Friday, March 25, 2011

Death of the tutorial buddy

As I played the beginning of Dragon Age 2 and watched one of my virtual siblings die for no reason other than because his/her abilities were somewhat redundant with mine (if you play a mage, your mage sister dies, if you play a rogue or warrior, your warrior brother dies), I had a feeling of déjà vu. It was because I had seen it before: The start of a game, setting out accompanied by one or two companions, so naive and unseasoned. Suddenly a cutscene, my companion falls--was it a heroic sacrifice, or just a foolish mistake? It doesn't matter, the companion is dead. There was nothing I could do. Maybe it's just the games that I play (BioWare??), but there seem to be a lot of games in which a non-player companion, whether in a true tutorial section or merely in an introductory part of the game, inevitably dies, regardless of what the player does. I wrote out a list of all the games that I've played in which the player character has non-player companions, and I realized that about half of them use this "Dead Tutorial Buddy" (DTB) trope.

In some cases the DTB is an old friend or family member. Their death is tragic, devastating the player character, destroying the world as she knew and loved it. Of course, since you the player only just met the DTB, it never feels quite so sad. In other cases, the DTB is just a random, completely inconsequential person who happened to team up with you long enough to get killed (you must be bad luck). The DTB may be mentioned later in the game depending on how close he or she was to you and your surviving companions, but in most cases, the DTB will soon be forgotten. I had trouble recalling some of the DTBs' names--even ones that I'd seen nearly a dozen times (I always start a lot more characters than I end up playing).

I have compiled this list to commemorate the DTBs, those budding heroes who are never given the chance to bloom, who briefly ally themselves with the player character who will one day become a renowned hero, who sacrifice themselves nobly, if sometimes foolishly, so that others might live. They need a bit of commemoration because, in most cases, they are already long forgotten.

Minor spoilers: These records of the deaths of certain characters may be considered spoilers, but since these events all happen at the very beginning of the game, I don't think it should be a problem.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
DTB: Trask Ulgo
Relation to player character: You two are bunk-mates on the Endar Spire, but you have opposite shifts so you've never really met each other.
Team up: The ship is under attack, and somehow you're the only one who's still sleeping. Trask comes in to wake you up, and together you try to make your way first to the bridge, then to the escape pods.
Manner of death: Trask heroically sacrifices himself by confronting a dangerous Sith (against whom neither of you stand a chance) while allowing the player character to escape.
Significance: It was either you or him, so this was, in a way, a necessary sacrifice. It worked out for the best.
Recurrence: I think later in the game you encounter (and get to kill) the Sith who killed Trask. But I might be totally misremembering that. The fact that I don't remember just shows that really, poor Trask is quickly forgotten.

Neverwinter Nights 2: Original Campaign
DTB: Amie, a wizard apprentice
Relation to player character: She's a slightly younger peer and childhood friend.
Team up: The night after the High Harvest Fair, your village is attacked. Amie and Bevil come to fetch you from your bedroom. You are sent to rally the town militia, and battle attackers along the way.
Manner of death: While battling your way through the village, you come across Amie's wizard mentor trading spells with a githyanki. She rushes in to throw some puny apprentice spells, but the githyanki just laughs before pwning her.
Significance: Her spells did nothing and her mentor turned out just fine, so this was just a tragic, senseless death.
Recurrence: Everyone in the village is sad for the rest of the scene (poor Amie!), but she's quickly forgotten once you leave West Harbor.

Mass Effect
DTB: Corporal Richard Jenkins
Relation to player character: He's a soldier under your command on the Normandy, but you're new to the ship so you've only just met him.
Team up: Captain Anderson picks Jenkins along with Lieutenant Alenko to accompany you on a mission on Eden Prime.
Manner of death: Poor Jenkins gets shot down by some robots. He must have had faulty shields, since you and Alenko do just fine against the robots.
Significance: He walks out of cover and gets torn up. There's no purpose. It's just sad.
Recurrence: Doctor Chakwas takes it hard when someone gets injured that she can't save. She brings his name up once in a while; even in Mass Effect 2, you may find yourself raising a toast to Jenkins.

