An interesting article from Kotaku about 1st person narration in video games and their impact on the story.
While my personal preference will always be that the hero is the player, I know this will not always be the case. I actually kind of agree with this article that 1st person really does make you care more about the character, especially if you only play as them.
For instance, I love Metroid: Other M because it made Samus not who I expected she was. It made her, human, because it went inside her head and, for me at least, cemented herself as the best character in a video game. Without the narration, the holes in Samus’ backstory would have remained empty and the story would be rather pointless. Other M is a story about many things. Overcoming loss, facing down mortality and failure, and learning for yourself the difference between right and wrong. Most of these would’ve been completely loss with Samus’ first person narration.
Also, as an aside: While not as abundant as Other M, Metroid Fusion had the exact same narration style and let us inside Samus’ head. While Other M does let us get closer to Samus emotionally, it’s not like the log book style of narration came out of nowhere, it just came from a critically acclaimed Metroid game.
You know what sucks about 1st person narration though? Heavy Rain.
Spoiler for Heavy Rain Ahead, last chance not to read it!
Scott Shelby being the origami killer was balls. It was the stupidest twist ever. You know why? The first person narration. It was a complete abuse of the technique and not handled nearly masterful enough to be seen as artistically defiant. It was more like artistically incompetent. In a nutshell, Shelby is made not to be the killer because he does mental cartwheels to keep his true identity from the player, which defeats the purpose of having 1st person inner thoughts in any medium. The game also reveals a major plot point, in which Shelby kills a man, even though during the game, at that exact moment, you as Shelby don’t do anything. The game also tries to paint the protagonist of the story, Ethan Mars, as the origami killer because he has blackouts and he fears he might be doing the killings during these blackouts. They are never explained, since he isn’t the killer. Also, he makes paper cranes despite claiming not to know origami. This is also never explained.
There’s more gripes about the game, but specifically about 1st person narration, that is the worst of them and I wanted to share my opinion on that because I want to show how it shouldn’t be used. Like the Kotaku writer said, 1st person narrative can make the connection between player and character even stronger, even if the developers have a strict story to tell. But it can also destroy the story if handled poorly. It can make unbearable plotholes and just be plain stupid in a literary sense, if used to deceive the audience and otherwise be handled in any way that isn’t “revealing”.