You might think old people to be boring folk that you are socially obligated to visit once in a while, and who keep asking you to troubleshoot their computers for them. However, in the world of video games, old people are often beacons of information, a previous generation of adventurers ready to train you and share their knowledge. Or they are obnoxious NPCs that won’t let you leave a town until they have run you through all the tutorials.
Stian challenged me to go out there and find 10 old people worth a final moment in the spotlight. Gender is irrelevant, so long as these old sods have meaningful interaction with the player character.
Gorion – Baldur’s Gate
The classic RPG Baldur’s Gate has a remarkable story to it, but it starts kind of restricted. Players create their character and then find themselves in the boring, peaceful settlement of Candlekeep as a young adult, guarded over by the old sage Gorion. However, all is not well in Candlekeep and Gorion instructs the player character to pack their things because the two of you are fleeing from an unknown threat.
Things go from bad to worse and Gorion ends up dead early in the game, which would make him seem like a poor first choice. Surely, a character that dies in chapter 1 just to kickstart your adventure can’t be THAT important, right? Well, the funny thing is that everywhere your player character and his or her party travel, you end up finding people whose lives have been touched by Gorion. The mysterious Harpers speak off all his exploits, old travelers remember their encounters with him, and many quests somehow connect back to Gorion or people you know through his influence.
Even in death, it feels like Gorion is still there and guarding over the player. If you play a benevolent character, people greet you kindly and mention how much you resemble him. Khalid, a party mainstay for many, even has the spoken dialogue line “Gorion would be proud of your actions!” for when players make choices he admires. It’s exciting to follow in his footsteps, but also a little sad to discover just how little your character got to know about his father figure while he still lived.
Cranky Kong – Donkey Kong
While many of the elderly are kind, cookie-baking grandmothers and grandfathers who love to tell stories, there are also the elitist elderly. The ones that always know better, always had it tougher back in the day, and who angrily shake their cane at all the young’uns passing their house. Nobody embodies this quality better than Cranky Kong, who literally has his demeanor explained in his name.
Cranky Kong plays many roles throughout the Donkey Kong series, but is always sure to mock the players for needing it. Throughout Donkey Kong 64, my first encounter with the series, he acts as a merchant who sells new abilities to all the Kongs for a price, but in other games he offers hints and, in some games, competes against the younger Kongs for mini-games and scores.
Despite how grumpy Cranky is, people still love him and Nintendo is keen on making use of this. Cranky remains a mainstay in the series and often appears in spin-offs or makes cameos in other games. He runs his own dojo in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Nintendo even let him run their Twitter account for a while.
Jenka – Cave Story
Jenka is one of the few people who live on the flying island that is the home of the Mimiga in Cave Story. She is an old woman who has retired to a tiny shack in the Sand Zone and lives together with all her dogs. She may appear unassuming, but Jenka is actually a key person in the elaborate lore of Cave Story.
While I won’t spoil the full extent of her involvement, players are tasked with retrieving all her dogs. Each return trip with a canine friend will then reward the player with some more lore about the world and characters. While she is stern with Quote, the player character, it becomes very clear why she is so cautious. The Sand Zone is not exactly a safe place for an old lady…
I enjoyed my encounters with her across my various runs, but it does have to be said that players who aren’t going for the true ending may be left feeling let down, as her story is never properly concluded.
Ford Cruller – Psychonauts
From a 2D action-platformer to a 3D one, we got Ford Cruller from Psychonauts. While many retired heroes are treated as respected veterans, Cruller shows a different take on this entirely. Once a legendary psychonaut and, allegedly, the best leader the organization ever had, his mind was damaged in a psychic battle and he fell from grace.
Nowadays, Cruller suffers from a multi-split personality. He is the omnipresent caretaker of Whispering Rocks Psychic Summer Camp, a man who is somehow always present everywhere. He sweeps the fields, he cooks the food, mans the store, he does everything. However, deep in an underground lair, Ford Cruller finds a powerful node of Psitanium, a crystal from which he draws power, and which allows him to be his old, healthy self.
Ford Cruller is a tragic figure, but one who remains optimistic and active. He still gives missions to the agents Milla and Sasha, even as the Psychonauts as a whole have written him off, and he becomes a vital partner in Razputin’s quest to discover what is happening to the summer camp.
Huang Gai – Dynasty Warriors
Ever since I first picked up Dynasty Warriors 5: Empires by chance, I found myself having a particular fondness for Huang Gai. An older hero fighting on the side of the Sun forces, Huang Gai is one of the most loyal retainers of the Sun family and one of the most familiar faces in the long-running Warriors series.
Huang Gai is a self-made man. Born a poor commoner, Huang joined the Sun army and quickly worked his way up to becoming an officer. He served loyally under Sun Quan and remained loyal throughout all transitions of power. His shining moment would come during the Battle of Red Cliffs, where an alliance between Wu and Shu had to face an overwhelming force commanded by Cao Cao himself. Huang Gai would take the lead on a secret mission and act like a turncoat looking to join the Wei. As his fleet approached Cao Cao’s, Huang Gai set fire to the ships and crashed them into the enemy armada, which turned the tides of the battle and freed the allied forces from the claws of defeat.