Dragon Age: Origins
DTB: Daveth and Ser Jory, and various*
Relation to player character: Daveth and Ser Jory are your fellow Grey Warden recruits, whom you've only just met in Ostagar.
Team up: Grey Warden leader Duncan sends the three recruits accompanied by Grey Warden Alistair into the Korcari Wilds as a necessary quest for your Joining (initiation into the Grey Wardens).
Manner of death: Becoming a Grey Warden requires drinking darkspawn blood, which will either be fatal or will make you immune to their taint and give you nightmares about archdemons, among other things. Unfortunately for Daveth, he gets the former effect. After witnessing this, Ser Jory chickens out and tries to flee, then attacks Duncan when Duncan tries to stop him. This was a very bad idea.
Significance: Daveth bravely drank the poisonous blood in the hopes that he might make a difference as a Grey Warden. It was not to be, but there was no other way to find out. The Ser Jory situation still bothers me; if I had actually been there, I would have given Duncan a piece of my mind and demanded to know why exactly we couldn't let Jory run home to his family.
Recurrence: Both are quickly forgotten.

*The true "tutorials" in Dragon Age: Origins are the six different origin stories. Two of them have DTBs. I won't write out full profiles of each one, but here are some quick descriptions.
Dalish Elf DTB: Old friend and peer Tamlen drags you along to investigate a mysterious underground ruin. He is killed by being too curious, and he nearly gets you killed, too.
Human Noble DTB: When your estate is attacked by the traitorous Arl Howe, your capable mother Eleanor joins the fight to escape along with you. But while you flee the castle, she stays behind to make a last stand against the invaders. A noble end.

Mass Effect 2
DTB: Wilson
Relation to player character: You've only just met him, but he spent the last two years of his life performing miraculous science to bring you back from what most would have considered death. And then he nearly gets you killed. Hmmm.
Team up: The robots on station are going on a killing spree. In your attempt to escape the space station, you first team up with Jacob and then rescue and team up with Wilson. Strength in numbers.
Manner of death: Turns out the killer robots were Wilson's fault. He can't fool Miranda, who, when you find her, quickly puts a bullet in his head.
Significance: It would be easy to dismiss Wilson as deserving of his fate, but remember, you owe Wilson your (second) life. It's just a shame he had to double-cross everyone on the station.
Recurrence: He may not be forgotten, but since no one mourns him, he's not really discussed again.

Dragon Age 2
DTB: Bethany/Carver (one or the other dies, depending on the class of the player character)
Relation to player character: Sister/little brother
Team up: Your family is fleeing Lothering together amidst the darkspawn horde making its way north from Ostagar.
Manner of death: A giant ogre comes barreling through, knocking you to the side. Shielding your mother, Bethany/Carver makes a heroic attack on the ogre. The ogre brushes off the attack, grabs your sibling, and kills her/him.
Significance: Maybe the ogre would have killed Mother if your sibling hadn't attacked it then and drawn its attention. Maybe it would have killed both of them. Who's to say? But everyone else survived the attack, so it's sad that there was nothing you could do to save your other sibling.
Recurrence: I can't comment fully on the matter because I haven't finished the game, but the deceased sibling has been mentioned a few times. I still see the rest of my family frequently, so the deceased sibling is still on our minds.

Bethany, RIP.

Please join with me for a moment of silence for Bethany/Carver, Wilson, Daveth, Ser Jory, Eleanor, Tamlen, Jenkins, Amie, and Trask Ulgo. If there are any other deceased companions that you would like to remember, feel free to pay tribute to them in the comments below.

