This time around, we are starting out with a two part bit on mentors and role models. This first episode is on males because it’s the theme of the site, and it would show men in games as more than violent brutes and the like. So what sort of examples are we going to look for? We are going for something much more specific here: Mentors in games that not only improve the character but may provide some advice or morals for the player as well. They can be new people they meet, or even new friends the player makes along the way. Again, I would suggest that everyone play all of these games to see what I mean and perhaps even learn something new of your own. Let’s hammer this in.
In a recent episode my wonderful editor Hannah mentioned playing the game Breath of Fire III with her son in a competitive fashion. I’m wagering this is primarily in the fishing mini-game the series is known for. What she didn’t mention is the wonderful mentor you get early on in the game. Something I know a lot about because this is one of my favorite games of all time. The series has a system to learn techniques from different mentors and have boosts for leveling. The first of these mentors is the woodsman Bunyan. You meet him in the beginning of the game while your character Ryu is first trying to become a bandit with his adopted brothers Rei and Teepo. After trying to rob the very large and muscular man they go to ransack his abandoned house. He then proceeds to teach the boys the value of hard work and how to fend for themselves legitimately and give up thievery. From there the three boys become local heroes and for a time become honored members of the community. That is, until they cross a crimelord. But the entire time Bunyan helps Ryu in his quest to find and perhaps avenge his lost brothers, being one of the early mentor characters of the game who teaches the values of honest work and integrity of character. (Source: http://bof.wikia.com/wiki/Bunyan_(Breath_of_Fire_III) )
So who is next in our lovely list of lads? Well, the swordsman Auron from Final Fantasy comes to mind. I won’t go too far into his past due to the spoilers for those who hadn’t played Final Fantasy X for whatever reason but will say that due to his mysterious origins he was tasked with both guiding Yuna to fulfilling her destiny in a way that would end the cycle of Sin for good along with being a surrogate father for the his best friend’s son: Tidus. As such he goes between the worlds of Zanarkand and Spira to be a prime influence to the future lovers. Throughout the game, he gives advice as it is needed and shows by his actions how Tidus should fight. In fact, he gives Tidus his first weapon and shows him how to fight. But also worked to give the youth insight and understanding of his father who he chased after. Even in the game’s sequel, he ends up giving some advice to Yuna at points being ever the guide to the young summoner. (Source: http://finalfantasy.wikia.com/wiki/Auron)
I realize that all of these seem to be from RPGs. However, story driven games like RPGs and adventure games are the better formats for deep showings of such positive characters. As such the next game we’ll touch upon is Grandia with the Knight of Dight Gadwin. In this setup, the mentorship is actually started with a misunderstanding. The main character Just initially thought Gadwin cannibalized his lost cousin Sue. Because of this, they initiated a duel, which the inexperienced adventurer lost quickly. As time goes on part of the gameplay is discussion during a meal before saving. This is meant to give more insight into the characters and hints for the challenges ahead. Talking to Gadwin during these discussions typically consists of depictions of how to be a man, fulfilling promises, and teaching combat techniques, all things important to Justin as his father has been long absent. The teachings of this man lead to vast developments in Justin’s overall character arc. One of the biggest lessons taught through interacting with him is one of focus and diligence. (Source: http://grandia.wikia.com/wiki/Gadwin)
To continue on in this vein, one can start to notice a lot of these mentors are swordsmen, save for the first, but this honestly has no bearing on the traits these men inspire in the characters they teach or their players. That is no more true than it is for our next entry, the travelling swordsman Laike, alter ego of the former Dragonmaster Dyne from LUNAR. Normally I wouldn’t put down such a spoiler, but for this entry this aspect is important to his influence as a mentoring force. The influence begins for our main character, who just happens to be named ‘Alex,’ before the game does. Yeah, yeah go ahead and make your jokes.
Dyne is an inspiration as the last living Dragonmaster and an old friend of our protagonist’s father, inspiring the young ocarina player to quest for the same title. That is, until Laike comes to play in the midst of the Misty Woods, He offers his aid to the heroes of our story and you have the option to either accept and get an earful later from the love interest or not and get some guidance from him about humility and being willing to ask for help when you need it. This theme of working together, being humble, and even being willing to forgive others even while they are trying to harm you becomes a constant during the game, all influenced by both forms of the former Dragonmaster. (Source: http://lunar.wikia.com/wiki/Dyne)
So then, how am I going to follow that up? How about with someone who doesn’t ALWAYS seem like a mentor but actually is? That would be Citan Uzuki from Xenogears. Here we will go back to no spoilers for the article but will stat that he is a close confidant and friend to the young Fei Fong Wong for 3 years (ages 15-18), giving him advice on how to deal with particular situations and providing an alternative point of view at many points in the story. He even comes to advise other younger characters in the game, having earned their trust and respect. In addition, he is also shown here in his capacity as a father to his young daughter Midori and loving husband to his wife Yui. He also can provide his expertise as a doctor in cases of emergency. Due to this and due to a mysterious aspect of his personality he will often urge patience and caution with analyzing a situation thoroughly. (Source: http://xenosaga.wikia.com/wiki/Citan_Uzuki)
I’m sure you were able to notice that each of these different characters have different mindsets and methods in which they mentor their charges. Some put themselves above their students, others treat them as equals. Some teach directly, others teach with allegory and action. Then there is what lessons they teach those they influence. They are as varied as there are different people in the world. There is no one perfect way to mentor someone, no tried and true method. That is because for all intents and purposes ‘perfection’ does not exist. That is because ‘perfection’ is a matter of ‘perception’ and since no one has the same perception there is no singular ‘perfection’. The best way to mentor is also the best way to be mentored. Take what works for you and learn through that. This part of the article in particular, I want as many people as are willing to comment on during the next week, because next time we are going into female mentors and role models and how they can work with men too. I will expand on this concept using the opinions given then to finish this thought up. However next time, I’m going to break a different type of narrative before finishing with female mentors in games.
I also hope this will help give some ideas for working together for the sake of the next generations of men and boys. Until next time, Game Freely.
- Breaking the Narrative Episode 124: Nice Try Kotaku! This Won’t Work Though! - July 8, 2019
- Breaking the Narrative Episode 123: We Shouldn’t Go Straight to Mars! How Anime Got Space Right! - July 1, 2019
- Breaking the Narrative Episode 122: You’re Reviewing What Now? The Dissenter Web Browser! - June 10, 2019
this time i actually had quite a hard time thinking of examples to contribute with the article, specifically thinking only about games, or else i would write a enormous text about how Batman is a amazing mentor and father figure, but i don’t recall any of the recent arkham games showing this side of the popular hero, sadly.
but considering impact on both player and character i guess Roth from the Tomb Raider reboot is a good addition (http://tombraider.wikia.com/wiki/Conrad_Roth) his encouraging words ‘You can do it, Lara. After all, you’re a Croft’ was something that really motivated me (and Lara Croft of course) though the entire experience.
Duncan from Dragon Age Origins (http://dragonage.wikia.com/wiki/Duncan) had a very small participation in the protagonist story, but after listening to every single dialog Alistar had about him, it really made me wish the game gave me more time to spend with him, specially because of how enjoyable was the interactions my mage character had with Irving
Alright, if you are reading this article now I’m only going to wait until this upcoming Saturday for people to submit more examples in the comments. After that the next article will be set!