Andre of Astora – Dark Souls
Just how harsh the world and mechanics of Dark Souls are needs no explanation. The games are legendary for their challenging gameplay and the grim worlds each of the three games take place in. Allies are few and far between in this series, and even those rare individuals might end up betraying you someday.
As players conquer the Undead Burg and face the powerful enemies and onslaught of hollows within, it isn’t until they pass the cathedral and cross the bridge that they find a friend that will remain helpful across the game. Andre of Astora is a blacksmith, one of the few who practice the craft in Lordran, and he allows players to repair and upgrade their battered equipment. For a small fee, he’ll make armor sturdier and increases the base damage and scaling potential of weapons.
I still remember struggling with the boss fight in the cathedral and the mobs blocking my path to it, and deciding to explore a bit. I found Andre, bought some of his titanite, and proceeded to power up my gear. Now the enemies were much more manageable and even the boss finally went down after a few more attempts. Throughout the adventure, I just kept returning to Andre, even as other blacksmiths opened up.
He is a friendly face, a man dedicated to smithing and who is perhaps one of the sanest people in the land. He returns pretty much unchanged for Dark Souls III, and once again provides his irreplaceable services.
Rucks – Bastion
The very moment you start up Bastion, you will be greeted by the butter-smooth voice of a wise gentleman. This is Rucks, a man who you’ll later meet in the titular Bastion, and he acts as a guide throughout The Kid’s adventure and a narrator to his story.
How Rucks ties into the mysterious lore of Bastion is slowly revealed over time, but he knows much about the world and directs the hero to where his help is needed. Together, they hope to restore the Bastion to working order and undo the calamity that destroyed the world. Having a constant narrator was a major selling point for Bastion and became such a hit that Logan Cunningham would thereon appear in every other Supergiant Game.
The beautiful voice, the memorable design, the well-written dialogue, and how Rucks ties into Bastion‘s story all made him such a memorable character, and contributed to Bastion becoming the first game to score a 100/100 on this site.
Linus – Stardew Valley
It’s a sad reality that the elderly aren’t always well-off. I mean, in Donkey Kong Country Cranky was still living in a shack. Much the same fate befell Linus, a friendly, elderly villager in Stardew Valley‘s Pelican Town.
Linus lives in one of the northernmost edges of town, close to the old mines. Everything he owns he keeps in his little tent, and he scavenges for food from the bins around the village. Some are sympathetic to him, some bully him for fun, but most just keep their distance and shun him. It’s this outcast nature that drew me to him. I often found myself visiting his tent to deliver some fresh food and making a point of seeking him out for a friendly chat. He is a mysterious man and I wanted to know more about him.
Befriending Linus also benefits the player. Becoming his friend may reward you with gifts and causes special friendship events to happen. He is also one of the few villagers who will rescue the player character if they lose consciousness in the mines. You bet I made sure to deliver some great food the day after that happened to me.
Bill – Left 4 Dead
Bill is one of the four survivors that starred in Valve’s original Left 4 Dead. William “Bill” Overbeck was a Vietnam war veteran who suffered permanent damage to his knee and was honorably discharged. As the zombie outbreak begins, Bill is just about to undergo an operation and has to start fighting off the infected while still shaking off the anesthesia. The war is over, but Bill finds renewed purpose in surviving the apocalypse.
Bill dons his old special forces outfit and always has a cigarette to smoke. He is a gruff fellow and sometimes quick to agitate, but he respects everybody in his group and is willing to risk everything to protect them. Much to the dismay of Zoey, Bill proves just how far he willing to go for that purpose in The Sacrifice tie-in comic and proves this again in the similarly-titled mission that ends the campaign of Left 4 Dead.
He has the real air of a group leader and was my favorite character to play in the game, which earned me a special achievement in that final mission for following the canonical route. Players who are up for a bit of exploration can even find out just what became of Bill when playing Left 4 Dead 2.
The Great Deku Tree – The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
I originally intended to keep this list exclusive to just, you know, people. However, Cranky Kong was pretty much the first character to come to mind while brainstorming and I figured fantasy races could also have elderly members, so I could loosen up the criteria a bit. Anyway, that’s how I ended up including a tree.
The Great Deku Tree left an immense impression on me as a kid still unused to the storytelling potential of video games. The Great Deku Tree acts as an ancient sage and protector of the Kokiri Forest, whose inhabitants remain children forever and see him as a father figure. This made for a shocking twist when you can’t stop the first boss of the game from killing him. To see his bark die off and turn grey just after the first big dungeon was more than a little shocking to me as a kid.
Still, the Deku Tree remains a presence in the story and his death plays a big role after Ocarina of Time‘s timeskip, which is when players get to see what happened to the forest without its protector. This itself gains an exciting and emotional pay-off once players finish the Forest Temple. Since then, The Great Deku Tree has made many new appearances and clones of him have appeared in other Zelda titles, including the recent Breath of the Wild.
Stian sure likes to surprise me with challenging debates and countdowns, so I have a challenge for him in return. Thinking about old people inevitably got me thinking about the unpleasant parts of their lives: retirement homes, old widows weeping at the graveyard, and hospitals. Now, hospitals make for popular stages in video games, especially horror ones. So, Stian, do you think you can compile a countdown of your favorite hospital levels in video games?