McMillan’s Codex #58 by C.T. McMillan
The RPG Protagonist
In addition to a microcosm of cultural stagnation and mental illness, Twitter is also a great way to interact with artists and individuals we admire. Even as the site bleeds users and revenue, people continue to use the platform as intended. One YouTube personality I follow, Razorfist, is best known for his highly-developed vocabulary, quick and wrathful wit, and love of all things metal. Back in August, after the release of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, he shared an review of the game and I was awestruck by what I discovered upon following the link.
That review was written by Alec Meer for Rock, Paper, Shotgun and focused on the game’s protagonist, Adam Jensen. Meer asserted that Adam was not an active character. He went through the motions, unfazed by the events of the game’s story. He was not connected to the world, whereas in the previous game he had relationships with other characters. At the conclusion, Meer cited Geralt from Witcher 3 as a good example of a better character.
Meer is wrong.
I assume he has played other role-playing games, yet he misunderstands the genre’s fundamental principle: the role-playing.
Characters like Adam Jensen are designed to be above their games’ worlds because they are you. When you talk to other characters, your choices for dialog each correspond with a set of morals matching your chosen path. If you want to be a bastard, pick the angry option. If you want to be a pacifist, pick the nicer option. The same principle applies to gameplay where you can avoid killing people: take the stealthy approach, or clear out whole levels with extreme prejudice.
The point of role-playing games is to give you a problem to solve in your own way. There is always one right answer, but you have the means to find that answer with whatever method you prefer. This entails character building where you pick skills and talents for a play-style that fits your preference. You become who you want to be, above all others, because the game was made to make you the best there is. That is the quintessential role-playing experience that has remained unchanged since Dungeons and Dragons.
In place of Adam Jensen’s emotions we substitute our own and speak through him as a witness. Adam is the vessel through which we change the game and find the solution to the problem.
Furthermore, Meer gets many details about the game wrong. Adam Jensen is still very much a part of the world through the people he knew in the previous game and the most recent. David Sarif comes back for a quest, his ex-girlfriend Meghan is vital to the story’s events, and Adam has a handful of coworkers and acquaintances he interacts with throughout Mankind Divided.
And his example of Witcher 3 at the end does not make sense. Geralt is a bad example to contrast Adam because he is the same exact character. In the story, he was made into an unfeeling sociopath through training to be a more efficient monster hunter. Like Mankind Divided and every role-playing game ever, you have the option to be a fleshed out, active participant in the world or remain an unfeeling killer. The only way the events of the story matter is if you decide they do like with Adam.