I love well defined characters in my video games. People that have likes, dislikes, flaws, quirks, stuff that makes them human (even when they’re not). I will always choose to play as a character like Nathan Drake before a silent “character” like Gordon Freeman. But who is Nathan Drake? Why do I want to play a game in his shoes? Because Nathan Drake is the perfect everyman.
“The everyman has come to mean an ordinary individual, with whom the audience or reader is supposed to be able to identify easily, and who is often placed in extraordinary circumstances. -wikipedia”
Nathan Drake is fun to play as because he’s easy to identify with, he’s got mass appeal. He’s an affable fellow with a charming smile and just the right amount of smarm. I would go as far as saying he is gaming’s best everyman. There might be a lot about him that seems generic, but I have no doubt it actually took quite a bit of work to make him so appealing, to make him a man for everyone.
Video games are littered with everymen, relatable guys and gals with slightly cocky smiles and hip clothing. Why? Because they sell. The more people that can relate to your character the better; that means more players, more sales! But nailing the everyman is tough. One wrong trait—an odd hairstyle, a goofy accessory, a strange accent—can destroy an everyman, make him bland and forgettable, or worse, downright unlikable.
Take William Grey for example. Don’t know who he is? He bears a striking resemblance to Nathan Drake, in fact he’s even voiced by the same actor, Nolan North. Grey starred in the critically mediocre Dark Void. He was an everyman without a flaw, a go-with-the-flow kind of guy that was likeable (thanks to North’s voice over work and some good facial animation), but not memorable.
On the other side of the coin is Infamous’ Cole McGrath. Put simply, Cole is a dick. His personality flaws—a bad temper and a “why should I care?” attitude—are good everyman flaws, but they never go away, he doesn't overcome them. Instead of growing on you, he grates on you.
Fortunately, an unlikable protagonist isn’t as harmful to a video game as it is to a movie or book. I didn’t like Cole, but I still had a great time playing through Infamous, twice. But I do think a likable everyman can be that extra oomph, the whip cream on top, which helps push a game from good to great.
Of course an everyman isn't right for every game. Sometimes you want a ruthless jerk like Kratos in the God of War series, or a beefy tough guy like Grayson in Bulletstorm. Still, you'll find everymen, silent protagonists, and customized characters (as in Dragon Age Origins), in games more often than characters with strong divisive personalities. Kratos is an explosive barrel of teenage angst, Lara Croft is a rich British adventurer; they're fun to play as but hard to relate to.
Looking for more likable everymen? Check these folks out:
The hero of Assassin’s Creed 2 and Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood has a perfect mixture of youthful arrogance and rigid determination. He’s instantly likable. Really, I like him so much I didn’t have to look up how to spell his name.
THE PRINCE (Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time)
I’m partial because this is my favorite game ever, but they really captured lightning in a bottle with this one. The Prince starts as a headstrong son hoping to prove himself, and blossoms into a selfless hero, and stays charming throughout. Interesting case study: watch the Prince’s evolution through the Sands of Time Trilogy. He goes from likable everyman in the first game, to bitter douchebag in the second, and finally rebounds in the third with a redemptive inner struggle.
A wonderful everywoman, Jade is caring , tough, inquisitive, and brave. Like every good everyman she's easy to like and play as. Check her out in the re-release of her 2003 game Beyond Good & Evil--out now on Xbox Live Arcade.