There’s a monster inside us all, just waiting to emerge. I’m not talking about the dark impulses we suppress in order to function in society, nor am I talking about the little devil sitting on your shoulder if you happen to be a cartoon character. I’m not even talking about the part of us that wants to leave snarky comments at the end of a list article where the author maybe jerked us around a bit too long in the introductory paragraph because she doesn’t know how to end a series of metaphors strongly enough. No, I’m talking about skeletons, the grim yet occasionally hilarious reminders of our own mortality. Like werewolves, skeletons appear in games most often as a horde of literally faceless enemies meant to be mowed down en route to a more substantial threat, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been more than a few memorable exceptions.
1. Sir Daniel Fortesque, MediEvil
Sir Daniel’s not the most capable hero you’ll ever play, but he’s not without his charms. He was knighted for being a good storyteller more than for being a worthy combatant, and so he naturally met a very swift end when he was thrown into the middle of a proper battle. He was lauded as a hero anyway, but was eventually resurrected and given a chance to properly earn the title and reputation he’d been given. His story is essentially the hero’s journey turned on its head—maybe better, since Odysseus sure couldn’t solve environmental puzzles by removing his own head.
2. The Messengers, Bloodborne
Who doesn’t love these creepy little fellas? The Messengers do exactly what their name implies, popping up with messages and information left behind by other players in the area. They are tiny, clambering, clawing, incredibly useful nightmares… That you can dress up in fun hats. Don’t let that taut, viscerally unpleasant layer of leathery flesh just barely clinging to their bones fool you, these helpful and handsome friends definitely have a place on the skeleton spectrum.
3. David, Shin Megami Tensei
Some videogame skeletons look spooky, some look like a good time. David looks like both. He’s creepy as hell, but his outfit is jaunty beyond compare and you know he can seriously jam on that violin when properly motivated. According to the series’ lore, David uses his violin to force people to “dance the dance of death”. It’s unclear whether that dance kills them or not, so David could be either the best or the worst party guest on this list.
4. Bones Jackson, Mutant League Football and Mutant League Hockey
Do you have any idea how hard it is to be a star athlete without a single muscle on your body, never mind skin, tends, or any organs at all? Then again, maybe this gives him an advantage over the competition. The Mutant League games aren’t your run of the mill sports simulators, with athletes that expect to be blown to bits regularly. I suppose when all you need to do after something like that is piece yourself together like a living puzzle (rather than worrying about any soft tissue damage) then you might just have an edge.
5. Manny Calavera, Grim Fandango
It would be entirely too easy to fill this list up with nothing but characters from the cast of Grim Fandango. As far as interesting characterization of skeletons goes (that’s definitely not a sentence I ever thougth I would write) this game is definitely at the top of the pile. Manny himself is a sort of travel agent for the dead, brokering the journeys of others through the underworld based on the quality of life they lead before dying. He ends up going on a journey of his own over the course of the game, but for me nothing beats his early bickering with his office rival, Domino Hurley. Think Glengarry Glen Ross except everyone’s dead, both inside and out.
6. The Mysterious Lady, Uninvited
It’s never too early to start planning next year’s Halloween costume, I’m just putting that out there.
7. Gravelord Nito, Dark Souls
A definitive moment of any blind Dark Souls playthrough is the moment the player first encounters Nito. A lumbering, shuddering pile of bones and molting blackness, Nito isn’t so much a skeleton as he is a katamari of skeletons. Calling him memorable is an understatement; Gravelord Nito is easily one of the most haunting enemy designs in the Dark Souls franchise to date.
8. Postie Pete, RuneScape
When looking at Postie Pete, it’s hard not to admire his spirit. No, “spirit” isn’t even sufficient to describe what Pete has. He’s got gumption. He’s a skull with a mailbag gripped in his teeth and he still manages to make the rounds, delivering important missives to people all over the place. Neither rain nor sleet nor lack of body will stop the mail with Pete in charge. In addition to being one of the most interesting skeletons in videogames, he might actually be one of the most motivational and inspiring characters, too.
9. Sans, Undertale
I had you scared, didn’t I? I bet you got to Postie Pete and you were already composing a sassy tweet in your head about how I obviously forgot the most important skeleton in recent memory, Sans. Rest easy, because Sans’ wisecracking good-nature makes him pretty hard to miss. Granted, like everything else in Undertale, the player’s time with Sans can take an exceptionally dark turn depending on how they play, but in general he’s the definition of easygoing. His brother Papyrus may be the skeleton you go to when you need to get shit done, but Sans is the one you choose when you just want to have a good time. A good, mildly unnerving time.
10. Skeletiano, Shall We Date?: The Niflheim+
If you’ve made it this far in the list then there’s a good chance that you like skeletons… But do you love them? I mean really love them? Would you date a skeleton? Take them out for a romantic dinner that will mostly just end up slopped on their chair? Smile and blush when they hand you a rose with their fingers that don’t have anything connecting the bones to each other but still work, presumably through the power of their purest love and adoration for you? Then Skeletiano might be the inexplicably sentient bone pile for you. He has a penchant for romantic fiction, wears corsages tucked into his ribcage, and will even call you princess. A word of warning though: Skeletiano is a smoker. Somehow.
Janine Hawkins is a games writer based in sunny Canada. You can find her written and video work on HealerArcherMage.com or follow her on Twitter @bleatingheart.