Friday, April 19, 2013

Breaking the Character

The Dreamfall review had me thinking about characters.  Specifically of April Ryan, the protagonist of the original game and her change from stressed out art student to damn near suicidal rebel in Dreamfall.  It's quite a departure, so why did they do it?

Well, it's character growth, kind of.  Character growth is a catchall term for development of characters.  In essence, it's about taking a character's beliefs, ideals and dreams and challenging them.  The character grows by facing the challenge and either reinforcing their beliefs, changing them, or abandoning them all together.  This is a complex process and many characters often don't completely grow throughout the course of a single story, but they often do enough that one can see where the character should be going, and that's often enough.

What happened to April, however, is an extreme method of character growth.  Breaking a character is NOT character growth in and of itself, but it is a possible step.  Instead of merely challenging a character's beliefs, it actively destroys those beliefs.  Think of it as instead of just daring a character to prove their faith in a random god, to taking that god, showing it to them, then cutting it's head off in front of the character.  It's brutal, and can radically change the character in unexpected ways.

This is what happened to April.  The root of her destruction was planted at the end of The Longest Journey, the very end, but that wasn't necessarily the moment things broke down for her.  As the character is reintroduced into Dreamfall, only hints as to what happened in the 10 years between games are given.  If anything, it's more general than anything else, but the result is obvious:  the perky art student has been turned into a hardened killer.  The thing is, and this is a key point with broken characters, that perky art student isn't completely gone.  Some of her are still there, but they're disconnected and clogged, and almost doesn't fit with the hardened killer at all.

On the webcomic front, there's a couple of characters I can think of that have been broken.  One is from my go to comic for these things, Torg from Sluggy Freelance.  The character that started the comic is certainly not the one that's currently running around, but it's more than that, and it comes back to the story That Which Redeems.  In it, Torg is pulled in to save the Dimension of Lame from an invasion of the Dimension of Pain.  The result is something Torg isn't used to:  He's the most competent man in the room.  It wears on Torg throughout the story, especially as Lame versions of his friends are put into increasing danger and he does what he can to help them, alone.  Then, Lame Zoe is killed, and Torg breaks.

It's no secret that for most of the comic Torg has had a kind of crush on Zoe, they've gotten pretty close at times as well throughout up to this point (with only situations and Oasis being in the way).  Losing a version of Zoe, not even his Zoe, just a version of her, took a heavy toll on Torg.  He really wasn't the same afterwards, pushing his Zoe further away and getting far more serious than he should.  When his Zoe disappears and "dies," (it's complicated), he points himself to denial, and focuses on his plans.  The eventual result will be the version of Torg in the 4UCity storyline, a much harder, much more willing to sacrifice lives to meet his goals kind of guy.

The other webcomic character is Thomas from Between Failures.  Like April, we don't see him break, but we are introduced to him as a broken character.  As I said in my original review, I didn't like him much, but grew to like him as the comic progressed.  Why?  Because he's in a rebuilding phase of a character.  Only hints are given to exactly what happened, but unlike April there's no baseline to build his original character from.  Only now, as the current storyline brings the character that triggered Thomas' destruction back into the story, will answers be given.  This will be the next step in rebuilding Thomas' character, something that started with a kiss.

Rebuilding the character, that's the goal of breaking one.  If there's no rebuild phase, then the destruction was wasted.  None of these three characters has been rebuilt, yet.  April was still in the process of being broken (her last act in Dreamfall does it).  Torg has been built up again, a bit, but he's got a long way to go, and Thomas is probably the furthest along toward being rebuilt.  What will these rebuilt characters look like?  Hard to say, but often they'll share traits between their original forms and their broken forms as well as more mature traits.  What will fix them?  Torg, I think, is admitting his love for Zoe to her will probably do it.  Thomas, I suspect, might be more confrontational, and April will have a much longer journey ahead of her than behind.

Breaking a character is not to be done lightly.  It WILL change them, and many people will hate the change.  In the long run, if done right, the character will be better for it.  It will make for a much more interesting story.  After all, old Torg doing the Minion Master story wouldn't have been half as interesting, and having April being the same girl despite the changes to the world around her would have felt out of place.

Well, that's enough for now.  Until next time kiddies.

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