'Greetings, BURPFACE,' or how we name characters in games

Posted on 09/05 16:02 in | 0

Between Pokemon and No Man's Sky, we've been spending a lot of time lately naming things in game. Arcanine becomes Barky McFluffytail and planets become Hoth, But Angrier as we each follow our own method for personalizing our digital playgrounds. Sometimes we play it straight and keep things lore-appropriate, other times we name everything after our pals (which is pretty much the rule in XCOM, right?), and sometimes we just give up and hit "randomize." Rules for naming change from game to game and person to person, so here's a sampling of how the GamesRadar+ crew rolls. (Spoilers: We're kind of weird.)

Since the very first time I played The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, I’ve named my silent protagonists after myself, specifically using the shortened version that is pretty much exclusively used by my nuclear family at this point. It’s a declaration of commitment in my mind; I’m willing to put myself into this game while we share our dialogue. Elsewhere I have fairly specific rules for certain series. Every Pokemon, for example, I have to name my starter beast after a fave musician. This is how you end up with an enormously over-leveled Chimchar named “PeteGabrl.” Naming locations is another set of standards entirely. Whether it’s the castle in Suikoden or some godforsaken, acid rain soaked rock in No Man’s Sky, I tend to go with the first thing that makes me legitimately laugh out loud. If you happen to find a planet in your solar system called “Major Duckulus,” well, you know who put it there.

I start with the best intentions. Naming is serious business - I don’t want to be stuck in a 60-hour RPG with a rogue called Humperdinck - so I try to pick names in keeping with the world. I used my Star Wars name in Knights of the Old Republic. In Elder Scrolls games, I pick names that match the race - Oleg the Nord, Percius the Imperial, Gromash-gro-mugrub the Orc. I even got annoyed when a friend called his High Elf ‘Gerald the Leaping Conjurer’.

In games such as FTL or XCOM, I name troops after my friends because it’s a great incentive to keep them alive. Also: it’s funny when the aliens devour members of the GR+ team (Leon is always the victim). It gets more difficult when there are loads of things to name. No Man’s Sky is a great example. I don’t have 18 quintillion friends - heck, I don’t even have 18 - so I just started naming planets after disappointing British things instead. And if you’ve ever been to Britain, you’ll know there are an infinite amount of crap things to choose from. Perfect.

I either give my character the default name or, failing that, a generic-yet-appropriate name; or I rebel against the absurdity of being asked to name someone before I've even met them by giving them an absurd moniker. Case in point: my current Earthbound protagonist is named Ness and my current Persona 4 Golden hero is named Ran Flando.

As for non-character things, when I was a kid I used to try to come up with cool naming schemes. My entire gearset in Legend of Mana was titled after times of day like "Dawn" and "Midnight" for no good reason (Legend of Mana doesn't even have an in-game clock). Now I just go for things that sound accurate but also silly, like the Trunksnuggler, Murgatroid, and Thrillaminute Rex of planet No Place Like It I discovered in No Man's Sky. It's a much more sustainable approach, I feel.

No matter the kind of game or gender of the protagonist, they’re always Buffy, or, if space allows, Buffy T. Catt. I started doing this years ago. I was reviewing something - I don’t even remember what - and my cat wandered by, so Buffy it was. I also have an odd preference for naming things after kitchen tools, like egg-beater and ice cube tray. You try playing an ultra-serious, “the universe is ending” JRPG where everyone is looking to Spatula to save the day and see if it doesn’t vastly improve the experience for you. 

I also really enjoy putting exclamation points on the end of character names so that when anyone talks to you, they sound really excited. “Hello, Buffy! Don’t you think so, Buffy!?” I truly sink to new lows when it comes to the customized catch phrases in Animal Crossing, though. My furry neighbors will, after a bit of my tinkering, greet me with a loud *BURP!*, express delight with an *eloquent fart* or comment on life’s mysteries with *unzips pants*. I’m the worst.

