What do you think when you hear the term ‘IT geek’? Is the image conjured in your head of an overweight and bespectacled male, someone who lives an unhealthy lifestyle, prone to talking in excessively-technical terms and leaving crumbs all over the keyboards?
That’s the stereotype used in The Moment of Silence, a point-and-click from 2004 by House of Tales that I spent around eight hours with towards the end of last year. Unfortunately I’m unable to finish it after a Windows update caused the game to stop running but that’s not necessarily a bad thing: although I’d like to see how it’s jumbled story ends at some point, its depictions of certain characters are horrible. It caused need to start thinking about how we’re portrayed in video games and I wondered if we’re always shown in a negative light?
Bill from The Moment of Silence
Let’s start with the character who inspired this post: dear old Bill. He’s a colleague to protagonist Peter and looks after the IT equipment at the advertising agency where they work together. He’s accused of being overly protective of his server room and getting crumbs all over the keyboards around the office; and it’s revealed that his password is ‘sexmachine_bill_2044’. This is an absolutely terrible representation and Bill’s only redeeming feature is that he seems genuinely concerned about Peter’s wellbeing.
Hackerman from Kung Fury
Move over, Guybrush: there’s a new geek crush in town. Although he’s from the short film rather than the game itself, Hackerman is worthy of a spot on today’s list because I think I’m in love. His computer skills are so legendary that he can even hack time and without him on Kung Fury’s team, they may not have been able to travel back to defeat Kung Führer’s Nazi army. Take a look at this video if you want to see how he did it and to quote the man himself: with great processing power comes great responsibility. Swoon.
Bernard Bernoulli from the Maniac Mansion series
Bernard is a much-loved protagonist from a well-known series but it’s impossible to say he’s an entirely positive description of someone who’s good with IT. He may be the most useful character in the original game with more technical skills than the other kids, fixing both the telephone and radio; but he lacks guts, is easily terrified and carries his pens in a pocket protector at all times. Although you might be able to forgive Maniac Mansion as it was released in 1987, it’s a bad stereotype we’re bored of.
Delores Edmund from Thimbleweed Park
Who wants to run a pillow-factory when you can work for a famous developer and make adventure games? Delores decided to follow her dreams despite the risk of being disowned by her family, and it’s this courage which makes her one of the best things about Thimbleweed Park. Not only is she highly intelligent, teaching herself to code and having a poster of Ada Lovelace in her bedroom; she’s also warm and friendly, and wants to do the right thing for her town. Now that’s just the kind of hero we need.
Octacon from the Metal Gear Solid series
Chief engineer Hal Emmerich, better known as Octacon, is a computer programming whiz and devoted fan of anime. He was initially planned to look different as the original idea for the character was to make him ‘heavier, wearing a cap and programming while eating a chocolate bar’; but it’s thanks to Yoji Shinkawa for ignoring yet another tired trope from Hideo Kojima. Saying that though, Octacon’s history still contains an affair with his stepmom so I guess originality didn’t win completely.
Chris Hartley from Until Dawn
While playing Until Dawn for Halloween this year, there was only one character I really wanted to save – and I’m pleased to say he made it to the ends credits in our playthrough. Chris is awesome. He may love technology, be lost without an internet connection and want to be an app designer, but he doesn’t let his geekiness be the only thing that defines him. The best thing about him is how much he cares about his friends: he risks his life for him on several occasions and can even sacrifice himself for Ashley. She’s one lucky girl.
So it seems as though the representation of IT geeks is the same as any other in video games: many are positive while others are simply awful. As discussed by Ed Fear at AdventureX last month, stereotypes aren’t necessarily a bad thing because they give players a handhold and let them know something about a protagonist immediately. But it’s important for developers to build on that and make their characters more than a trope, because that’s where the power to change opinions comes from.
I’d love to hear how you think you’re represented in games. Are there any characters you feel are positive role models, or are there any that you hate?