While the study of dramatic characters is something normally reserved for high school English, it can easily be applied to video games! The idea of the stock character has been around since ancient Greece, and throughout history, has evolved and become a pool of character types that storytellers often draw upon to include easily identifiable individuals in their work. A stock character is a type of flat character that is often identified by an archetype or a stereotype that frequently recurs in literature, drama, and popular media. Stereotypes in media are very recognizable, as they are always wearing the costume and acting the part of the stock character they represent. Stereotypes appear in video games ALL THE TIME, and it’s pretty easy to pick them out.
THE ACTION HERO
The action hero is a stock character that can accomplish great feats that no normal man could ever hope to, all to accomplish his goal of saving the world, or some other similarly benevolent mission. The action hero pops up multiple times in video game history, but one pair of larger than life men fit the stereotype like no other: Contra’s Bill Rizer and Lance Bean. These men are responsible for taking out a alien invasion after alien invasion with nothing but the rifles on their backs. Konami easily drew inspiration from classic action heroes from film, such as John Rambo from First Blood and Dutch Shaefer from Predator.
THE MAD SCIENTIST
The mad scientist is a villainous genius, one who will do anything necessary to achieve his own ends. A caricature of classic characters such as Dr. Victor Frankenstein, he often wears a lab coat, laughing maniacally as he takes pleasure in causing havok. Of all the crazed lunatics in video games that wield science as their sword, none quite live up to the stereotype quite like Mega Man’s Dr. Albert Wily. He uses his keen mechanical intellect to reprogram various working robots into incredibly dangerous weapons, always in order to achieve world domination, or at least the death of Mega Man.
THE KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOR
The knight in shining armor is a heroic figure who lives for duty and saving princesses. With their polished armor and their trusty blade, they will fight evil creatures and men all in the name of their kingdom and their lady. These characters litter video games, with great examples in a lot of high profile games such as Ghouls ‘N Ghosts and Dragon’s Lair. The warrior Kuros, from the game Wizards & Warriors, wears metallic armor, with a knightly helm, a crusader’s shield, and a longsword. His mission is simple: to save the princess of the Kingdom of Elrond. Kuros’s quest to save the princess from the evil wizard Malkil would make the knights of Arthurian legend proud.
THE MARTIAL ARTS MASTER
There are none who quite have the ability to win hand-to-hand combat quite like the martial arts master. These characters are often stereotyped by their Asian garb, their sense of honor, and mostly notably, their prowess in combat. Since so many video games have come from Japan, these types of characters are everywhere. However, one of the best examples of a fighting master in video games is Yang Fang Leiden from Final Fantasy IV. Yang is the best martial artist in his kingdom, and is looked up upon by every one of his pupils. He is incredibly disciplined and dedicated to his craft, and will do anything to maintain his honor.
As long as there have been video games, there have been princesses to save. These damsels in distress are identified by their good looks, well kept appearance, and their inability to prevent themselves from being kidnapped. While there are some very obvious choices for a great example of a stock princess character, one of the more hapless royal women is Princess Prin Prin from the Ghosts ‘N Goblins series. The beautiful Princess Prin Prin awaits her knight in shining armor, Arthur, every time she is captured by various demons and devils. When Arthur finally defeats his nemesis and saves Prin Prin, she gives her hero a kiss as a reward, an ending straight out of a fairy tale.
As long as there has been science fiction, there have been robots. Robbie the Robot on the Space Family Robinson was one of the original tin suit robot people to grace modern media. When Nintendo launched the NES in North America, they included the Robotic Operating Buddy, or R.O.B., with the system. Robots are very often portrayed as rigid, metallic, boxy machines that talk with a very distinctly electronic tone. Robo from Chrono Trigger is one such robot. He hits all the perfect stereotypes right on the head, and the developers even included a little electrical short sound effect every time he had a line. Robo is one of the best robot stereotypes in video games.
Stereotypes appear in video games as often as in other forms of media, just as plenty of other narrative elements do. Understanding these elements helps us to determine whether or not video games can claim to be considered art. Whether it’s a damsel in distress, a space marine, a town drunk, or something else, you can be sure that stereotypes in video games will be around until the medium itself dies.