We make connections everyday of our lives with inanimate objects, they should be meaningless encounters with discardable items. It can be a phone, maybe a car, but we do this because we believe these objects have 'character'. Possibly due to the human condition it is a necessity to make this association in order for us to make a connection and this gives a big clue into what is truly important in character.
Character design in games has come a long way, but so has the technology behind the games so that's probably why, but one thing that will always remain the same is how we will respond and make our connections with characters and its all about the story, the narrative. A story being told through visual elements, Pac-Man is no different to Crash Bandicoot, he is the happy-go-lucky hero of the game and any person can automatically and instantly recognize that, which is the vital initial connection which needs to be made.
Im a fan of both films and reading books and have always felt that books have had an edge over films in conveying character. I find films introducing new characters have a hard time in getting the viewer to make a connection within the restricted amount of time (2hours approx) and can quite often leave the viewer with an inadequate experience. Books on the other hand more often than not do a better job, one series of books in particular I'm a fan of are Stephen Kings The Dark Tower which span over nearly 4000 pages. The vastness of the story means that deep connections are made with certain characters of the books, we learn their histories, their motives and aspirations and their thoughts and feelings are constantly portrayed.
Video games have the advantage that they are able to convey character in both of these ways, clearly the main attraction is the visual element and the gamers response to the imagery being presented and that's where a game artist comes in. But as technology continues to move at an alarming pace I fear sometimes we can lose track of what is truly important. Game characters dont need to be tens-of-thousands of poly's for us to truly appreciate their characterizations.