Mapping Around Mediocrity: Companionship Over Combat


Written by Steffen Schwarz

Valentine’s day is just around the corner. It’s a day where we appreciate our relationships, and express gratitude towards those that have stuck by our sides. This can also be applied to relationships in games. 
Relationships in games are often overlooked. Players will sometimes judge a companion purely on practicality, despite the flaws and strengths of personality presented in writing. Their tactics and perks in combat are the main consideration when forming a party, even though their dialogue may shine more than any battle. 
These interactions give more reasoning to a character’s actions and humanize each move they make. These add an optional-yet-rewarding layer to forming parties—presenting opportunities to adventure and bond with this new acquaintance. Not only that, but these avatars are the writer’s way of expressing a new perspective to the player, allowing us an avenue to see their view of the world through the avatar’s eyes.
Obsidian’s “The Outer Worlds” is a fantastic example of companionship and characterization. Whereas one player may form their party around pure tactics and combativeness, another may form their party by friendship first and skill second. Every companion comes with their own quest, and as those quests continue, it sheds more details about their true intentions in the world. 
First impressions become shattered as the player spends time fighting and interacting with their companions. As more information is revealed, their initial abrasiveness weakens, and their emotions and fears become known. Sometimes this even provides a new challenge to conquer. They become more relatable for the player, and it becomes easier to appreciate their goals and struggles. They’re just a virtual avatar, but it adds a level of trust to the party and makes every victory feel like a team effort. 
Additionally, these characters provide a new viewpoint developers wish to display. In “The Outer Worlds,” one does not need companionship to understand the struggles of those living on each planet. However, spending time with companions delves deeper into the world by seeing how they cope with it. One companion hates the gears of society, but despite that, still empathizes with everyone and hopes for peaceful change. In opposition, another companion sees these flaws as an excuse to work harder, where dedication to the system is how one truly finds purpose in life. 
These are opportunities for writers to challenge their own perspectives as they research and show the benefits and shortcomings of each personality they’ve created. These opportunities are treated as discoverable lore to deepen the story. Games use these to challenge a player’s viewpoint: Although a player may enter the world with their own preconceived notions, the developers aim to change them through their interactions.
In-game companions offer players new ways to understand the world around them, and as relationships with each friend grow, so do the new ways of understanding the world the player has stepped into. Every NPC action feels human, and every line of dialogue starts to feel more like a conversation. This Valentine’s Day, when you turn on your next game, appreciate the NPCs that have aided you in your quests, whether it be slaying mighty dragons or apprehending strange humans. But, most of all, appreciate the writers that dedicated time to assist in building this relationship. After all, it is their avatar that indirectly guides you through the world.