Clichés are used everywhere; they show us day after day. A cliché by definition is an overused phrase or opinion that lacks originality. This definition could be expanded to include common character personalities and other concepts. And, the lack of originality means you can appeal to wider audiences; the audience will come to their own conclusions. Here’s an example.
The game you’re playing reaches the climax. You defeat the final boss, but one character sacrifices themselves for the team. Before the end credits roll, you find out the character actually survived. This example is used often in movies and video games. Despite the obvious issue, the audience is satisfied with the happy ending. The reason this works is due to a psychological principle.
The principle is that people like to be right. When playing or enjoying content, the player anticipates what happens next; the player invests their own emotions into the scene. A smart use of clichés (two lovers dying together), although cheesy, offers more to the scene than it takes away. However, this is where clichés can go bad.
As mentioned before, clichés are overused; the audience expects them in the story. Although people like to be right, they like surprise more. But, because clichés are overused, having too many in your story can make it bland. Here’s an example.
Throughout your story, your character does the right thing, no one dies, and the protagonist has unexpressive dialog such as: “With great power comes great responsibility”, “I’ll never give up the fight”, “I love all my friends.” All of these examples are extremely cliché. As a developer, it’s important to guard against overuse; it’s important to find a balance to evoke the emotion you want from the player. With that said, there’s a better technique to apply to clichés.
The Secret Technique
Clichés are unoriginal because people expect what’s going to happen; this is where you can use the cliché to your advantage. Add originality to the core of the cliché by changing the expected outcome. For example, in a scene where the character decides to confess his love to his long-term friend, instead of the recipient agreeing, have them reject him completely. This would shock the audience, and spark their curiosity. Why would they reject him? And that’s where you take the advantage. This advantage will set your story apart from other games in terms of narrative; the unexpected sparks curiosity.