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Canon Identifier

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Player Characters without distinguishing features have specific titles so you can be clear which one you're talking about

This trope has been Launched!
Proposed By:
Bisected8 on Mar 10th 2018 at 3:42:16 PM
Last Edited By:
Bisected8 on May 11th 2018 at 12:04:48 PM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope

Name suggestions (Vote on the crowner HERE):

Draft begins below the line.


When the protagonist of every game in a series is completely customisable or a Featureless Protagonist, this can present a problem in aggregate. They aren't a blank slate (since the player comes up with a personality of their own), but at the same time, they can't have any canonical traits to distinguish them from any other Player Character (especially if the game's part of a series which has a new customisable character every time). Even their name might be up to the player.

The simple solution is to give them a default title (ideally one which fits into a vague backstory, or corresponds to something the player must do early on) which can be used to distinguish them from other customisable player characters in the same series (or, indeed, other series).

This can also apply to a few series which don't have character customisation, but have very similar (or deliberately bland) main characters who are still established as separate from one another. It can also be used to specifically mean "the character you chose at the start of the game" in cases of Schrödinger's Player Character. Very rarely, it can also apply to an NPC in the case of Static Role, Exchangeable Character.

Compare Canon Name (where the player can call their character anything, but there is a specific canon name), Prestigious Player Title and Only Known by Their Nickname (which both often overlap when Hello, [Insert Name Here] doesn't extend to voice acting).


Examples:

Action/Adventure

First Person Shooter

  • The FEAR series gives the protagonist of the first and third games the title of The Point Man (distinguishing him from Becket, the PC of the second game). Of course, this also happens to be his Canon Name.
  • Far Cry tends to Zig Zag the trope. The third and fourth games have fairly fleshed out and named protagonists, but:
    • The first Far Cry's protagonist is known as "the guy with the shirt" in Enemy Chatter, after his most distinguishing feature; a loud Hawaiian patterned shirt he never removes.
    • Far Cry 2 features one of 12 potential player characters collectively called "The Mercenaries" (the rest of which occasionally pop up to offer bonus objectives). Since there's no set canon for which of them the player picks , and therefore kills the rest in a shootout in the finale so they can do something vaguely more heroic than just take the money and run, the PC is typically just called The Mercenary. All part of driving home that the player is just another faceless asshole taking advantage of the war in the country it's set in.
    • Far Cry 5 puts the player in the shoes of a lawman who's been sent to arrest the Big Bad. Unlike the previous two entries, they're a blank slate who only ever goes by The Marshal.

Puzzle

  • In Super Solvers: The PC is, of course, the Super-Solver. Super Seeker, is a spinoff game for younger children which changes the player's title accordingly.

