So Elizabeth, she must have become my favorite female videogame character of 2013 so far, and ends up there now with Zoey and Alyx Vance. She not only has a very sexy voice, she must also be like the first girl in a FPS shooter dressed in a gala outfit running around with you and hanging on skylines, giving you weapons and items when you're in need of them, helping you when you're incapacitated, giving you strategic options on how to fight a certain battle area (she can spawn automatic guns or cover areas for you to sit behind so you can basicly ask her to be the companion that is perfect for your strategy). She's also a companion in a second way. She is your premier channel for mutual feedback of the world you are running trough. Being happy when you free her, being angry at you when you make your first kill, making it up to you again, only to be angry at you again later and then giving such human emotional feedback to you along the later part of the game. She gives so much meaning to you as a player as you save her from her prison tower and let her loose in the world while you uncover the secrets of the floating city of Columbia. Which is the main theme of the game Bioshock Infinite.
The part where she stays in my memory started a bit like this. As I finished the game a few times (sans the 1999 mode where I'm stuck at this rediculously hard finale that I even hardly beat in normal mode). As days passed I started to remember stuff from her. "You're a roguish type, what do you think I'm doing ?" she said that when we picked our first lock in battleship bay. "I'll be certain to attend to that distinction: BOOKER". She says that in soldier's field. "Booker, are you afraid of God ?", she asks me on the barge that takes us to the hand of the prophet. So I remember all these things from a certain location from a virtual setpiece on my computer, from a thing that's basicly an AI with access to a pallette of voices and looks like a charming young lady. So there's a rudimentary feeling of almost romantic proportions remembered as a mutual experience as if Elizabeth really said that to me in that place.
I always say that romance is like a glorified version of nostalgia to places with people layered on top of it . In the same way that you can be nostalgic about a "random" moment: "I was there, in this or that concert or this or that bar": You could be having this romantic feelings (without sexual or erotic flavor attached to it) when sharing a moment in an extraordinary place. It could have been on vacation, a visit, city trip. These people that are there become part of the place that you have these feelings about and you think back about them as kinda merged to that location. Call me sad but with Elizabeth gave me that feeling very much and it was "only" a game.
You could ask me if I ever played any real adventure games. Sure Bioshock Infinite isn't the first game to have their characters transcend beyond the screen into our minds. My memories of Aeris from ff7 (the somehow mysterious flowergirl that dies too soon), Jen, the girlfriend that gets transformed into a hideous biological garble which you have to fight in Prey, Alyx Vance, John Carver, Paxton fettel, Charlie and Emma from the longest journey universe: they are are very powerful. They certainly are characters that stay with you or provide meaningful story contents to you, even if they stay stationary somewhere.
I guess I'm not really saying something new right ? We all have our memorable fondness of ingame characters that mean something for us. But for this article I'm not wanting to talk about characters that we "inhabit" as a player. Playing as April Ryan, Zoey, even Playing Lester Knight Chaykin gave me a strong feeling of transfering myself into those identities and living my adventure trough theyr eyes. BEING the game charecter makes you project on yourself as a player. So for the sake of this article I wanted to say something about "believable companions" specificly.
As Ken Levine from Irrational says, creating a believable companion is crucial. If companions don't act human and give meaning to why they are with you then you're not going to care about them. So I already explained 2 reasons why Elizabeth is such a memorable character. But there's a third reason why she becomes so nice for me. And it's the reason why I wrote this article because I'm all about accessibility in games.
In that way, she actually is helpful in just the right dosage. It's really something to see if she points to something you don't exactly spotted at first glance. She sometimes asks you if you want to look for a lockpick that she saw but doesn't really hold your hand and drag you to it. There's gameplay in that because you start looking more intensely to the general direction she points at. As a visually impaired person this sort of thing is very encouraging to me if a game character does this.
Sometimes, when we arrive at a hub like Soldiers Field, she'll ask me if I want to go to the bar or to the Hall of Heroes... wait there's a bar ? I didn't notice that before, perhaps there's some loot! Thanks Liz! In shantytown, she asks me if we can run around a bit, look at the police station or resume our mission. This stuff not only makes a character useful it also makes her more human and compasionate for the player and enhances the story.
So yeah I start dreaming for moar Elizabeth-like companions like that in future games that include those. Fantasies of them becoming walking tutorials for the game, whom you could ask to point stuff out to you, but without dragging you to it. that they iterate and tell you some details about important gameplay objectives (without spelling it out) if you arrive in a complex area. But with the addition of being able to ask them AGAIN. Sometimes, Liz does it just once and if I didn't see it, her arm won't go up again pointing to the same general location.
They could maybe have different levels of content they push out to you and it could be configurable in menus. Light setting, where they only point out some stuff. Normal, where they also give you advice like Elizabeth does like "hey maybe we can visit this club or that house, there might be some cool items lying around". And the heavy version would be where they also start giving hints in a way that is involving and fun. Hints like: "did you see this or that item?"
But as I said in a previous article about accessibility, it's incredibly important that this kind of intense guidance have a toggle so that "normal users" and users that want to find everything for themself can turn it off.
In much the same way that Tomb raider gave people the option of using survival instinct as an available (but not mandatory) guide, Elizabeth is almost like a "humanized" version of this. This is why I like where videogames are going nowadays and surely I'll continue to have gripes about hide and shoot AI in war games, but Elizabeth is one of the most beautiful allround "AI girl" I've seen in a game and what's new this time around is that she is an ALLROUND presence. Thank you Elizab.... umm i mean, Irrational games for setting a standard here for companions.