Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Character Profile: Norton Mapes

F.E.A.R. (2005) and the Breakdown (2004) changed the FPS world. Instead of being stuck in first-person perspective unable to fully interact with the environment, your proverbial box had holes cut for arms and thus a whole new way of looking at the world. The unfortunate part is that F.E.A.R. lacked a strong narrative backbone to reinforce the innovation.

The Point Man is a wholly unremarkable. What little character he has is just user manual material. He just transferred to F.E.A.R. and has been made the point man of the team. We also know he has a brother and at some point he was genetically modified to have faster than human reflexes. Your teammates, most of whom disappear, have little to no effect on the story’s progression, unless you count Jankowski’s ghost.

The only character who has any notable personality traits is Norton Mapes.

On the whole, Norton is left unexplored. We know that he’s a computer engineer working at Armacham and he likes Cheezee Pooz. He’s basically the result of Wayne Knight from Jurassic Park and Cartman having a kid. Of the characters in the game, that, for the most part, are bland and without definition, he is the only one that has any definable characteristics outside of the norm. He’s both a good and evil. He displays two sides, one in the destroying vital documents that could help reveal the Point Man’s identity and the other in his almost insane devotion to Armacham.

Norton is bumbling. He hides under a cactus for God’s sake. He makes me and almost every-other-person in the world feels. He’s a character designed around antagonizing you. For all of the Replica soldiers, tanks and assassins you kill, Norton is somehow able to evade you. This fat and obnoxious character undermines your integrity as a video gamer, and that’s why I like him.

As a character defined by a certain purpose, Norton fulfills it in almost every respect. What makes this worse is that he’s virtually untouchable, unless you count his appearances in the expansions where you get to wreak sweet havoc against him. He’s not an antagonist. He’s a secondary character that somehow manages to force his way into your path. It’s not that he’s not important, it’s that he’s important enough to be there for the developers to make us angry and indestructible enough to ensure that he survives even until the end of the game. He intrudes upon the experience to do nothing important except make you slightly annoyed. What makes Norton a weird character is that he seems to be just an elusive an indestructible as Fettel. In this way, he begins to fill in as a scapegoat for all the player’s anger and frustration. In that, he does a fine job as a character.

If you look at the way he is designed you can almost taste him. That sounds kind of gross, but you can just imagine what the developers were trying to get at. Norton is the stereotypical computer geek. He eats Cheezee Pooz, he has an obnoxious RTFM belt and he’s fat. This seems to be one of the qualities that are a little unfair to his character.

Making Norton so obese has an effect on how we view him. It makes him into a kind of jester or joker during the game. Not in the way that he becomes the comic relief of the game but an object of pity. Yes, it’s kind of funny that he gets stuck in the air vent, but it’s also a little sad. A character like him that generates so much ire, he makes you feel guilty for getting angry at him. It’s kind of sad and kind of pathetic, but that’s his character.

We don’t see Norton for more than thirty seconds at a time, but in that time he manages to get us to do a lot. He makes us open doors, he makes us angry, he makes us laugh when he ends up getting shot and then making us feel a little guilty when you realize he actually helped us out.

Norton has an amazing affect on the game’s story. If you look at what he does, just because of his general build and constitution, he managed to get past several replica soldiers, makes his way to Alma’s prison and still be alive after being shot to help you into Origin. A character should always have some redeeming qualities. Norton helps you out in the end, but that didn’t stop me from unloading a couple rockets his way when I finally got the chance to. We’re supposed to hate him and pity him.

Norton is portrayed both as an object of pity and an object of our hate. We both love him and we hate him for making us display any kind of sadness for his supposed demise. When he’s lying there bleeding after being shot in the chest, you sort of just stand there listening to him wondering when he’ll shut up and when those feelings of regret might go away.

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