Ever notice how in movies, video games, books, and shower the main character often times lives a normal and uneventful life up until the moment the story starts?
Ever notice how these stories tend to maintain your interest longer than others?
Well that’s the power of the self-insert protagonist!
Self-insert protagonists are a powerful tool for writers. They are characters with whom the audience can easily identify with and in turn use to image themselves in the narrative. Authors tend to leave out large backstories for these characters and use events within the narrative to develop their character, values, and personality.
By building the character throughout the story rather than in advance, audience members are able to monitor and experience the development of the main character as they enjoy the narrative. Many best-selling books, popular shows, and compelling games milked the self-insert character and have turned a good profit in doing so.
The Isekai Genre
The self-insert protagonist makes frequent appearances is in both anime and manga. The Iseaki, or another world, genre continues to fill with stories that base themselves around the use of a self-insert protagonist – in these stories the protagonist is suddenly transferred to a world different from their own.
These worlds often include elements of fantasy such as magic and mythical beasts. A common trope is for the protagonist to be a run-of-the-mill high school student. Upon transfer to a new world, these protagonists sometimes obtain incredible powers or abilities. The audience, often young adults, can very easily imagine being in high school and facing the extreme confusion and chaos caused by visiting another world.
YouTuber Gigguk released a video more fully covering the rise of the Isekai genre.
Video games have also made incredible advancements with the self-insert protagonist. Series like Pokémon and Mother have made their success through the use of protagonists similar to the demographics they developed the games for. Little kids get to play as little kids (though many people playing Pokémon aren’t children).
— Riley Little (@TheRileyLittle) November 15, 2017
Pokémon goes further, allowing players to name their own character, rivals, and Pokémon, giving players the option to make the game even more similar to their own life.
Skyrim and other similar games go even further than Pokémon! These games let players customize the protagonist in great detail. Not only the character’s name can be customized, but also their eye color, chin shape, voice, zodiac sign and pretty much any other detail of a person one can imagine.
The next step involves the perfection of virtual reality technology to really help players self-insert.