Gaming's Strangest Player-Characters
So you’ve played the stealthy assassins, the hardened warriors, the spell-flinging wizards. You’ve beaten off Big Daddies as a constantly mutating prisoner of an underwater city, mowed down hordes of alien fanatics as a cybernetically-enhanced super-soldier, taken down serial killers as a grizzled detective, launched into the skies as a super hero from your favorite comic…
And you’re bored. Because you’ve played ‘em all. The same honorable bad-guy-kicking champions of justice, the same characters that could have could have walked straight out of Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces. Sure, you’ve dabbled as a dark lord, or might even have tried your hand as a customs officer, but what you really want is play a character that’s completely out there. What you’re really looking for is a list of the most zany creepy, surreal, or weird characters you could ever get to play in a game.
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The old woman from The Graveyard
A sweet old lady about whom you know nothing. She has a limp and gets tired if you make walk too much. And that’s all you do really, in Belgian developer Tale of Tales’ title The Graveyard, which has more in common with a poem than what you might think of as a “game.” As an old lady, she’s completely normal. No hidden powers, dark backstory, nothing of the sort.
The only unusual thing about her is that the whole point of the game is for her to die. An entire playthrough takes like 10 minutes, where you walk around, sit on a bench, reflect on life, and then, poof!, there’s a random chance that your old lady simply pops off. That’s all, folks.
The fact is, there aren’t many games exploring the idea of aging and death. Indeed, The Graveyard is the perfect candidate for this list because the old lady’s so utterly ordinary. Few games give you the experience of just being a random person, and then oops, you’re dead.
The Nameless One from Planescape: Torment
Sure playing as a nameless, grey-skinned, heavily scarred, amnesiac immortal is plenty unusual, but to a well-versed gamer, even that might seem like old hat. What places cult classic Planescape: Torment on our list is how Black Isle Studios’ protagonist plays with RPG conventions.
First off, The Nameless One is literally nameless, and any attempt to lie about it (by telling people your name is “Adahn”) results in the genesis of weird clone of yourself named Adahn, created by the power of your imagination.
Then, there’s how you deal with death. In most games, when your protagonist dies, they tend to respawn somewhere in the game world, usually breaking the 4th wall of the game a little bit. Planescape turns this over its head by making respawning part of your immortality. When you die, within the fiction of the game, you come back to life in a different part of the world, and may even have learned something special because of your death.
Finally, there’s the fact that the designers decided to conflate the terms “your inventory” and “your own body”. No I don’t just mean tattoos (of which the game supplies you with plenty): you get to burn off your own fingers to gain new spells, clobber enemies with your own severed arm, pluck out your eyeball for a magical replacement, and even dig inside your own intestines to find items you yourself put there in a past life.
So yeah, The Nameless One: definitely a weird, creepy dude.
Vince from Voodoo Vince
A 2003 platformer, Voodoo Vince cast you as a Cajun witch’s third-best voodoo doll brought to life by accident. While the gameplay was forgettable,Voodoo Vince was pretty unique because as a protagonist, you overcame challenges by hurting yourself. Unlike most game, you wanted to be stabbed with pins, to run through open flames to set yourself alight, to stand beneath falling cows (yes, that’s correct), and all sorts of other nasties.
I’d like to talk about how the game explores concepts of self-harm or sadomasochism, or how we as humans are slowly destroying ourselves. I’d like to say that the game mechanics were clever and sophisticated, using your own obstacles to power your abilities. But eh, none of that would be true. The game is really about boneheaded, wacky fun, and if you want a weird little adventure, jump right in Vince’s burlap body and go run into a truck!
The cat from The Cat and the Coup
No, you don’t just play any random cat, but the cat that belonged to Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh, the first democratically elected prime minister of Iran, who was unceremoniously ousted by a CIA-engineered coup after barely a year in office.
Yeah, heavy stuff, especially considering that the designers style it a “documentary game”. As Mosaddegh’s cat, you get to swipe at various objects around the Persian-Art-inspired world, drawing Mosaddegh’s attention to them and ushering in significant events in his life. So actually, you’re playing a gatekeeper of history, a psychopomp, a caretaker of memory, and rambunctious, furry feline, all rolled into one.
Also, did I mention it’s free?
Charlie Blackmore from Stacking
Double Fine Productions is known to offer you quirky protagonists, from psychic summer-camp attendees, to heavy-metal musician-warriors. But none of them presents as heady of mix of creepy and cute as Charlie from Stacking.