When it comes to naming characters, I always default back to my first Dungeons & Dragons character: a fey'ri (that means half-demon, half-elf for all you non-Forgotten Realms players) named Kaiph. So if a game lets me, I always create a bronze-skinned, messy-haired redhead with piercing, crimson-colored eyes - or at least as close as the creator will let me get - and she will always likewise be named "Kaiph." What's that you say? Re-naming other characters? No, I'm pretty sure that's against the rules.

I'm a lore fiend, so I never name a location anything silly; it breaks the immersion too much. I will, however, make sly references if I think they fit. So in No Man's Sky, for example, I might name a planet "H'lven". Anyone know what that is? That's right, single person way in the back there! It's the planet that Ch'p, the squirrel Green Lantern, calls home. Other sneaky nerd jokes I've made: Tokyo-4, The Irken Empire, Golarion, and Bothawui. I'll let you figure out what those are referencing.

Like Anthony, I used to name my characters with a standard-issue childhood nickname for a while, binding all of my 16-bit RPG protagonists with a shared-but-abstracted persona. That only worked for a while though. By the time I got to Final Fantasy VI, with its far deeper, more nuanced, more established characters, the idea of renaming anyone seemed like the most disrespectful sacrilege. I did, however, not extend the same respect to Pokemon, and eventually a whole new naming convention lurched heavy and nonsensical into the world. 

You see, at that point I’d given up on the idea of trying to create ernest, canonically plausible names. Whatever I merrily came up with, I knew that at some point a few years later I’d inevitably - as is the way with much writing - come back to it with a mixture of disgust and crushing embarrassment. And there were just so many Pokemon. So I steered into the skid. Absurdist naming was the way forward. I would pick up on any defining trait that spoke to me - however obscure or semi-imagined - and extrapolate it into the most grandiose and ludicrous name that felt right. And thus my Zubat became Satanicus. And it didn’t stop there. Realising that the plausibility problem would get even worse in the world of digital high-fantasy, I made a point of pushing hard with The Elder Scrolls. Many have tasted the keen arrows of my Khajiit ranger, Catlord Ultrabeard. And if I’m being honest, his beard isn’t even that good. 

My naming approach isn’t terribly scientific. More often than not, I’ll use my own name for the main character, assuming such an earthly moniker makes sense (so that’s a yes in games like Fallout, Mass Effect, or any modern shooter). If I’m playing a person in a fantasy realm, it usually becomes Saja, which was my nickname (adjusts glasses) in the secret language my best friend and I made up in high school. If I’m playing a non-human being or my pair of go-tos don’t feel right, then I go with whatever assemblage of letters seems to fit that universe. But even that’s not a hard and fast rule. My WoW main has her own name that I don’t foresee repeating anywhere else, because after all the hours logged in that game, she is the one true Tuxeda. There could never be another.  

For naming items or planets or other characters, I go wherever my mood takes me within the parameters of the game’s tone. For a very serious endeavor, I don’t usually want to break immersion with a goofy name or by associating a character with a person from my real life. But if the game encourages kookiness, then I’ll go all-in on that. I tend to latch onto some trait and see what it morphs into. My first star system in No Man’s Sky is called The Great Emerald Goo. In Tearaway, I dubbed my rodent friend Sir Gophenstein. And in Oregon Trail, always pick celebrities. Justin Timberlake has died of dysentery.

The pressure of having to name anything in games - protagonists, Pokemon, planets, whatever - paralyzes me. I loathe it, in fact - especially if there's no 'Name suggestion' button to at least ease the pain somewhat. That wasn't always the case: my Link was Lucas in A Link to the Past, and I used to put serious thought into the names of my MMO characters which would perfectly fit their class and race combinations. 

But now, being forced to come up with my own monikers is a burden - because whatever I pick, I'm going to be stuck with it. Or, worse yet, I have the option to rename as I please, meaning a party member could be in a constant state of amorphous identity, never truly growing on me as a character. Just make the decision for me, game makers. I beg of you. Let everyone else give their Pokemon funny names to be shared en masse via social media; I don't want to play MadLibs with the cast of characters you so caringly created.

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