Time for another rant about a trope that’s broader than just RPGs (this one’s quite popular in anime), but which does show up in them frequently enough that it annoys me. Yes, it’s time to talk about Warm Hands!
So, something that happens now and then in RPGs is that you have a character, almost invariably female, and also usually sappy and annoyingly positive, who takes someone’s hand in theirs, and from this small touch divines that the person whose hand they grasp is a good person with a good heart. What is the source of this intuition, you wonder? How have they so confidently inferred the hidden nature and plumbed the depths of the soul before them? Why, it’s very simple!
That person has warm hands.
Yup. That’s it. That’s all there is to it. The person has warm hands, so according to your oracular party member, they must be trustworthy. Background history? Discussion of one’s ethics and beliefs? Personal experience with the individual? Considering the person’s actions to this point? Even just looking them in the goddamn eye? All unnecessary. This person’s hands possess a higher temperature than the party member’s own, so they must be a trustworthy and laudable person within.
It’s just...so idiotic. I don’t even know where to start with this trope. I don’t know why I should HAVE to. Hey, uh, assorted RPG writers of companies both big and small, did you guys just...miss fourth grade science, or something? See, there’s this thing about human beings. And that is that we’re mammals. And mammals, it turns out, are warm-blooded. It means our blood--the blood that circulates through our body, including the extremities like the hands--is meant to stay at a specific, constant, regulated temperature, regardless of the environment around us. And 1 of the side effects of that usually-learned-in-elementary-school fact is that we give off body heat. Like...ALL of us. Regardless of the moral fiber of our character!
How exactly does this reasoning work, anyway? The person’s heart must be warmer if their hands are warmer, and warmer heart = better heart? Or maybe the person’s heart is extra functional, pumping their warm blood into their hands much faster than a regular person’s? Because I’m fairly sure these are less a sign of moral integrity than they are of cardiovascular diseases!
And even from the perspective of whatever bizarre reasoning RPGs have for this trope, it still doesn’t make much sense to use as a moral barometer. I mean, even if having naturally heated hands were somehow indicative of a good person, it’s still not a reliable measure to use. What if a decent person happens to just have bad circulation? What, no good human being ever got diabetes, or had a blood clot? For that matter, no evil person ever had a fever?
What about characters like Deekin from Neverwinter Nights 1, Mipha from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Frog from Chrono Trigger, Koops from Paper Mario 2, and Psybe from Cosmic Star Heroine? You’d have a hard time arguing that any of them weren’t highly decent people, but lizards, fish, amphibians, turtles, and most insects are cold-blooded; there’d be no warmth in any of their hands. Or characters like Spar from Breath of Fire 2, and Camellia from Arc the Lad 4? Pretty sure that anthropomorphic plants wouldn’t have much in the way of body heat, but that doesn’t bar either from being decent individuals. There’re plenty of ethical characters in RPGs who are aliens, like Raja from Phantasy Star 4, and Garrus and Padok from the Mass Effect series. Even if they might be warm-blooded, their physiology could be such that the warmth was less than our own. And then there are good-hearted vampires like Joachim from Shadow Hearts 2, helpful ghosts like Pamela from Mana Khemia 1, friendly skeletons like Papyrus from Undertale, and just a whole hell of a lot of nice robots. Go ahead and try to tell me Aegis from Shin Megami Tensei: Persona isn’t a truly wonderful person. Go ahead, try to say it. You’ll live the rest of your life knowing you’re a fucking liar.
And even beyond the fact that body temperature can be affected by health problems, and the problems that arise from RPGs’ trend toward especially peculiar casts, it also seems like it would be easy for a villain to dupe this format of moral checkup. All any villain needs to do is keep his hands in his armpits for a few minutes before shaking hands with the heroes he wants to dupe, and he’s golden! Or hell, why settle for his pits? He’s a villain! He can shove his hand down between his asscheeks for a bit--he passes the moral test, and gives the heroes a good stink palm at the same time! Effective, and diabolic!
It’s just a really stupid, nonsensical trope. It’s silly and dumb to anyone with common sense and even a beginner’s grasp of human biology, and even if you were to take it as somehow legitimate, it still seems absurdly unreliable and easy to fool. Thankfully, though it does pop up now and then in games from developers both mighty* and minor**, this bizarre little cliche shows up in RPGs far less frequently than it does in anime. Still, every time I come across it, the sappy stupidity of the warm hands = good heart thing just makes me groan and shake my head.
* No, Grandia 3’s Alfina, Yuki is not a good person because his hands are warm. He is a good person because he keeps saving your stupid ass.
And maybe also because he actually has the patience to be able to put up with you. Hell, if the measure of character actually were hand heat, then that level of sainthood would require Yuki’s hands to be outright on fire.
** No, Marine from the Millennium series, Bokden showing up and proving that your faith in him was justified is an occurrence independent of the fact that his hand was a degree hotter than yours when you grabbed it.