A note: One might categorize this as a Death By Origin Story trope, but that trope would include characters such as Gorion in Baldur's Gate. I see the DTB as a specific case that seems to be more common in video games than in movies or TV shows (if we broaden "tutorial" to mean simply "beginning", and imagine which characters the player would control if the movie/show were a game). It's not just anyone who dies, but someone who fought/quested/traveled alongside the main character as a peer, as if they would become an important supporting character in the story, before dying abruptly. It would be like if Charlie had died in the first episode of "Lost" when he trekked out to the cockpit with Jack and Kate. Or if Chin Ho were killed off in the first episode of "Hawaii Five-O". Both of these pilot episodes did feature notable deaths, but they were not of people that you expected to be a supporting companion. Furthermore, the DTB is often inconsequential, not serving as significant motivation for the main character. Dale Maddox on "V" or Jesse from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" might fit the DTB trope. A full examination of this trope's presence in other media would merit its own post. Some other time, perhaps.


Hezabelle said...

How cool! I just started playing Dragon Age Origins the other day and I did think it was slightly weird that both the other recruits died.

Fable 2 has a DTB, your older sister Rose. Fable 3 has one too, IF you make that choice.

Sebastian said...

Did you ever study/read the whole Joseph Campbell 'Hero's Journey' thing?

I suspect killing-your-friend is a very easy way to begin a quest. Or to get you invested in the quest.

If I could remember the exact steps of the Hero's Journey I would try to find which step it correlates with.

I haven't played DA2 yet...

(But Shogun 2 is awesome!)

Eleni said...

Hez - Yay! What class are you playing, and which origin story did you choose? I liked playing as a mage, but unfortunately that one doesn't give a choice of origin story.

It's good to know that it's not just BioWare that does DTBs (of my list, only NWN2 isn't a BioWare game).

Seb - We were introduced to the Hero's Journey thing in high school, but I didn't know it in more detail than a diagram with short descriptions. A mentor dying seems to be a very common part of heroes' journeys (Obi Wan, Dumbledore, Gandalf...though he comes back), and I suppose a friend dying could be another way to give a character motivation. In most of these cases, though, the character who dies isn't really an important part of the story. But you may be right, I need to read up on the Hero's Journey.

There's a party member in DA2 named Sebastian. A handsome prince, no less. But you probably wouldn't like him.

Sebastian said...

Sebastians are nearly always pompous and/or dickish :(

Except the one that rides a dragon... and that crab...

(I'm named after Sebastian Flyte, from Brideshead Revisited...)

Eleni said...

That crab is awesome! Best part of the movie. "Under the Sea" is a great song :)

Ooh, a literary namesake. Nice.

Hezabelle said...

I'm playing an elf mage... I'm quite addicted. Is Alistair going to die (just read your Dragon Age 2 post)? I was trying to sleep with him! hahaha

As per the Joseph Cambell thing... the hero's journey is supposed to begin with a Call to Adventure and then a Refusal of the Call, so I think the DTB is the mechanism they use to push you from that step, to get rid of the comfort that holds you back so that you have no other choice but to move forward. Would your hero volunteer to fight the blight if they still had a loving family/sister/spouse/friend at home? Interestingly, Campbell implies that it's the hero's refusal of the call to adventure that CAUSES the death, because the hero has to be forced to move forward.

So really, it's your fault the DTB dies, because they have to die to make you a Hero.

Eleni said...

Nice! That's what I played as, an elf mage :) I have some screenshots of her here. I didn't mean to give any big DAO spoilers...I'll just reiterate that he had a cameo in DA2, and there are at least four different endings for him depending on your choices. Romance away--that's what I did :)

Interesting. I can see that Refusal of the Call thing applying in most of these cases, though in some it might be a stretch. In some games you're already thrust into the adventure before anyone dies, though maybe the "real" adventure doesn't begin until afterward.

I already have Mother and Carver blaming me for not saving Bethany from the ogre, but now I learn she died because otherwise I wouldn't have become the Hero I needed to be? Aah, the guilt!