There is a particular popular gaming trope that has never gelled with me. Escorting. In the real world this word makes me think of a couple of things: High paid, glamorous women of ill repute, cheap women who don't look like their picture on the back page of a magazine (I want my money back woman!) and heavily armed soldiers/security teams. I don't consider myself either of them. It seems that a lot games want to change that perception I have of myself.
It's a popular mission type in most genres of the medium. From space sims to RPGs and MMOs, and it often appears to be a lot of folks least favorite part of many games it features in. Yet time and again we see it used, I get it, it's a simple catalyst and reason for more conflict. Awesome. Use your damned imaginations, I'm sick of looking after fools. It could be worse, they could be making entire games based around protecting and/or depending on some AI controlled arsehole. Oh, wait...
To be fair, most games based around this simple mechanic try to spice it up. Indeed, they often have success with the formula, Prince of Persia and Ico are both critically acclaimed games. Thing is... I don't like them. Objectively I can see that Ico is an excellent game. It's beautiful, atmospheric and rather clever. But I simply don't give a shit about that blasted woman. The minimalist approach has certainly won over lots of people, but if I'm being tasked with traipsing around with some ethereal lassie and making sure she doesn't do something stupid like die, I need a bit more of a reason other than "that's what you do in this game".
I'm a busy man. I have lots of man business to attend to, things like growing a beard and punching holes in steel. Ico's a kid, escaping a massive fortress is tough enough without having to look after a silly princess. Sure, some might say that saving the damsel in distress from her mum is motivation enough. But if I went around saving every woman I meet from her overbearing mother (and is using your own daughter to prolong your life really the worst thing a parent can do?) then I'd never have time for my aforementioned beard growing and steel punching. Man business doesn't take care of itself, you know.
Then there's Prince of Persia. I don't have a problem with the franchise, I loved the original as a kid, I found it rather brutal, but I was fond of it. The Sands of Time was excellent. Then the others were good for a laugh, but I was getting a bit tired of them. The 2008 version decided to add a new mechanic, a constant companion. I knew before I got it that I'd regret the purchase, but I live in the now. Future be damned. I assumed that future me would be a dick, and thus he could bugger off if he didn't like the game. However, it turned out that future me was splendid and seriously hates past me. Past me is a dick.
Elika, the Prince's companion, is a bit more helpful than Yorda, Ico's ward. She stops you from falling, for one. I'd quite like an attractive Persian woman to stop me from tripping up and making a tit of myself, but as this is a video game all it did was make traversing the world incredibly easy and without much risk. Unlike controlling time in The Sands of Time, she wasn't a tactical option which you used to correct a mistake, she simply saves your arse. She also helps out in battle... a woman? Fighting in my battle? I could barely contain my rage. Misogyny aside, the fights were pretty easy fare. Now, despite my earlier complaints about having to protect damsels and fools I dislike it even more when I have to look after one who can clearly take care of herself. It didn't help that I found both Elika and the Prince to be devoid of any substantial character. At least in Ico the minimalism was by design, in Prince of Persia it's simply bad writing.
For me a companion needs to offer something that isn't a mechanic or a bland personality. I have no problem with the plethora of RPGs that require the hero to build a party. These companions are on equal footing with the hero, but still subordinate, they pull their weight and offer new avenues in the narrative and character development. Also, you usually get to treat your companions how you want. I love taking every opportunity to torture and torment them, then I get them to open up and then laugh at their hopes in and dreams. So I don't necessarily mind companions in games, but I want them on my terms. If that makes me a childish sociopath, then so be it.
With so many games containing at least one escort mission and quite a few built around it has anyone else been driven insane by incompetent or plain dull companions and strangled a kitten or punched an elderly person? I'm not saying I was driven to do either of those things.