What Video Game Characters Do When You're Not Controlling Them

Yeah, video game characters are great when they're hopping, bopping, and shooting everything in sight, but the best reveal themselves when they're standing still. No, not like that, you pervert and also me after I wrote that sentence. Idle animations. I'm talking about idle animations.


The above video contains some great ones, although I wish there were more modern games in it. Then again, I feel like first-person games and more action-oriented, cross-the-line-and-enemies-emerge-from-every-conceivable-corner shooters have cut down on the need for them. Fewer idle moments mean fewer idle animations—at least, theoretically.

You know how it is, though: you're speeding through a level in Mario or the burning remains of a city in Grand Theft Auto, but then the phone rings or you realize you're about to wet yourself. You dash off to deal with this pressing concern, and when you come back—awwww—Mario is gently snoozing and/or your Grand Theft Auto character is mean-mugging like he's about to murder someone rather than being actively engaged in the process.

It's a brief bit of quiet nestled between crashing waves of madness, this quick reminder that life (or at least some approximation of it) goes on in these worlds even when you're not around—even for "you" in the game.

These moments, while largely inconsequential, can speak volumes about characters—especially ones like Mario or, say, Link from Legend of Zelda who don't talk all that often. Heck, even video game bad guys sometimes have great idle animations. I actually kinda love how bored Halo's enemies look before you pounce into the middle of their patrol. Like, this is a routine thing for them—just another day in the blood-and-entrail-strewn office. And then, well, suddenly it's not anymore. For obvious reasons.

What are your favorite idle moments in games? Post them below. Let's make a thing out of this. Games don't always have to be moving at a billion miles per hour to show us something great.



The U.S. version of the original N64 release of Super Mario 64 is always going to be the best. The escalation is delightful.

I even have a nomination for the WORST idle animation: It's probably Darkwing Duck for Turbografx-16, in which, if idle for too long, the game drops a safe on Darkwing, instantly killing him. Yes, this counts as an actual "death" and sends you back to the start of the stage. The game gives you the finger for leaving it idle.

Hooray for idle animations everywhere.