It's all in your head
Completing objectives in video games can be pretty cut-and-dried. Go here. Push this button. Kill these bad guys. But what if the person telling you to do those things isn't actually real? We take a lot of what we see and do for granted because, hey, we don't want to think that the person helping us out is simply a figment of our imagination (especially if they don't exactly have our best interests in mind).
Some of these characters are actually really cool or especially diabolical, even if they only exist inside our own head. But sometimes it takes a split personality, imaginary friend, or some other form of mental concoction to get the job done. Here are the seven most interesting characters shacking up in our brain cages.
7. Cortana (Halo)
It's not easy being green (or at least, covered in green power armor), but Master Chief makes it work, due in no small part to the AI construct he keeps in his helmet. While she's not technically living inside Master Chief's head, she does spend a lot of time living on a thumb drive tucked in near it. If there's a door that needs opening, or a computer that needs hacking--and Master Chief can't shoot it into working--Cortana appears in the real world as a hologram, making sure he can finish the fight unimpeded.
That is, when she's not infected with rampancy. After the events of Halo 2, Cortana ends up separated from Master Chief's skull, and slowly becomes more corrupted over time. She may be going crazy (or, whatever the computer version of crazy is), but she uses her last bit of energy to save Master Chief at the end of Halo 4. She may be gone, but I'm holding out hope that we haven't seen the last of Cortana passing time inside of a giant, green battle helmet.
6. The Heart (Dishonored)
The world of Dishonored exists on the precipice between a steampunk technological reality and magical fantasy, and The Heart serves as the bridge between the two. It's a literal beating heart covered in all manner of gizmos, given to you by the mysterious Outsider. It can also be a real buzzkill, too.
Breaking it out every now and then will help you find secret supernatural items in the city of Dunwall. But if you keep using it, you'll start hearing the whispers of information about this bleak world directly in your own head. "Don't be fooled if you hear laughter, or happen upon a smile," it intones while you wander the infamous masquerade party. "There is no lightness or merriment here." Thanks for the info, Heart, but if you could quiet down, I'm trying to murder someone here.
5. Zach (Deadly Premonition)
Look, Zach, solving this mystery is going to be tough. This small town of Greenvale is filled with mysterious inhabitants, and there's a serial killer on the loose. They've already claimed the life of 18-year-old Anna Graham, and more could be on the way. Plus, it's not exactly easy to investigate and talk to suspects when you're also talking to the voices in your head. Right, Zach?
There are many reasons why Deadly Premonition is one of the most polarizing games ever made. It's already bonkers enough with its Twin Peaks vibe, alternate universes, unconventional gameplay, and bizarre voice acting. But throw in York, a cop who tells fortunes with coffee and makes constant asides to his best friend Zach (who may or may not exist entirely inside his brain), and you've got a recipe for a game that is either artistically brilliant, or incredibly stupid. Just let it wash over you.
4. Leo (Manhunt 2)
Thanks to amnesia (of course), protagonist Daniel Lamb doesn't know why he's been incarcerated at the Dixmor Asylum for the Criminally Insane. All he knows is that the power has gone out, the doors are wide open, and this helpful fellow Leo wants to team up with him to escape. Nothing could go wrong except for the fact that Leo is actually part of Daniel's psyche.
Turns out, Daniel was a scientist involved in a series of brainwashing experiments where an assassin's mind can be implanted and turned on and off without anyone being the wiser. Leo is one such killer, placed inside Daniel's mind, and is responsible for forcing him to kill police officers, other scientists, and even Daniel's own wife. And the only way to rid himself of the guilt of killing these people? By killing more people, of course, then fighting off the maniac socked away inside his brain. Makes sense to me. And my friend Leo.
3. John Konrad (Spec Ops: The Line)
You've fought your way through the biggest sandstorm to hit Dubai in years. You've committed countless war crimes in the dogged pursuit of your mission: find and bring Commander John Konrad back to stand trial. The road to the end is fraught with peril, and more than a handful of civilians will die by your hand (the memories of white phosphorous still burn in my mind). Which makes it all the more painful when you discover that Konrad died long before your adventure even started.
Konrad stayed behind to try to help the survivors left behind in Dubai, but he ultimately commits suicide out of regret for his actions after sending the signal that brings your Delta Squad to the city in the first place. So, the voice of Konrad that beckons and taunts you the entire time you play? It's all a hallucination brought on by the trauma of war. Don't feel guilty, though; it's just a video game right?
2. The Reapers (Mass Effect)
Not only are the Reapers giant organic/synthetic space ships capable of ending worlds with their giant lasers, they also have the ability to make you think that they're totally awesome while they blow you up. The process of indoctrination starts slow, with faint whispers and brief moments where you start to think that, hey, maybe these Reapers aren't all bad. By the time you're double-crossing galactic society to hand over ancient artifacts to these monsters, it's already too late.
Reaper indoctrination was first noticed when Saren, the highly-decorated Spectre, turned rogue and tried to bring ruin to the Citadel. By Mass Effect 3, the Reapers have turned their gaze on you, Commander Shepard, as well as head of Cerberus and all-around space-racist The Illusive Man. You're able to resist the siren-like call of these evil life-forms because you're a badass. The Illusive Man isn't so lucky.
1. Everyone (Eternal Sonata)
Everyone knows that Frdric Chopin was one of the greatest pianists and composers who ever lived (if this Halo commercial is any indication). However, did you know that, on his deathbed, he retreated into a fantasy world of his own creation? And that it was filled with anime characters, monsters, and turn-based battles? No? Well, while it may not have happened in real life, Eternal Sonata wants you to believe that it did.
According to Eternal Sonata's fiction, while dying of tuberculosis at the age of 39, Chopin was living inside a dream world filled with a colorful cast of characters. You meet Polka, a girl cursed with magic and doomed to die; Allegretto, a young man who steals food survive; a 26-year-old shepherd named Viola; and many, many more. They're questing in this dream world to prevent two warring nations from destroying each other, despite the fact that all of this is simply the figment of a composer's active imagination. Still, it's one of the few times where you're not completely disappointed when you find out that "it was all a dreaaaaaaaaam." *waves hands*
Where is my mind?
And there it is, the top 7 characters that What's that? No, I'm talking to our readers. No, I'll talk to you later. Look, can't you see I'm busy? Don't be rude. Yes, we'll have pizza later. And stop telling me to set stuff on fire, it makes no sense. Where was I? Why are you looking at me like that?
If you're looking for something a bit more stable, perhaps check out this list of games you didn't know were actually based on books, this list of games that actually got worse as they supposedly improved.