Sometimes there are moments in games that stick in my mind, but aren’t big enough or otherwise important enough to warrant inclusion as a part of a larger discussion. Sometimes there isn’t room in a piece to include mentioning it or there is no simple way to crowbar it in while talking about the game. But they still stick in my mind and I think are somewhat worth mentioning. This is an occasional series to just that.
(*Spoilers for Quest for Infamy*)
There are two moments I want to mention in Quest for Infamy. You play as Roehm, a roguish scoundrel of a man, who escaped to this valley because the baron in the next province caught him in his daughter’s bed. He’s trapped here for the foreseeable future until the bridge to the north, the only way out valley, is fixed. Roehm is characterized as a layabout, a good for nothing and a general all around bastard. He’s self-centered, self-interested and just a tiny bit sleezy. (Couldn’t come up with another word beginning with self.) He is not anybody’s idea of a hero and will not lift a finger to help anyone if there isn’t something in it for him.
This generally doesn’t give a good picture of the character as any base description rarely will. He is the type can easily be dismissed as another boring protagonist. The type which tries to be cool in that teenage high school way of feigning indifference about anything, because you can’t be uncool if you don’t care. However, Roehm is not so bland, but any shades of character are confined not to the major plot moment, so much as to incidental moments throughout the game. His manner of conversing with people and the narrator’s description of Roehm inner reactions.
The two moments I want to talk come near and at the end of the game. The first is during the second act, where Roehm has been tasked by the local sheriff to kill a slaver, because…do you really need a reason to go off and kill a slaver? In reality it’s because he stopped paying a share to the sheriff so he could continue his dealings unmolested. When looking around the city of Tyr one of the random NPC’s you can talk to tells you a joke. “‘What do you call a slave with two black eyes?’…’Nothing you done told him twice.’” Roehm doesn’t laugh, chuckle or even blasé accept it as something told to him, he takes the joke teller to task in his own manner. “I’d say that joke is mildly offensive. It takes a lot to mildly offend me.” The joke teller than backs up from this and tries to pawn off responsibility onto the person who told it to him. This exchange ends up giving you the information you needed to find out where your target lives, as he was the one who told the man the joke.
It’s a terrible and offensive joke and I thought the game might have gone too far, given its proclivity for its less than high brow humor standards. But out of the whole exchange, it is the rebuke that stands out.
We know Roehm’s archetype, we’ve been playing as him for several hours by this point. We understand his rough and tumble lifestyle as well as his willingness to get down and dirty, up to and including murder. Up until this point the humor has mostly been about getting/being drunk or various things he comes across smelling bad; this is an entirely different arena.
This particular three line exchange characterizes Roehm in a way speechifying wouldn’t have. We know the type of person he is, but this moment shows there are things that beyond the line even for him. Roehm doesn’t like rules and has more than a little casual disregard for the law. He is the “criminal element” of this world or at least aligned with it. At no point does he actually stand up and decry slavery even in his own manner. He was blackmailed into doing this job and his later opposition to the corrupt sheriff is mostly self-interested. Yet, his first response to this joke is to rebuke it. I should also note that Roehm’s delivery is rather stern in contrast to his more usual conversational tone. There is no equivocation. This single line gets to the heart of what is wrong with the joke. While the game quickly moves on from it, the message remains pretty clear: If someone like Roehm is offended by this joke, what does that say about the person who finds it funny.
(I should mention that no slave is ever shown on screen, so while it’s real world racial implications of the joke are clear, the fictional world implications go no further than the abuse of a person with no power.)
The other moment is at the very end of the game. The bad guy and all his plans have been defeated. All that is left is to gather all the NPCs of importance to reward and say farewell to Roehm. I mentioned elsewhere that it’s quite a riot to see and it is. Watching Roehm repeatedly say variations of, “All I did was push a guy off a lighthouse” as he gets thanks, titles, privileges, large amounts of money (“That I could use.”) and lastly, now with the bridge fixed, the king’s carriage to take him to the castle for an audience. In this moment he outright declines it. He’s still going to see the king, after all you can’t really say no. He says he’s got a ride already. So the fancy, luxurious carriage goes back empty and outside the city gates he hops onto the back of Swart’s hay wagon. Swart did him a favor in giving him a ride away from the baron to this valley back in the intro. And after dropping him off, said he could have a ride out whenever the bridge got fixed.
It’s one thing for someone to protest the rewards heaped upon them with words, but to actively decline one in favor of less ostentatious and lets be honest less comfortable method of travel is a showing of principals. Or if not principals, then at least with the type of life the man is comfortable with. He was stiff and uncomfortable with the large send off he was given. He’d rather ride on the back of a donkey pulled hay wagon, simply because it feel right and, for him at least, the company is better.
I appreciate characterization that doesn’t outright state who the character is through statements of principals or philosophies. If you know me, you should know I have no problems with those types of things showing up in any media, but often more is revealed about a character through ticks of personality and that gets lost with the hyper focus on philosophical or allegorical characterizations. We get caught up in trying to categorize characters into neat little boxes that we lose the shades of people they are suppose to evoke.