Yep, everyone else is getting in on it, so I thought I may as well jump in too. It's time to look back over the past year, take in all that gaming has achieved, then hand out a bunch of random awards based on completely arbitrary criteria and subjective opinions. It'll all amount to nothing, but with any luck we'll get a few good arguments along the way.
So with that out of the way, it's time to present the award for:
The Most Average White Male Character in a Videogame 2013.
It takes something special to be truly average. True mediocrity is hard to achieve, and nowhere is this clearer to see than character design. Over the years, we've seen developers try time and again to achieve that highest of aims- the relatable, generic, average white male. The character that the largest demographic of gamers can relate to, and therefore project themselves on to. It's an impossibly tricky thing to do. One badly placed eye-patch, cheeky mullet, or pair of geeky science glasses, and your ho-hum character has gone from being average schlub to an iconic piece of design.
Some people might say that unique, inventive, creative character design and solid gameplay are all you need to be able to immerse yourself in a character. They may even point to atypical character designs like Samus Aran, Spyro The Dragon or Oddworld's Abe to bolster their argument. These people are wrong. Immersion is clearly about how much like real-life you a videogame character is, and the law of gaming demographics therefore states that a caucasian, early-mid 30s looking, stubbly man is the most average character design, and therefore the best. And 2013 did not disappoint. Developers really stepped up to the plate to give us some truly average character designs, so that us white dudes could play their games without making our brains work too hard.
Before we reveal the winner, here are the nominations for Most Average White Male in a Videogame 2013:
- Booker Dewitt, Bioshock Infinite
Why he was nominated: This cover from Bioshock Infinite truly ticks all the boxes when it comes to the AWM category. The designer stubble is present, and is neither too rough or too smooth. The hair is the perfect length of average: neither too long to be misconstrued as overly hippy or liberal, nor so short he could be mistaken for a skinhead or other far-right type. The jowls are just defined enough to give the perfect brooding, determined expression, whilst not being so defined that they could alienate younger players. He even has a shotgun resting on his shoulder, just to blend even more into the AWM videogame crowd.
Why he didn't win: Sadly, as truly average as this cover design is, the game itself stays in Booker's perspective, robbing you of the chance to take in how phenomenally unphenomenal he looks. Without the box art and that TV trailer, it would be difficult to know at all just how average Dewitt really looks, and it is on that crucial hurdle that Infinite stumbles. Well, that, and telling a coherent story...
Joel, The Last Of Us
Why he was nominated: One game that certainly has no issues with showing you your AWM lead character is The Last Of Us. While Joel is creeping into the wrong side of middle aged, he still otherwise has all the hallmarks of a standout AWM. He has the sort of face-fuzz that would make him relatable to many a nerd in the gaming community, and a well trimmed head of hair that suggests even when society has utterly fallen apart, there will still be hair dressers to give out mediocre haircuts. His fashion sense never seems to waver from canvas shirts and jeans, the most everyman of everyman looks, and his skin is the perfect shade of pale to suggest that he's been out in the sun a fair bit, whilst making sure we know he is most definitely white, not black, asian, indian or latino. This isn't surprising, of course. Naughty Dog already have pedigree in this particular area, with Uncharted's Nathan Drake being AWM winner for both 2007 and 2009.
Why he didn't win: Sadly, as hard as Naughty Dog's art team worked to make Joel the most non-descript of average joes, their writers threw a spanner in the works by making him a genuinely well written character with harrowing backstory and emotional turmoil, and starring in one of the best narratives of the year. Dead family members, paternalism and existential angst in the face of a zombie apocalypse are just not the sort of things your average gamer can relate to, and it is on that note that TLOU snatches defeat from the jaws of victory.
Mario, Super Mario 3D World
Why he was nominated: Because Nintendo designed him to be the sort of relatable, non-descript avatar that gamers can easily project themselves onto. It's their mission statement. It's his entire reason for being. He even has a trope on TV Tropes named after him for that very reason. The jack of all stats, master of none. He has the brown hair and blue eyes, the everyday overalls of a tradesman complete with work boots... Nintendo even went above and beyond by clearly giving him a bit of podge around the middle, elevating him even further into the realm of the average than other AWM characters who somehow also have Olympian figures. I'm sure an overwhelming number of gamers can identify with any character who carries around a bit of tummy luggage. Not me, because my body is lithe, chiselled perfection, but for the rest of you lazy slobs...
Why he didn't win: Firstly, because of that moustache. While facial stubble is the in-thing now, prominent moustaches are the domain only of university professors, bank managers and hipsters. Without that moustache, Mario would be the pinnacle of forgettable blandness. With it, he instantly alienates himself from the majority of stubbly neckbeards too lazy to engage in a bit of facial maintenance.
Secondly, because at one point he was officially more recognised amongst American children than Mickey Mouse, and anyone more recognisable than Mickey fucking Mouse must be doing something good in the character design department.
Thirdly, because all jokes aside, he's Mario. An Italian plumber who lives in a kingdom of talking mushrooms, is banging royalty, solves problems through jumping really high and has a giant dragon-turtle for a nemesis. You'd have to be knee deep in LSD at a Hawkwind gig to find that in any way relatable.
And with that, the winner is...
Sam Fisher, Splinter Cell Blacklist
It's one thing to make an average white male character. It's another thing entirely to retroactively take a beloved character, and turn them into an AWM. For the sheer audacity of taking one of stealth gaming's most iconic, honey-voiced characters and turning him into beige wallpaper, Ubisoft deserve the gong for Blacklist.
To truly understand why Blacklist won, you have to understand who Sam Fisher once was.
Back in the days of classic Splinter Cell, Fisher was a stocky, imposing figure who was clearly approaching retirement age, and had facial wrinkles so deep you could go spelunking in them, and a jaw strong enough to pump iron. He was an OG badass, and the games repeatedly made point of the fact that he was an old-timer getting further and further out of touch with the youth of today and the high tech shenanigans of the modern world. Not only did he look old and imposing, but he was voiced by the aural perfection that is Michael Ironside. Every line he uttered was an exercise in smooth, velvety bass. Every snarky aside, every sarcastic quip, delivered with gravelly octaves so low they could make your speakers rumble. Those old haggard looks and that delicious voice all served to make Fisher the most memorable character of the Tom Clancy games, and able to go toe to toe with Solid Snake in the forums.
Blacklist's Fisher is allegedly the same character and has all the same traits, but he also doesn't look a day over thirty-five, has a voice so unidentifiable it could be covered in blood and still slip through an identity parade, and all the imposing nature of a saggy balloon. Fisher has gone from being one of the most identifiable characters of the seventh gen, to someone who could easily blend into any office meeting, canteen or hardware shop without note. He's so average looking he could jump into your car unannounced, tell you he was doing the car pool you'd forgotten about, and you'd probably believe him.
For such an incredible redesign from iconic to beige, Blacklist wins the 2013 award for Most Average White Male hands down.
Join us again soon as we present the next 2013 GOTY award: Most Needlessly Excessive Cleavage in a Female Character.