- Child protagonists in video games can tell rare and impactful stories that resonate with players in exceptional ways.
- Games like Neversong and Among The Sleep utilize gameplay mechanics that highlight the vulnerability and innocence of their child protagonists.
- Little Nightmares and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons emphasize the bravery and resilience of young characters facing terrifying and challenging situations.
Video game protagonists come in all different forms. They’re there to keep players invested in the game, whether it be through statistics or a storyline. In modern gaming, there’s a huge range of games that offer different experiences and perspectives for player characters. From animals to humans to aliens to bugs, there’s no shortage of unique and creative protagonists.
One choice of protagonist that can be extremely effective is children. In theory, having a child player character could detract from gameplay since children don’t have the same skills and capabilities as many adults. At best, players can assume the role of teenagers grappling with new powers or terrifying environments. However, child protagonists can tell rare and incredible stories that impact players in exceptional ways. Some games distinctively adapt their gameplay to suit the child protagonist, while others use nuance to highlight the relevance of their age. Developers who invest in themes and mechanics make the most of their child protagonists and create some immensely memorable games.
- PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One, iOS
- May 20, 2020
- Atmos Games, Serenity Forge
Neversong is a great side-scroller indie game by Thomas Brush, the creator of the highly acclaimed Pinstripe. Players will assume the role of Peet, who has awoken from a coma to find all the adults missing, and his town taken over by children. It’s an action-adventure, hack-and-slash with platforming and puzzle elements.
The purpose of playing as a young Peet is to recontextualize his trauma and fears in the confines of his childhood. It allows him to push away the more serious and adult aspects of his life and instead live in a carefree, if naive, world. Without spoiling too much of the game, Peet’s environment and age are very much relevant to the narrative. It’s a tale of idealizing childhood and, in a way, devastatingly shirking the realities of adulthood.
5 Among The Sleep
Among the Sleep
- PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
- May 29, 2014
- Krillbite Studios
Among The Sleep is a survival horror game from the perspective of a toddler named David. It has a first-person perspective, so players must walk, crawl and – only for a brief spells – run around their house to explore what exactly is happening. Players will be joined by a sentient stuffed bear named Teddy who will try to guide David as he traverses the house.
Among The Sleep is completely built around the idea of a child protagonist. Through David’s eyes, players feel particularly vulnerable and helpless since they have no means to reason with or protect themselves. When the monsters appear, players must evade and hide, there’s no combat since realistically no babies are equipped to fight off monsters. Teddy also has a mechanic which makes him light up if David hugs him, again adding unique child-like mechanics to the gameplay. Its affecting, difficult story is ingeniously told through the eyes of the toddler, which makes it all the more impactful and vivid.
4 Children Of Silentown
Children of Silentown
- PC, PS4, PS5, Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S
- January 11, 2023
- Elf Games, Luna2 Studio
Children of Silentown is an unsettling point-and-click adventure game set in Silentown, a fictional village where it’s common for people to vanish into the mysterious, monster-infested woods. The protagonist Lucy finds she cannot escape the daunting noises from the forest, even when she’s asleep.
Children of Silentown combines a dark story with a creepy, unique 2D art style to make an enthralling game. Lucy and her friends’ bravery and curiosity are exacerbated by their ages, and the disparity between adults and children is central in the game. It’s a brilliant environment with fun, creative dialogue that’s perfect for mystery solvers and gamers who enjoy searching for clues and secrets.
3 Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a heart-wrenching adventure game released in 2013 that follows Naiee and Naia: two brothers on a quest to save their father’s life after the recent death of their mother. The gameplay entails controlling both brothers individually and utilizing Naiee and Naia’s respective strengths to progress.
This game phenomenally demonstrates the ties of brotherhood, even in its gameplay, and emphasizes the importance of siblings during difficult childhood experiences. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons devastatingly portrays the easy dependence these brothers have on one another and, again, shows the bravery of young souls in the face of terror and loss. It has been praised for its narrative and emotional portrayal of a sibling bond.
- PC, Switch, PS4, Xbox One, iOS
- June 29, 2016
- Puzzle, Platformer
Inside is a 2.5D platformer puzzle game that follows an unnamed young boy as he travels through a dystopian, unsettling environment to desperately escape some unseen terror. It’s a mysterious game that wasn’t exactly marketed as horror, and both its genre and intentions are best left up to interpretation. Inside’s story is the subject of much speculation and theorizing, although it’s evident that mind control, inhumane experimentation, and morbid treatment of individuals are all relevant themes.
There’s no abruptly clear reasoning for the protagonist’s young age, however, it does immediately make the player intensely protective of the boy. There’s a stark contrast between his age and the terrors he is surrounded by, and oftentimes children are the most effective way to stress the horror of certain situations. It’s likely that, as a child, this boy has done nothing in his life worthy of being placed in such an awful scenario. This makes the ending all the more impactful and poignant.
1 Little Nightmares 1 & 2
- Little Nightmares
- Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Xbox One, PS4, PS5, PC
- February 10, 2021
Little Nightmares is a series of 2.5D, dark puzzle platformer games that follow Six (in the first and second game) and Mono (in the second game) as they venture through a hellish world filled with monstrous beings. Little Nightmares is a phenomenal example of using gameplay mechanics to reinforce the age of the protagonists, specifically making combat a very rare option. Six and Mono survive predominantly from evasion and stealth tactics.
The enemies in Little Nightmares, although grotesquely changed, are adults. It plays on the feverish, nightmare fears of children and reminds players that those things never really stop being frightening. The second game even adds mechanics like holding hands, which heartbreakingly reminds players that these are children, and the behaviors of adults in both games hold a morbid mirror to the things people lose as they grow up.