I have played many games and read many books, what tends to irk me is stories that depend on me liking a character that I hate. Prior to me starting to write my IF, I would say never make the story depend on the audience liking a character; but now I think there is a little more wiggle room than I originally thought. My goal is to find out how to write a complex character people can like but isn’t exactly a saint.
I made a little list of my observations and welcome anyone to share their thoughts.
[Ex. Life Is Strange] A good example of stories that depend on audiences liking a character that tends to be hated is Chloe, I hated her character because I had a toxic friend like her and so like 70% of the plot had me so un-engaged with the story. She manipulates, guilt trips, and forces the MC to do bad things they don’t want to just because she does. I really don’t know why the devs centered the story around majority of audiences to like such an unlikable character. She’s an example of what not to do, in my opinion at least.
[Ex. TellTale’s The Walking Dead] I think Telltale did such a good job of ensuring audiences liked
Clem and were invested in what happened to her. I think people tend to like dependent non-problematic kids in general because they set off our parental instincts, Clem was a very sweet little girl who NEEDED Lee/audiences to protect her or she would definitely die. While she made dumb decisions sometimes, it was never her intention to do harm. Which I think is a very powerful factor whether people like a character or not. Unless a kid is annoying or intentionally hinders the player (ex. Tennessee or arguably Ben), than they are almost a 100% safe bet in motivating an audience to like them.
[Ex. DC Comics] I am a huge comic nerd and think there is a few good characters that have interesting effects on audiences for different reasons. A major one I would say is Harley Quinn (Original harley, not the her newer stuff). I think she is so likable despite doing horrible things and constantly going back to her abuser, is because she is a victim. I believe there is a range in where people can forgive and even like a character if they sympathize with them. Even more so when they can see the abuser and thus put the blame of water the victim is doing unto the abuser. So Harley could torture a good man but he don’t hate her because she’s doing it on behalf of Joker, we can put the blame rightfully on Joker and not her.
[Ex. Arcane] Arcane’s villain Silco was rather liked despite his vicious nature because I think people could place themselves in his shoes and also be upset at the suffering of the people who lived underground. We are shown the horrible conditions, deaths, and injustice that exist towards those people; and so we can relate to Silco’s want to emancipate the people and become independent of the people who take advantage of them. (Bonus points for him loving and practically adopting Jinx, seeing a soft side to a harded character tends to do wonders for most people.)
[Ex. Naruto] Itachi I think paints the picture of people falling hard for characters that can do bad things but for a greater hidden purpose. Them doing things because they have to and not because they want to is a easy way of making a twist likable character I think. But it can admirably fall flat if not presented in a smart way, I can’t remember what show I saw this in but they pulled a twist sympathetic character so late into the action that it had me questioning if they really had no choice or if they were just doing what was easier for them.
So in summary: Dependency, Sympathy, Relatability, Intentions, Soft sides, and Not having a choice.
Any thoughts on what else makes you attached to a character? What makes an unlikable character that you feel audiences were supposed to like?