Charlie is a tiny matryoshka doll (those Russian stacking dolls that nestle inside each other) in an industrial-revolution-era world populated by other such dolls. Now dolls on their own are creepy enough, but what gives this game an extra dash of disturbing-sauce is how you achieve your goals. Sure, Charlie looks your everyday Dickensian young boy—at least, as much as a tubular wooden toy can—but Charlie has the power to physically enter bigger dolls, taking control of their bodies and gaining colorful powers including farting, moaning and seducing.
With stacking dolls, it’s not so bad, but take away the cutesy setting and imagine a newsie or street urchin burrowing into a beautiful woman’s body in order to seduce a guard at a train station, only to burrow inside of him… that’s some X-Files level shit, right there.
The bread from I am Bread
From animate voodoo implements, we move on to…animate bread. London-based Bossa Studios really wants to fulfill your ultimate fantasy of playing as a slice of bread on a journey to turn into toast (trust the English to make a game about toast). “This bread will be boldly going where no other bread has gone before,” the game’s description enthusiastically reads.
With Herculean athletic skills, your slice of bread leaps, climbs and smashes its way around an ordinary house, seeking anything hot enough to toast it, but avoiding dirty, germ-laden objects and surfaces at all costs, lest it lose its precious “edibility”.
Of course, the studio promises equal opportunities to all glutenacious types, so if bagels, crispbread or baguettes tickle your fancy more than plain old sliced bread, I am Bread has you covered.
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Now we’re approaching REALLY weird territory. While the previous characters are certainly weird, they’re also very familiar, in that they move around and interact with things in the way we expect them to (even the bread).
The top four games take peculiarity to a whole new level, presenting the players with novel, alien modes of controlling your characters.
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Octodad from Octodad: Dadliest Catch
Octodad is a devoted husband and father of two, who would like nothing better than to help around the house, provide for his family, and maybe take them on a trip to the aquarium. He’s also an octopus. But, as the game’s soundtrack chimes, “nobody suspects a thing”: with almost Clark-Kentian powers, Octodad seems to keep his identity and gurgling speech hidden behind a simple three-piece suit.
The majority of the game revolves around trying to control such a strange creature. With boneless tentacles instead of hands and feet, pouring milk for your daughter’s cereal becomes a laborious (if hilarious) task. Even walking around is a chore.
So if you want to play an eight-tentacled sea-creature trying to pass as human to his wife and kids, if you want to clumsily galumph around the place, knocking over everything in your path, Octodad is the character for you. Because we all want to see him happy, right? Who are we to judge human-cephalopod relationships?
Quozzle from Incredipede
It’s always the cute games that deliver the weirdest characters. Take Quozzle, from husband and wife team Northway Games’ Incredipede. A gorgeous, woodcut world and clever physics-based puzzles fail to distract from the fact that Quozzle is a freakish insect-mammal hybrid with a single central eye out of which she can extrude dozens of extra limbs. And that’s the main gameplay mechanic: grow extra limbs and muscles (which in Quozzle’s case are outside the body, without the unnecessary contrivances of fat and skin to shield them), and figure out how to use them and crawl across the map.
Quozzle might have been meant to come across as Darwinian, but instead reads more Lovecraftian—either way, she’s freakishly fun to play.
The wind from Flower
Flower was never meant to be a conventional game. Just like The Graveyard, there’s no real way to lose, no dialogue, no enemies or time limits. It’s about breezing along meadows and open fields... because you play as… wind.
Yep, and not just wind, but the wind inside the dream of a flower.
If your first reaction to that is “Wut?” then the two of us have something in common.
But Flower is a beautiful game, stirring bubbles of pleasure within you as you “float on high o’er vales and hills”, sweeping up flower petals and sparking landscapes to burst into bloom. If videogames and poetry have anything in common, it’s the surreal windswept joy of Flower.
The mountain from Mountain
“You are a mountain,” Steam says. Blunt, and to the point. Kinda like a mountain itself.
And well, there’s not much more I can really say about the game. You’re a mountain. Mountains don’t do anything. They just sit there. And that’s what you do in the game. You just sit there. Time moves forward. You just sit there. Clouds drift by. You just sit there. Trees grow and die. You just sit there.
No other game gives you as strange a character as Mountain. Heck, you’re not even a real character. Can a piece of geology have thoughts, emotions?
Well, that’s completely up to you: you’ll have plenty of time to ponder deep existential questions as you play the game. Because you know, you just sit there.
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There you have it: a list of the strangest characters you can play in a game. So go ahead. Give the gun-toting or crossbow-wielding adventurers a rest. Try seeing the world as a piece of bread, a voodoo doll, or even a giant slab of rock. You’ll never know what it’s like until you try.