Role Playing Game

  • The Persona series gives each player character a Canon Name in expanded material and adaptations, but also distinguishes them by a title from the third game onwards ("The Protagonist" for Persona 3, "Main Character" for Persona 4 and "Joker" for Persona 5).
  • Every protagonist of a Fallout title receives an In-Series Nickname based on their background:
    • Fallout 1's protagonist leaves the comfort of their vault at the behest of the Overseer, becoming known as The Vault Dweller.
    • Fallout 2's main character is The Chosen One, the descendent of The Vault Dweller who was sent forth on a quest to save the town which was founded when TVD was exiled at the end of the first game.
    • Fallout 3's hero leaves the comfort of Vault 101 in search of their father (and because his leaving prompted the Overseer into trying to kill them), picking up the title of The Lone Wanderer from the resident disc jockey in the course of their quest.
    • Fallout: New Vegas opens with the PC getting shot in the head and buried alive by a gangster who wanted a package they were carrying. They become known by the job title that got them into this mess: The Courier.
    • Fallout 4 stars a pre-war citizen of the USA who was frozen along with everyone else in their vault before the bombs dropped. They see their spouse shot dead and their infant son kidnapped, leading to them being known as The Sole Survivor. This one proved controversial, as it gave the PC a far more specific background than previous titles, which some players found limiting.
  • Mass Effect:
    • The original trilogy gives the PC the surname Shephard and lets the player choose their own first name. The spinoff Mass Effect: Andromeda gives the player a choice between either half of a Brother–Sister Team with the surname Ryder; the one they pick gains the title of Pathfinder (while the one they don't retains their canon name of Scott or Sarah).
    • Some non-player characters also get canon identifiers in cases where the player can choose which one of them plays a specific role in their current playthrough/canon. The most prominent of these is the "Virmire Survivor" (at the end of the Virmire mission in the original game, the player must decide who of their two human squadmates, Ashley and Kaidan, is left behind to die holding off Saren's forces, while the other survives).
  • In Final Fantasy I, the four Featureless Protagonists who make up your party are generally called the Light Warriors. The individual characters are simply known by their class. Dissidia: Final Fantasy represents them with a Composite Character known as "Warrior of Light", who can't remember his own name because of the events of the original game.
  • Every recruitable character in Citizens of Earth has a customisable name, but they default to an epithet which sums them up (e.g. Conspiracy Guy, Pilot, etc).
  • Dragon Age:
    • The protagonist of Dragon Age: Origins is referred to as the Hero of Ferelden or simply as "the Warden" in later installments.
    • The protagonist of Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening is known as the Warden-Commander of Ferelden, unless it happens to be the same person as in Origins thanks to Old Save Bonus.
    • The protagonist of Dragon Age II is known mostly by their surname, Hawke, but is also often referred as the Champion of Kirkwall, or simply "the Champion".
    • The protagonist of Dragon Age: Inquisition has many monikers, including the Inquisitor, the Herald of Andraste, and simply the Herald. They are also often referred by their race-specific surnames (Trevelyan for humans, Lavellan for elves, Cadash for dwarves, and Adaar for qunari).
  • In The Elder Scrolls, each Player Character (aside from Redguard) is customizeable and has no default name, and has a title distinguishing them from the other player characters in the series:
  • In Diablo 3, All of the player characters are referred to as "The Nephalem",a title with in-universe connotations of beings with limitless potential, distinguishing them from the protagonists of the first two titles.
  • Divinity: Original Sin II: Players can control one of six available origin characters with preestablished backgrounds or create a custom avatar. Regardless of choice you take on the role of a Sourcerer , one able to wield magical Source, and eventually Godwoken, a Sourcerer chosen by a god to become the next Divine and the majority of characters refer to the members of your party by one of these titles or your chosen race.
  • System Shock lets you name your Player Character however you like, but outside of a few emails without voice acting, most characters simply call you "the hacker" since you're running around the station infiltrating its cyberspace and hacking its security. The sequel doesn't even bother with a customisable name, having characters call you "the soldier".
  • Deus Ex begins with you giving your character a "real name", but for the sake of voice acting, characters call you by your alias "JC Denton". The sequel puts the player in control of his brother Paul (who looks very similar). The prequel games abandon this in favour of giving the Player Character a fixed name.

Strategy

  • In Overlord you play as, appropriately enough, the Overlord. The final boss of the game is also the Overlord (the real Overlord, who wiped the PC's memory so he'd reconquer the land for him) and the protagonist of the second game is a new Overlord, named the Overlad.

Feedback: 63 replies

Mar 10th 2018 at 6:04:12 PM

I think you mean "epithet". Customizable Epitaph sounds more like the tombstones from The Oregon Trail.

Mar 10th 2018 at 6:09:34 PM

I think you are correct.

Mar 11th 2018 at 5:37:49 PM

Correction to the Mass Effect: Andromeda example- Scott and Sarah are the default names of the Ryder siblings, but you can rename the one you're playing as to whatever you want. The other will keep their canon name (and it will be used in voiced dialogue), while the PC is only ever referred to by surname and title.

