Dying Light 2 - Aiden

Throughout the history of video games as a narrative medium, there are character names that loom larger than others. For the most part, these characters stand out in our minds more than probably 90% of all other characters — even more than other characters in the same game.

I’m talking about characters like Mario Mario, Joel Miller, Samus Aran, Commander Shepard, Master Chief, Lara Croft, and many other characters like them. They stand the test of time, and even through various permutations, they tend to still harbor that “it factor” that made us love them to begin with. Not all of them are good people — some of them are rather despicable. In some instances, they aren’t even the playable character, like Vaas Montenegro from Far Cry 3. Most people tend to identify Vaas as the standout character of that game, so much so that many struggle to remember the name of the protagonist.

It was Jason Brody, for the record. And yes, I had to look that up.

So it is a curious thing when a name seems to carry with it the kiss of death for a game character, dooming them before one even has a chance to interact with them. There seems to be one name in particular that will always relegate a character to the category of forgettable — or worse, offensive. That name, of course, is Aiden.

Everyone remembers all of two things, on average, from the first entry in the Watch Dogs series. The first being the cool reveal trailer from E3 2012 (the game that shipped was downgraded pretty significantly from what was shown in that trailer). The second is that no one likes Aiden Pearce. He was too moody, too brooding, and far too homicidal to be endearing or even likeable. He became a meme almost overnight, and only continued to be one, with Ubisoft famously even claiming his baseball cap was iconic before the game even released.

Watch Dogs Legion: Aiden Pearce

But try as they might, Ubisoft was unable to produce anything but the walking butt of a joke that no one wanted to be in on. And although it seems silly to assume the main underlying issue for the public disconnect — and even backlash — was solely due to the fact that his name was Aiden, now that we have a larger sampling of data, I think it’s time to revisit this naming thing. It might be safe to assume that, even if being named Aiden wasn’t the impetus for the negative reaction to the Watch Dogs character, it also doesn’t help any character that is already about as exciting or charismatic as a glass of milk slowly reaching room temperature.

Because we now have another protagonist named Aiden courtesy of Dying Light 2: Stay Human.

I had hypothesized about the dumbing-down effect of the name leading up to the game’s release. Now that it’s out, I have the chance to test this hypothesis, and it unfortunately turns out to be pretty spot-on. Aiden Caldwell, the playable protagonist of Dying Light 2, is a dreadful, annoying character that all but brings the game down a peg or two every time he opens his mouth and says words.

Aiden Caldwell is insufferable, made all the more irritating since we see the world through his eyes. It’s almost like being John Malkovich in Being John Malkovich, when John Cusack’s character has taken over his body and relegated John Malkovich’s psyche to merely a spectator as John Cusack’s character makes him say and do things he otherwise wouldn’t.

Every time Aiden Caldwell says words, or expresses ideas, or professes plans, they are almost always hare-brained, idiotic, or completely outside the realm of rational human behavior. Take, for example an interaction very early on the game. Aiden is looking for a guy that might have info regarding Aiden’s sister, whom Aiden is trying to locate.

Aiden goes to meet the informant, but the guy has been ambushed and isn’t going to make it. The guy then gives Aiden a tool to use on his journey, a name of someone that might have further info, and where to look for that person. The informant then tells Aiden to take the vents to get to safety while this guy, already pretty much done for, says he will stay behind and hold off the fast-approaching guards.

Dying Light 2 - Vent

Now, Aiden doesn’t know this guy and doesn’t owe him anything. Heck, if anything, he just saved the guy’s life, even if only to extend it briefly before it ends gruesomely anyways. This guy gave Aiden the information he was looking for, and, on top of that, gave him this device no one asked for (which will further aid Aiden later on).

Once Aiden gets into the vents, instead of honoring this guy’s sacrifice and skedaddling, he just sits there, face pressed to the vent, for roughly five or six minutes while Waltz (the bad guy) acts menacingly and, surprise surprise, ultimately kills the guy. Although Aiden is in this vent, he is practically telegraphing his presence the whole while, only to have Waltz spot him and almost capture him, which would have resulted in the informant giving up his life for nothing and the device falling into the hands of the villain, which the informant explicitly warned against.

I mean, talk about a bonehead.

And thus begins the twenty- to thirty-hour (if you mainline the main quest) relationship between the player and yet another moron named Aiden, a character that does and says inexplicable things trigger rapid onset eye-rolling syndrome of the severest variety. Never have I felt the slightest bit of comradery or compassion towards Aiden, much like Aiden Pearce before him. The only times I feel cool in this man’s shoes are when he’s not talking and I’m in full control, orchestrating a parkour-fueled one-man zombie-slaying enterprise.

Dying Light 2 - Aiden

And so, I think a safe conclusion can be made from these two Aidens, even with such a small sample size of data: I think it’s time to stop naming video game protagonists Aiden.

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