It is a quite common thing I read about games, specially about games people didn't like, that they couldn't relate to the characters. And then I started wondered: exactly what they mean with that? What it means to relate to? In my head, being able to relate means that you and the characters have something in common. Something in the story of such character resonate with your situation in particular and you feel 'closer to home' with the character situation.
But when people start saying they don't like a character because they can't relate to it, I always wonder if they really need a character to 'relate' with them so they can like it. Because, honestly, there is not a great number of characters you can 'relate' to, if you go with the definition I have in my head. To have relationship or connection with a character.
For example, how do you relate with Nathan Drake, for example? How many people have the archaeological knowledge he have? Or the climbing skills? Or was an orphan raised by a treasure hunter? How many people have gone in search of lost treasures while having to deal with others shooting at you? You can't relate with Drake's situation at all. Or better, there isn't many people that can relate with Drake's circumstances.
Yet a lot of people like him. You don't need to relate to someone to like him/her. The same goes for other characters like Mario. Mario have the personality of... well, he don't really have one and yet people like him. You can't relate to Mario, because aren't a Italian plumber trying to save a princes from a dragon/turtle guy. Yet you can like him.
Even more reality grounded game characters are hard to relate too. Take GTA IV Niko Bellic
. How you can relate with a former Serbian soldier that migrated to America and got involved with organized crime? Or any first person military shooter out there? Most of people that play those games never served in military, making it hard to relate to it and its characters. Yet millions of people love those games.
If you say you can relate with this guy, either you are a dangerous criminal or you are delusional.
I could understand, for example, relating to characters in more real life situations. For example, it would be easier to someone relate to Junpei from Persona 3
because like him you grow up with an abusive, alcoholic father. Or Kanji of Persona 4
because like him you were made fun for not having hobbies that fit the gender stereotype society expect of you. But the fact you can relate to the characters doesn't mean you will like them.
See, to relate and to like aren't the same thing, nor they are a requirement to each other. I for example love Garrus from Mass Effect
and no one can say they can really relate to him. You like him because he is fun, a badass and are always there covering your back. But if you say you can relate to him, you don't know what 'to relate' means. Or that I have a completely different meaning of what to relate mean in my head than you do.
Can I relate to Garrus? In no way at all. This doesn't stop me from liking him.
I think many people are using 'I can't relate to them' just as an excuse to not outright say 'I don't like them'. When you say you don't like someone, be it a real person or a character, it is something somewhat abstract and that doesn't have a logical explanation. By saying you can't relate to, it is something you can try to explain, so it sounds more logical and not open to argument than just 'I don't like them'. And yet, it make it seems that you can only like something if this something can, somehow, have some kind of link with your own circumstances, which is stupid.
Yes, of course there is things that sound more closer to you than others and it is easier to like them because of it. But it is not always the case, and definitely you don't need to relate to like. People use the 'I can't relate to them' too easy, in situations where there is no way to relate as exchangeable with 'I don't like them'. They are wrong.
So, before saying 'I don't like that character in that game because I can't relate to', stop and think: are you really disliking him because his/her circumstances doesn't have anything in common with yours or you just dislike him/her? Saying you just dislike a character is easier and way more honest than trying to relate with someone whose situation is unlikely yours no matter what.