Anyway, I thought we already had this, but the closest I could find from a quick check was a link on Hello Insert Name Here to Everyone Calls Him Barkeep, which has some examples of this in the video game folder that could be added here, because I think this counts as something distinct from that trope.

Mar 12th 2018 at 7:17:30 AM

^ Looking at Everyone Calls Him Barkeep's video game example section, I'd say we can split this off as a specific subtrope particular to video games, because no other medium has fully customizable characters in relatively-static roles. ECHB is a matter of stylistic choice in most media, but of pragmatic necessity in video games, which is a distinct enough case IMO.

Mar 12th 2018 at 2:17:54 PM

Mar 14th 2018 at 3:37:14 PM

The Dragon Age example is not quite correct...

  • Dragon Age:
    • The protagonist of Dragon Age Origins is referred to as the Hero of Ferelden or simply as "the Warden" in later installments.
    • The protagonist of Dragon Age Origins Awakening is known as the Warden-Commander of Ferelden, unless it happens to be the same person as in Origins thanks to Old Save Bonus.
    • The protagonist of Dragon Age II is known mostly by their surname, Hawke, but is also often referred as the Champion of Kirkwall, or simply "the Champion".
    • The protagonist of Dragon Age Inquisition has many monikers, including the Inquisitor, the Herald of Andraste, and simply the Herald. They are also often referred by their race-specific surnames (Trevelyan for humans, Lavellan for elves, Cadash for dwarves, and Adaar for qunari).

I am still not quite sold on the working title... Customization Invariant Moniker may be clunky, but would it get the main point across better?

Mar 15th 2018 at 1:36:20 AM

Mar 15th 2018 at 8:47:13 AM

^^ Clunky or not, "Customization Invariant Moniker" barely makes sense to me (yes, this trope's a moniker, but "customisation invariant" is impossible to make sense of).

Mar 15th 2018 at 2:39:41 PM

^ There should be a dash between them: "customization-invariant", as in, "unchanging, regardless of customization"...

Mar 15th 2018 at 3:03:21 PM

In Diablo 3, All of the player characters are referred to as "The Nephalem",a title with in-universe connotations of beings with limitless potential.

Mar 16th 2018 at 2:35:34 PM

^ To clarify; does that title distinguish them from the characters the player isn't controlling, or other featureless characters in the series?

^^ That still doesn't make much difference. It's just way too vague and obtuse ("customization-invariant" doesn't a) Bring to mind "uncustomisable element of a customisable character" and b) isn't specific enough to only mean that).

Mar 16th 2018 at 4:35:19 PM

^ Being Nephalem distinguishes them from the player characters of the earlier games, because for the first two games, there was a Power Limiter artefact preventing new Nephalem from being born, but it was destroyed at the end of Diablo 2.

Mar 17th 2018 at 1:52:36 PM

^^ I see your point. How about Featureless Protagonist Fixed Pseudonym then? I am grasping at straws a little bit, but I feel that the current title sounds waaay too much like what we know as Red Baron.

Mar 17th 2018 at 12:00:54 PM

Perhaps we can come up with something a little shorter?

Mar 19th 2018 at 7:02:19 AM

I often hear the term "Player One" as a shorthand for the playable protagonist character, so maybe something along the lines of Player One Moniker?

Mar 19th 2018 at 11:51:12 AM

That sounds more like something specifically identifying the main player in an Asymmetrical Multiplayer (or something more akin to playing white pieces in chess), rather than the PC of a single player game.

Wait...Player Character Moniker?

Mar 20th 2018 at 2:31:36 AM

^ That would do in a pinch, but it doesn't communicate that it is about otherwise customizable characters. E.g. "Link" is a player character moniker in The Legend Of Zelda, but it's basically the same guy in every single game, so the sameness of his name has an entirely different (trivial) reasoning.

Mar 27th 2018 at 1:43:15 AM

I think it's time for a title crowner...

