer than he is tall, Sephiroth was the romanticized notion of the villain: sexy, calm and lethal. There was always something darkly alluring about him that no matter how much we hated him, we found ourselves drawn to him, compelled to know more. Yes, he was arguably one-dimensional, but that’s sort of the point; he was the ultimate badass. Lots of villains have tried ruling the world, or wiping out all life, or something grandiosely evil to that effect, but we don’t remember most of them. But Sephiroth killed the flower girl, leaving a scar in the hearts of gamers forever.
Farah (Prince of Persia: Sands of Time)
Let’s face it, the Prince was kind of a jerk. But he had some good qualities too, and Farah managed to bring them out of him. She was quicker, more limber than he was, not to mention handy with a bow. This complimented the Prince, who was agile and a great swordsman, but couldn’t fit through cracks and fire from range. In short, she was the yin to his yang. Unfortunately, she doesn’t much care for him at first, and with good reason. But while the Prince tries to doom the world in his lust for honor and glory, she somehow molds him into the hero he needs to be in order to save what’s left of it. Oh, and if need any further evidence of Farah’s awesomeness, look no further to what became of the Prince without her in Warrior Within. Uh… yeah.
Alyx (Half-Life 2 Saga)
In an industry full of jiggle physics and women with guns bigger than they are, it was refreshing to see a female character who looked like someone you’d meet in real life. Alyx, Gordon Freeman’s scientist companion, is everything players wanted and needed in the oppressive, fascist, post-apocalyptic environment of Half-Life 2. She was driven, intelligent, handy with a gun, and while easy on the eyes she was hardly the cartoonish idealized version of a women we’re so used to seeing in video games. It’s the way she protected Gordon and vice versa that made the first-person silent protagonist of Freeman be that better connected to the game. Plus she scored major brownie points for being good with robotic dogs.
Midna (The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess)
Zelda games have never been especially well known for their stories and in many ways Twilight Princess was no different: find the Triforce, rescue the princess, destroy you know who. Snooze. Its twist came in the form of Midna, Link’s mysterious furry companion. Throughout most of the game it was never quite clear what her motives were, or indeed what her story was. While it seemed like she’s doing you good, her impish grin and sinister body language kept things ambiguous. [Spoiler] By the end, when she turns back into a conventionally attractive humanoid-looking woman, you actually find yourself less interested in her, as you’d grown so accustomed to her impish form. Impressive.
Revolver Ocelot (Metal Gear Solid 3)
This was a tough choice. I wanted to use someone from Kojima’s expansive Metal Gear Solid universe, and we damn near went with Raiden due to his cryptic cyborg ninja lightning mojo in MGS4. He had to be disqualified because he was playable in MGS2, but it’s worth noting that his appearance as an NPC in MGS4 was such a brilliant reversal of popularity that he’s now a cult favorite, and will be starring once again in his own game. Instead I went with Ocelot, MGS3 era. There was something instantly likeable about the self-consciously showboating villain. He decked himself out in cowboy spurs, a stylish beret, and used antiquated Western revolvers – the man was all about the theatrics. What made Ocelot a really compelling villain, however, was that he was never especially evil. He just thought of life as a game, and of Snake as his opponent. He also had sort of a man-crush on Snake, and his fascination with the man made for compelling viewing. As such, Ocelot was never especially threatening, but rather endearing. Every encounter with him brought forth the melancholy feeling of meeting up with a long lost friend. Ocelot, you will be missed.
And… SUPER JOE (Bionic Commando)
Okay, we know that makes it 11, not 10, but come on… his name is Super Joe! Need I say more? (NB: Super Joe from the original Bionic Commando, of course. Like Jeff meant the douche-fest that’s the new one – Ed)