Writing About Stereotypical Video Game Characters

The Trenches Web Comic
The Trenches

I based my first and still unpublished novel on my six years as a video game tester for 30+ games and a lead tester responsible for ten games. Drawing upon all the stories and incidents from working at Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, different owners, multiple identity crisis), I wrote a ghost story involving a group of thirty-something video game testers who been in the business for too long. At 700 pages and 125,000 words, I had no clue on how to edit it and stopped working on it.

And then The Trenches came out in 2010.

This web comic came from the creators of Penny Arcade and PvP, the two most popular web comics about video games in general. I read the first few strips and stopped reading. They were going to cover the same territory that I did when I wrote my novel. Although I still had thoughts about revising my novel from time to time, I didn’t want my efforts being influenced by this web comic.

With my first novel tucked away in a storage box in back of the closet, my short stories started appearing in a dozen anthologies and I started publishing my own ebooks over the last few years.

While browsing Kiwiblitz a few weeks ago, I followed the link back to The Trenches and read the entire archive from beginning to end. As I expected back then, the web comic did cover the same territory as my first novel: a clueless manager, the female tester overweight and Jewish, and the main video game is a space western.

Did the creators of The Trenches break into my apartment and stole of a copy of my manuscript? Not at all. The video game industry is one big incestuous family, where stereotypical characters are as common as fleas on a hound dog.

The usage of stereotypical characters allows the writer to introduce a character that the reader immediately recognizes and add something different to make that character unique to the story. The lead tester in The Trenches, for example, wears a kilt, implying that he is of Scottish-descent and has the brass balls to wear it at work. The homicidal ghost in my novel isn’t the scary little girl cliché that populates most horror-survival video games but is a friendly looking troll-like creature with very sharp teeth.

Does reading The Trenches changes anything about the stereotypical characters in my novel?

On the surface, it changes nothing. You can’t have a video game company without a clueless manager—or management—to make the lives of the testers unbearable. I’m keeping the lead female tester as is since her weight and Jewish identity are themes for several critical scenes. I might jettison the Western theme for the main video game to avoid overlapping The Trenches too much. If anything, my stereotypical characters need more uniqueness to stand out against the competition.

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