Mar 29th 2018 at 8:27:17 AM

I'm not sure we've got anything workable yet.

Apr 2nd 2018 at 1:07:49 PM

Over on the YKTTW workstation thread, ~@?Malady has suggested:

" - Name Of The Nameless? Name Is Constant? ... Using Name instead of any longer synonym would makes it more concise? "

Apr 2nd 2018 at 4:48:35 PM

I heard that many Japanese games do this. Just for a few:

  • the player is called The Producer in The Idolmaster games. Your job is to manage and interact with the idol girls and help them to find fame and success.
  • Kantai Collection: the ship girls will call you either Admiral or Commander depending on the girl. Your job is to command the ship girls into naval battles with Sea Monsters, complete missions, and manage their supplies.

Apr 3rd 2018 at 9:20:13 AM

That doesn't sound like this trope; the title specifically needs to separate the Player Character (as a discrete entity) from other Player Characters in the same series.

Apr 3rd 2018 at 4:44:18 PM

^ Okay, there are a few things wrong with this.

1. You make it sound like this trope is limited to cases where there are more than 1 player characters. Why?

2. And, if ai'm getting you right, there are games where a player character is a Featureless Protagonist while another player character isn't?

Relatedly, "They aren't a blank slate (since the player comes up with a personality of their own)," - if the player comes up with a personality of their own then the character IS a blank slate.

Apr 4th 2018 at 4:18:10 PM

The point of this trope is that a PC:

  1. Has no distinguishing features (either because they're customisable or because they're mostly identical) to separate them from other player characters in the same series
  2. Has a set title so you can talk about them relative to those other characters.

If there's only one PC in the series, then there's nobody to distinguish them from.

They would be a blank slate in the sense of "no canon features", but not in the sense of "no distinguishing features".

Apr 4th 2018 at 10:41:08 PM

^ Then my opinion is that the "distinguishing" part is not necessary. Some sort of epithet for a Featureless Protagonist is itself a trope.

Apr 5th 2018 at 11:30:33 AM

That would likely be covered by The Magnificent and similar tropes.

Apr 7th 2018 at 1:43:39 PM

  • Fallout has the Vault Dweller in 1, the Chosen One in 2, the Lone Wanderer in 3, the Courier in Fallout New Vegas'', and the Sole Survivor in 4.

  • Video Game/Ultima explicitly calls the PC the Stranger in the original, from Ultima IV on, he's the Avatar.

  • In Super Solvers: The PC is, of course, the Super-Solver. Super Seeker, in the spinoff games for younger children.

  • In Overlord you play as, appropriately enough, the Overlord. The final boss of the game is also the Overlord and the protagonist of the second game is a new Overlord, but the original is the Overlad.

Apr 7th 2018 at 5:25:08 PM

The laconic doesn't specify that there are multiple different characters, either.

Apr 7th 2018 at 5:32:19 PM

^ it specifically says to distinguish them. I'll adjust the laconic to make it clearer.

Apr 7th 2018 at 5:42:12 PM

  • Divinity Original Sin II: Players can control one of six available origin characters with preestablished backgrounds or create a custom avatar. Regardless of choice you take on the role of a Sourcerer , one able to weild magical Source, and eventually Godwoken, a Sourcerer chosen by a god to become the next Divine and the majority of characters refer to the members of your party by one of these titles or your chosen race.

Apr 16th 2018 at 4:36:36 PM

"Multiple Characters' Epithets"?

Apr 19th 2018 at 4:42:57 PM

^ Those names would count my examples, so I'd like them.

Apr 19th 2018 at 10:03:06 PM

^^ Canon Identifier sounds good and would possibly allow for examples outside games.

  • System Shock lets you name your Player Character however you like, but outside of a few emails without voice acting, most characters simply call you "the hacker" since you're running around the station infiltrating its cyberspace and hacking its security. The sequel doesn't even bother with a customisable name, having characters call you "the soldier".
  • Deus Ex begins with you giving your character a "real name", but for the sake of voice acting, characters call you by your alias "JC Denton".

