On every video game designer’s desk must be a post-it note with three three imperatives:

  • Crates!
  • Parental abandonment!!
  • Betrayal!!!

Family issues are the old reliable of storytelling, one I’ve complained about before.  And they certainly do occur in real life, though surely with a significantly lower frequency. 

Tip for just about any video game: Look around near the start, you'll see a betrayer

But it’s hard to get through a video game without one major betrayal.  It’s easy to see why it’s so common: it almost always succeeds in giving the player the same emotion the character should feel.  You can’t necessarily make the player feel honored or loving or grateful, but you can sure make them feel pissed and probably surprised when an NPC turns on them.

It’s so useful that we’ll probably never get rid of it.  But, designers, please at least consider that it’s overdone, over-melodramatic, and overly stupid on the part of the betrayer.  After all, according to your own plot, the player is going to get mad, claw their way back up into a position to take revenge, and then take it. 

The worst type is the one where Mr. Betrayer, for half the story, is actually helping the PC work against his interests.  You’re in your own base killin’ your own dudes.  Very evil, yes, but dumb.  You’ve helped train the hero, you’ve got him personally acquainted and pissed with you, and you’ve reduced your own resources.  

The impetus for this post was learning accidentally that an upcoming game sequel actually features just this last sort of betrayal.   Ugh. 

(Almost as annoying, by the way: the betrayer dude who happens to the ugly and scowly one among the allies you have at the beginning of the game.)