Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Psych Eval - Monster Hunter

Games offer us a unique way of exploring a character. We not only see the world from their eyes, but we actually interact with the world through their choices. We use abilities in games that echo the choices the character would make when presented with a certain situation. These sorts of abilities define the characters in our video games more accurately than even the narrative that we are presented via sound or text. When the two don’t align, we automatically look towards the actions of the player character to tell us what kind of person they really are. After all, actions speak louder than words.

Given this, I would like to take a more in-depth look at some of gaming’s heroes.

Taking a look at the actions of the protagonist from Monster Hunter World we see a clear picture of a person who…. hunts... monsters…..

Alright, that’s it for this article, thanks for reading!!

Ok, but seriously. The protagonist from Monster Hunter World is very intentionally designed to have no personality such that the player can project themself onto said character and mentally assume the role of a warrior so strong that they can topple T-Rexs for fun on any random Tuesday. The reason I want to look at this character anyway is to compare and contrast to the other games that I’ve been examining, and to see how this narrative design differs from those.

What I find most interesting is that there’s a traditional narrative here at all. Capcom planted full cutscenes into this game, and a whole progressing story about the island and the people and monsters who live there. Not only that, but they gave the character a specific role within the story. You aren’t just a nameless warrior among a pile of warriors, as is the case in games like Dark Souls, but rather you are a specific warrior who is the first person to accomplish a number of very specific tasks on this island. You are there for very specific events that can only ever happen once in a lifetime (you know. Despite the fact that they happen on a cycle, every 2 or 3 missions or so...). So let’s take a look at those events, how the player character responds to them, and how the mechanics of the game do and don’t convey a personality. In the end, as with the other articles in this series, I’m going to try to map this character onto a Meyers Briggs personality profile. With any luck, I’ll fail spectacularly! Let’s go!

First off let’s look at player abilities. These are the language through which our character speaks. And oh what a list of abilities we have! I have never played a Monster Hunter before this one, and I spent much of the first 15 hours stumbling over poor tutorialization of roughly 473 million different game mechanics that all work uniquely and independently of each other while also being interwoven in specific ways, for specific combinations. They all basically amount to “way to hunt a thing” but they break down into at least a few basic categories, so let’s just tackle them as genres. You’ve got weapons, of course, the game’s hallmark. You’ve got buffs, things that improve your stats or performance, things that let you survive what you wouldn’t otherwise. You’ve got traps and tricks, things that let you setup a scenario that will hurt or disable the monster you are hunting. You’ve got projectiles, things you throw or shoot at a creature to cause damage or inflict a status effect. Lastly, you’ve got trade items, things you simply sell back to the game for cash. All of these items pretty much describe a character who is resourceful, someone who will live off the land using any means necessary. They also all speak of a person who is single-mindedly focused on combat with beasts, no consideration for cohabitation or understanding. Even the means of capturing a beast for “study” are violent and cruel, either wrapping an enormous creature in vines, or shooting them through with electricity, and both preceding dousing said monster with toxic gas. The game explains this cruelty away as being part of the science of studying the creatures to gain a better understanding of nature, but again and again you are sent out into the world to slaughter and harvest. The protagonist doesn’t seem to mind, their entire life seems to have focused on this exact exchange. The hunter hunts.
I’m not here to convert anyone to vegetarianism, but it IS notable that our main character chooses to act solely with violent intention towards these monsters. There isn’t a single game mechanic that allows us to coexist. And, frankly, there shouldn’t be. This is a game called Monster Hunter, after all. It’s on the tin! It does make my job here, analyzing the character’s personality, a little more difficult, though. In terms of game mechanics, every action our player takes only speaks to them being a ruthless hunter. You rest at camps, you eat food, you track footprints, and over and over again you kill. Mechanical storytelling simply does not exist in this game. As you progress, your character only ever gets stronger. Nothing changes their available list of actions, and their available list of actions is never used to comment on any part of the narrative. I can’t even analyze the hunter’s armor, like I did in Samus’s article, because the armors in this game are just a variety of different stat options that enable different playstyles. At best I can say that the protagonist of MHW is a versatile warrior, willing to adapt to their situation.

So let’s move into looking at the cutscenes to see how the character responds to stimuli. The game opens with your character on a ship, traveling to the new world. On the way a giant monster shows up to set the tone of the game, and the protagonist does some spectacular gymnastics as their ship gets knocked around. We see the protagonist talking to other people in the mess hall, we see them save their partner character from falling overboard, and we generally see lots of posing and posturing. I’d say we can fairly draw the conclusion that our protagonist is very into themself.

