McMillan’s Codex #58: The RPG Protagonist

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.


CT McMillan 1

C.T. McMillan (Episode 169) is a film critic and devout gamer.  He has a Bachelors for Creative Writing in Entertainment from Full Sail University.


One response to “McMillan’s Codex #58: The RPG Protagonist”

  1. unorthodoxplatypus Avatar

    You’re really putting too much stock into Meer’s words. You shouldn’t offer him this amount of thought.

    It’s not exactly uncommon knowledge that the man’s a sociopath, he’s displayed numerous traits described by the dark triad ( It can be seen most in his reviews of certain mainstream games where he’s been openly, jubilantly, unrealistically supportive of them (almost to a degree where I’m suspicious of sponsored content) whilst being manipulative in trying to look impartial and “cool” at the same time by voicing specious, vague, trivial “doubts.”

    When he slams a game, I honestly find myself wondering if it’s more that he wasn’t paid to write a positive review rather than him having an opinion of his own. He doesn’t exactly write especially insightfully, either. I’d be hard pressed to call his reviews even remotely erudite as they don’t really have any introspective weight to them whatsoever, they’re just blather and manipulation. The well-written era of RPS ended when Kieron Gillen and Nathan Grayson left.

    That was some time ago.

    And not just that, but I’ve actually seen him write attack pieces and even purposefully spurn games for no good reason, using article subtitles to make snide remarks about games that the article in question has nothing to do with. He didn’t like the indie platformer Creavures (did they refuse to pay him or smething?), so what does he do? Oh, he posts news subtitled “Not Creavures” as that’s apparently funny and clever in his head.

    Google it. I’m not joking.

    This is the same site where John Walker (who really isn’t any better) cavalierly labelled Peter Molyneux a pathological liar just to build upon his own Cult of Personality. I wouldn’t exactly call behaviour like that ethical journalism.

    This is the same site that trashed New Vegas, burning it at the stake because they knew it would bring in the clicks. It wasn’t a mainstream game, after all; It was an Obsidian game, but it had enough of a following to make it worth it. Lots of angry fans means lots of page views. They knew precisely what they were doing with that review. Just another sullied entry of their sordid history.

    This is the same site that supports feminism but only when it’s convenient, regularly attacking small indie teams to look good though completely ignoring the questionable activities of the mainstream. If they truly were pro-feminism, they might have had something to say about Overwatch’s hilariously embarrassing stripper boots. Oh, but we couldn’t alienate our delicious mainstream partners, though! That money!

    It’s not that you haven’t written a good article, here. I know where you’re coming from, I really do get why it exists. It’s more that I simply just don’t understand why you’d perceive RPS as anything other than a giant joke, a hive of truly sociopathic scum and villainy. It’s like British trashy gossip rags or American hot sheets. It’s a tabloid. The Daily Mail of PC gaming, if you will.

    So don’t let them get under your skin. With their sociopathic behaviour and intentional baiting, this is exactly the kind of response they want.

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