If you're looking for a cool topic to talk about, you may want to avoid the vengeance cliché.


I love good storytelling and I love when an idea catches me completely off guard and creates a deep, emotional response. But because of this passion, I find most of the stories, especially in video games, repetitive and boring, not just “inspired” by great art, but rather lazily pushed forward by deadlines, limited to overused clichés in assumption that “if it worked before, it’s going to work for the 500th time, right”?

In this series I’m going to share some of my thoughts on story clichés that I don’t want to experience anymore. I know they won’t disappear from AAA industry, but maybe some of the indie storytellers are going to use different, more creative (and less dumbed down) approach?

Previous articles in this series:
Spread Diary Entries

And now...

Clichés To Hate:
Revenge Explains Everything

Common for: Cheap villains, secondary NPCs, TV series.

Description: A character desires to destroy/humiliate another person so much that he or she is able to kill/kidnap and torture innocent people, initiate a brutal war or burn down a priceless piece of environment/kill kittens. Vengeance & Vendetta are pretty easy to present idea which helps the player to understand the enemy’s motivation – after all, he/she should have a reason to be an asshole!

Rarely used for protagonists since this cliché very often turns into “blind hatred” category, so the classic trick would be to somehow entwine this motivation with Saving The World cliché, something like “he killed my father figure and now he wants to become the Doomlord, so I have to stop him AND to avenge this father figure I mentioned ten times in the last hour trying to prove that I have a personality!”.

Why it is useful: Holy smokes the Revenge thread is useful. If you google for some writing tips you’ll find advices such as “don’t underestimate the power of grudge”, and it’s a truly smart suggestions. Revenge appears in every piece of epic ancient literature, every mythology relevant for popular culture and is one of the most classic motivation sources for a fictional character. It’s an extreme force leading to almost inevitable fall from grace and self-destruction. Classic, classy and violent, ranging from the treacherous daggers in one’s back to dramatic duels and homicides.

Grudge doesn’t have to turn into revenge, but when it does, it allows you to create tons of scenes which are easy to explain, easy to understand and easy to write. “Get him, but don’t kill him, I want to cut his throat myself!” or some other “I know I have no reason to do it but I just hate her and want to kill her so much!” may (and do) seem stupid, but as long as you play the Revenge Card apparently the players can go on with it. It’s a simple, clear and consuming passion, and revenge powered by hatred or some sort of duty (such as “I made an oath to destroy the goblin king”) is so, so easy to create!

The problem: I’m not saying it’s impossible that one of the current game writers is going to be the Tarantino of video games, but since majority of us don’t really put much effort into making a good plot, we also are not used to look for a fresh revenge-related perspective. It looks like if we don’t have a good reason to give a character an interesting motivation or character, we can just leave it the revenge pill and walk away. The same story was repeated so many times it got almost unbearably boring.

Since this article series is addressed toward people interested in making interesting and not-so-predictable stories, let me be absolutely clear – if you are not going to add something extremely interesting and creative to a revenge-based plot, your story is destined to be generic and mediocre in 99 cases out of 100.

If you aim higher, you should probably avoid this topic until you’ll find a creative twist. Basically, the revenge threads are very easy to put into a larger story as, for example, a lazy character motivation. I’m pretty sure they are going to be absolutely loved by computers procedurally generating plots in the nearby future.

Alternatives: The important thing to remember is that grudge doesn’t have to lead to blind hatred and vengeance-driven self-destruction fiesta. Fun fact: you can actually find the examples of other grudge-related topics everywhere around you.

A person’s grudge may lead, for example, toward various prejudices. A group of bandits from another village hurt the character’s family? Sure, she’s going to be upset at first, but it’s possible that even after many years she’s going to expect that people from this area are aggressive evil-doers who you should never trust. You don’t have to insert there a bloodbath to make it “more mature”, quite the opposite – we are shaped by our experiences and showing, how the received harm may change one’s self is quite an interesting topic.

Grudge may also make you biased toward someone (or even toward a group of people). A classic thread – a person A wants to convince a person B to do something, but a person B is assuming the person A is not trustworthy, what leads the person B to make a wrong and painful decision. This decision may be of a crucial importance for a player and much more influential than just another minor NPC jumping on you while screaming “I’m gonna kill you for what you’ve done ten years ago!”.

Wrong judgment, clouded by emotions and personal beliefs, is not as spectacular as rivers of blood and yelling at each other, but allows you to touch much more interesting stories, which are closer to the real problems of the real people. And I think we can create some new stories out of this, more interesting than another epic vengeance story number 1659420.

Thank you for your attention. If you think I’m completely wrong or you would like to discuss this topic, let me know below!

See you next week!


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"Someday I'll finish my game... someday.."
Well, I think it's more about how the game comes across. If the game comes across as barely touching the database, or other kind of next-to-no-effort attempt, it might fall under the Bad Content rule?

Or, maybe, it's a joke-example about what kind of game might fall under the Bad Content rule.

*Edit: There was also almost literally every game in this event where it was encouraged to use/abuse cliches.

Thanks Marrend,
This helps. I'll try leaving him in for now, as he is 1 of 12 characters and player does not HAVE to use him much beyond chapter 1 if they choose not to. I'm hoping to submit the game (still a work in progress) within the week, right now I'm removing assets and reducing file sizes, plus a few bugs/misspellings to correct.
I just started watching the TV series Revenge.

Ohhh that's an amazing series. xD I need to rewatch that sometime soon.

Speaking of cliches, sometimes people do them because they're easy.
I mean, well for me, if I have this amazing idea for gameplay, but don't feel like coming up with a novel-level story and spend hours thinking about every precise detail and wrapping it all up nicely in the end, some can resort to cliches to get their game plan across.
I'm a person that goes for gameplay above most. I do like a good story, and it can help drive me forward, but if a game has amazing gameplay and is just fun to play, it's good for me.
I mean I can spend hours just lazing around fighting battles, grinding, crafting, and have a good deal of enjoyment with just that if they're executed good. The story in the game might be cliche, but it was fun. No harm done. /shrug

Not saying every game should be a cliche, but saying I understand why they're done so commonly.
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