Apr 20th 2018 at 6:27:30 AM

Canon Identifier sounds a lot like Canon Name, but I think we can work with that.

Apr 20th 2018 at 9:52:12 AM

^^^ The name doesn't change the trope itself...

Well, that's more support than the other names have...

Apr 20th 2018 at 5:04:05 PM

^ but it would definitely be misused. System Shock and Deus Ex are alreadh misuses, too.

Apr 21st 2018 at 1:56:33 PM

System Shock fits because there are two faceless protagonists going by two different titles ("The Hacker" and "The Soldier").

Deus Ex fits (ish) because of the details I added (Paul Denton being the protagonist of the sequel)

Apr 21st 2018 at 5:02:44 PM

Shouldn't the title show that there are multiple characters, either way? I'm worried of misuses.

Deus Ex is more like Canon Name.

Apr 22nd 2018 at 8:48:02 AM

There's no reason a Canon Name can't be this trope as well.

Apr 22nd 2018 at 11:11:34 AM

Would this count?

  • Touken Ranbu: the player character may be called either "Master" of "General" depending on how your "sword-boys" will call you. The game itself, however, calls you "Saniwa" (which is an epithet).

Apr 22nd 2018 at 6:49:53 PM

Is there another game in the same franchise who the PC's being distinguished from?

Apr 23rd 2018 at 7:10:01 AM

^ Or "The Playable Ones"?

Apr 23rd 2018 at 8:27:15 AM

Good point

How does everyone feel about The Playable Ones?

Apr 24th 2018 at 1:47:49 AM

seems too close to Player Character as a name imo

Apr 27th 2018 at 7:11:24 AM

A plural will be more difficult to work into sentences, so I would prefer The Playable One to Ones. I would still prefer Canon Identifier to either of those, however.

Apr 27th 2018 at 8:53:22 AM

^ the description emphasizes that there are more than 1 of those characters, so the plural is necessary.

Apr 27th 2018 at 11:40:47 AM

Strictly speaking, while the trope is about distinguishing multiple characters, the name itself only applies to one character (e.g. a series could normally have the same character, but have one game which explicitly has another character, who has this trope to distinguish them, but no such name or title for the usual PC), so either singular or plural works

Apr 30th 2018 at 8:49:05 AM

Canon Identifier seems to be pulling ahead, but I'll give it a week or so first.

If anyone wants to add suggestions to the crowner, feel free.

May 5th 2018 at 7:35:30 AM

Well if this gets misused down the road then it's on you.

May 5th 2018 at 8:23:39 PM

The people have spoken!

And there's no need to be so melodramatic.

May 6th 2018 at 11:26:20 AM

Right, we have 10 votes in favour of launching, we have a consensus on the title.

Projected Launch Date: Wednesday 9th May 2018

Does anyone have anything to add in the mean time?

May 6th 2018 at 12:10:22 PM

Canon Identifiers are also used for non-player characters in the Static Role Exchangeable Character trope (e.g. "Virmire Survivor" throughout the Mass Effect trilogy), so be sure to link this one from that description (specifically, the "generic, gender-neutral role descriptors" part).

May 8th 2018 at 4:31:58 AM

I have clarified the Virmire Survivor example in the write-up. Ultimately, it's irrelevant whether the identifier is given to a PC or an NPC, since it's always about managing the complexity explosion of player choices by coming up with an catch-all term that can refer to all possible choices at once any time the plot does not depend on the specifics.

May 8th 2018 at 2:23:46 PM

The Elder Scrolls Online character is called The Vestige, probably more than "the Soulless One".

May 11th 2018 at 12:27:34 AM

A few things came up Wed/Thurs, but I'm ready to launch this afternoon!

Has anyone anything to add first?

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