Continuing with the cutscenes, our hero enters the city and begins to set themselves up with a life. They get an apartment with a group of other people, they begin making friends with other members of their group, and generally just go off and make themselves a bit of a socialite. Until it comes time to hunt, then they wander out on their own and do missions by themself. On a number of occasions you are forced to complete an objective solo, only allowing other people to join you as an admission of defeat as you launch an SOS flair to call for help. Mechanically, this isn’t a punishment at all, but calling it an SOS flair makes it clear that this is intended as a cry for help rather than simply a person who wants to hunt with friends. This continues throughout the game, you socialize when you’re at home, partying at several points in the game, but going off on adventures on your own every chance you can get. The game makes no particular points on whether you do or don’t like the company of other people, letting that be a mechanical choice made by the player.

Throughout all the cutscenes we see the protagonist reacting to things. They make very few choices of their own, simply reacting to threats with their standard violence. If anything is conveyed about their personality here, it’s that they are extremely passive. Everyone else makes every decision for them, your partner usually initiates every conversation on your behalf, and the protagonist pretty much just does whatever they’re told to do at every chance. Several leaders appear throughout the game, Admirals and other such authority figures, and each of them gives you good-natured orders that you follow without even the slightest hesitation. You’re given a discrete list of objectives and tasks, but that is explained as being a posting made by other people, usually your partner, so even your task list tells us nothing. Presumably the character has to be the one checking those items off, but that really only tells us that they’re willing to work with someone else’s organizational structure if handed it. Which, ya know, makes sense with the whole idea that the protagonist doesn’t make any decision for themself. To be honest, if I were to draw any conclusions based on the actions of the protagonist here, I’d say that they have some unresolved issues that keeps them from being able to make a decision. That doesn’t exactly map to the Meyers-Briggs chart, but I think that’s about the most significant psychological result of examining this game.

So let’s fill in that Meyers Briggs....?

Introvert or Extrovert is the first choice. We’ve got a character who doesn’t seem to make decisions for themself, but who runs off to tackle opponents alone at every opportunity. You start off the game lodging with a group of others, but upgrade into a private room at your first chance. You then fill that room with various pets and a servant palico. If I had to call it one way or another, I’d say the protagonist here is an introvert simply because the only choice they seem to make in the game is to hunt monsters alone whenever possible.

Sensing or Intuition is the second, and…… I don’t even know where to begin. This one’s been difficult to discern on narrative-heavy titles, MHW just doesn’t show us a single shred of evidence about how our player character makes a decision. I could MAYBE lean towards sensing because the player tends to react to what they see, and we never see them extrapolating from limited data, but that’s a stretch even for me.

Thinking or Feeling? I mean. We could maybe say Feeling because of the reactionary nature of the character, but we could easily say Thinking because of the advanced planning that the character does in order to set up a hunt. This is another where there’s just nothing here that tells us which way the character leans.

Perceiving or Judging is probably our easiest choice here, given that the protagonist follows a discrete list of objectives. However, since that list is made by other people this isn’t really a conclusive decision here either.

So yeah. This didn't work!

In the end, Capcom has done a fantastic job of telling us absolutely nothing about the character we play in Monster Hunter World. This works for the game due to it being an almost MMO style of game, where the player character is a generic member of an army of hunters. Though the narrative in this game clearly centers around a specific person, the game designers have chosen to make that person whoever the player wants them to be. We could discuss the merits of a discrete narrative with a vague protagonist, and whether that’s a worthy combination for video game narratives, but that’s an entirely different conversation.

So we’re not drawing any significant conclusions, right? I came in here knowing this wouldn’t work, right? Then why bother wasting all of our time by writing this? Well my purpose with this series of articles has been to understand the types of actions a game will allow, and what those actions tell us about the player character without the need for exposition. Whether or not a character maps to Meyers-Briggs isn’t important, what’s important is that we understand the type of decisions game characters are making, and how that might differ from the choices our player would make in those same circumstances. Samus shoots at every door she wants to walk through, and that tells us something about her. The Knight in Hollow Knight uses the same nail throughout the game, and that tells us something about them. Monster Hunter World’s protagonist very specifically does not make choices that tell us anything about who they are, and that is useful for the game designers to exploit. Knowing what actions do and don’t say about our characters will allow us to make games that convey narrative without ever needing to say a word or show a prerendered image. It will also allow us to align our player characters with our players, increasing the emotional weight of the gameplay. With this article series, I’m hoping to come to better understand how all of these things might work.

And for now, that’s all I’ve got. See you next time!

No comments:

Post a Comment