Holding Out For A Hero

I heaved a deep sigh of relief. Yet again I’d saved the world, fighting off the murderous hordes of enemies that threatened the safety of its inhabitants. Sure, I’d killed a couple of hundred (or thousand) of people along the way, but the ends justify the means, right? It may not be the most heroic way of thinking, but who cares? I got the job done, didn’t I?  Except see, this approach tends to strike a sour note with me, and over the last few months it has lingered unpleasantly. After all, there hasn’t been a hero – a real, honest to goodness hero – that has played the lead role in any game I played in 2012. I’m not talking about RPG characters, because they haven’t played the lead role in the game, I have. They are, for all intents and purposes, me. Although I am a damn fine hero in my own right, I’m also not the hero that my console needs.

Over the past twelve months I have played plenty of games; my console has been lucky enough to run titles like Sleeping Dogs, Batman: Arkham City, Borderlands 2 and Max Payne 3. It’s also been sullied by the likes of SEGA Superstars Tennis, but that’s beside the point. That’s a rather select bunch of games, from developers with plenty of pedigree. Each of them have received great good reviews – Borderlands 2 was a personal favourite – but the lead role of each and every one of them is played by an anti-hero. Hell, even the ‘good guys’ are pretty dark, with Rocksteady’s interpretation of Batman hardly the most heroic and Sleeping Dogs’ Wei Shen an outright gangster.

Indeed, it seems that the idea of a hero – a real hero – is one that seems to have fallen out of favour over the last few years. I mean, just have a think; can you name a heroic character off the top of your head? I don’t mean a character that just saves the day or does whatever it is that the game wants them to do, I mean a character that is actually heroic – and for that read: “someone who, in the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness, display courage and the will for self sacrifice— that is, heroism — for some greater good of all humanity”. (You can thank Wikipedia for that)

Think of the titles I gave as an example. Bonnie Tyler would be rather disappointed if they showed up at her door. She’d have a field day if it was Max Payne; she’s holding out for a hero, not some drug addled, trigger-happy maniac. I doubt she would be much happier with Wei Shen, or any of the Vault Hunters, each of whom are criminals on the run from justice. Granted, they’re fighting against Handsome Jack, but that’s more in the interests of self-preservation than anything else.

I even turned to Halo for solace. Don’t hold it against me – desperation can drive a man to do crazy things. Sadly, I found that even the fabled Master Chief was something of a disappointment, though he did show some potential. His drive to save his electronic companion no matter what the consequences was a step in the right direction, but it still somehow managed to come off as self-serving rather than truly heroic. After all, he’s not being selfless at all. He’s being selfish, throwing away everything else for his own personal interests. Bonnie Tyler would likely shank him for his insolence, though maybe that’s a bit of wishful thinking.

(Hopefully) Well-armed warblers aside, I think I’ve stumbled upon a serious epidemic of scumbag characters, an epidemic that, unless we make a stand, may well continue unabated for the foreseeable future. Not only in videogames, but in other media as well! Man of Steel, the Superman reboot, is already surrounded by mutters of “more maturity” and a “darker tone.” It perhaps bodes well for its box-office takings, but what of the integrity of heroness? (That’s totally a word. Or at least it should be) What about being a hero that doesn’t brood endlessly, and glare balefully at people as they walk past? What about saving the world and getting the girl at the end of the story? Surely the world is a dark enough place as it is without the people who are meant to be the heroes – the ones who will invariably save the day – adding to that darkness?

The fact of the matter is, everyone needs to lighten up. The people making these games should smile a little more, and make sure that their characters do as well. I know that I’m going to enjoy a title a lot more if it’s bright and happy than if it takes itself too seriously and winds up being dark and grumpy just because that’s what is cool. I thought that this whole following the crowd business was just about done when I left school.  Until everyone can perk up a bit and maybe prove that their protagonists have a heroic bone in their body – it can be a shin or something, I’m not fussy – then it seems that I’ll just have join Bonnie in her eternal wait for a hero. At least my criteria aren’t as strict as hers.




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6 Comments

  1. Rich says:

    Nice blog piece, Keegs.

    Blame the 18-30s for wanting everything to be dark these days.

  2. Toffer says:

    Based on the wikipedia definition you could argue Jason from Far Cry 3 is a hero but from the basis of this article, he doesn’t really fit the bill. I think there is a strong case to argue the point, but something I’ll have to come back to later, should it be required as I’m currently at work.

    Good piece Keegan!

  3. Edward says:

    It’s a circular thing, I reckon: everyone got bored with Dudley Do-Good and so we’re into the awkward phase where everyone thinks your hero has to be absolutely lacking in personality or a gruff take-no-shit motherfucker. Soon, everyone’s going to get bored of that and we’re gonna get heroes who aren’t antagonistic but still have some level of depth.

    Interesting point though: BL2′s Maya is the only one of the main protagonists in that game whose status as an anti-hero is debatable if you find all of the ECHO points detailing her backstory. ;)
    Plus, I guess like Mario and Link and Kirby and all the Nintendo ones, if you’re into that sort of thing :D

  4. Rich says:

    I would have said Mario but then he had to set fire to that primary school in order to get to the final level so I guess he’s a prick too.

  5. Stu says:

    Awesome piece. It hadn’t really crossed my mind but you’ve actually hit a really good point. Even ‘choose your own way’ RPGs like Mass Effect, etc have a dark path for the hero to tread and ultimately don’t make a universe of difference to the character.

  6. Ian says:

    Heroness:

    ‘A female heron that has attained the honour of ‘baron’ in the UK’

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