Thursday, 20 March 2014

Are Our Video Game Heroes The Villains?

I wrote this a month ago for a Forces Of Geek after a conversation with friends while playing through Gears Of War 3. I was reminded also of a sketch from That Mitchell And Webb Look but omitted it from the original article due to forgetfulness. Anyway, here's the video and my column post:

Do you ever wonder if you're on the wrong side? Maybe you find yourself secretly routing for the underdog? Or simply admiring the qualities of an anti-hero? We all know that the moral concepts of good and evil are more complex than right and wrong or black and white, there's a multitude outside factors in any given situation and have you seen how many hues of grey there are?

You might be wondering why I'm questioning your morality, well until recently I've been playing video games and assuming that I am the good guy (unless we're talking RPGs - that's a whole other thing!) when in actuality the characters in the games I play, their actions and intentions - well, they're not as clean cut or straightforward as they seem.

Recently, I played through the online campaign mode of Gears of War 3 with my fiancé and our best friend. While we were chainsawing grubs in the face and stamping on tickers, it occurred to me (or maybe I'm just being naive?) that we were in fact the bad guys. There is nothing more crushing than realising that you've been the bad guy all along. My recollection from the previous two games is that the humans colonised Sera but have been unaware of the creatures that dwell beneath them.

The truly indigenous tribe of Sera are the locusts, who have been seemingly ignoring the destruction and devastation of their planet by the humans. Incidentally, it was the humans who also decided to colonise a planet that they had no right to colonise millions of years ago and have since spent their time fighting (huzzah, war!) and completely sucking dry the planet of its natural resources.

Is it any wonder that the locusts want to end all human life? They've been ignored and their planet has been abused by these thick necked burly humans who revel in killing things. If anything they have shown tolerance and restraint whereas the humans have shown them disrespect and violence.

Maybe I've picked up on something that is common knowledge, perhaps the subtleties of the games morality eluded me because I've been distracted by large, muscular men with cool weapons? One thing is for sure; Epic Games present Marcus and Dom as loyal, gun slinging heroes who are merely protecting humans from the scourge of non surface-dwelling aliens. It couldn't be further from the truth!

After my revelation about being a bad guy, I started thinking about some of my favourite characters in games. Take my beloved Link from The Legend Of Zelda series, surely he has no trace of evil in him? Of course, there is Dark Link - his doppelgänger antagonist, but that's just it, he's a doppelgänger, the very opposite of Link who couldn't possibly have an evil streak in him, right? Wrong...

Tee Design via WearViral
Yes, my world was torn asunder when I realised that Link is less of a boy scout and more of a bully. He impolitely enters the homes of the Hyrulians without knocking.

Then he proceeds to not only smash up their ceramic pots, which for all he knows could be precious family heirlooms, but also steals whatever he finds in them before running off to the next house, wrecking their garden as he goes by cutting random tufts of grass with his sword and claiming any rupees he finds as his own.

Link is a petty thief, with a lack of respect for others - nothing more than a delinquent.

Speaking of delinquents, Mario consistently damages the architecture of Mushroom Kingdom everytime he punches a brick, he's a common vandal. Maybe he really dislikes architecture or he genuinely enjoys punching blocks into pieces? Whatever his reasoning, chances are doesn't stop to think about the effects it has on those who live there, because he's too busy being self-interested - concerned only with his own motives and quest for a princess who doesn't really like him (wait, he's a stalker, too?).

There's also his drug problem because he is addicted to mushrooms and fire flowers. Addiction is an illness so for the most part can be forgiven but when you consider one of his friends, Toad, is fundamentally related to a mushroom and that most of the flowers in Mushroom Kingdom are sentient - Mario becomes a vulgar monster who eats people and that's unspeakably gross and very, very wrong.

Then there's a long list of gaming anti-heroes I could talk about too, Max Payne is a crooked ex-cop. He always tries to do what is right but he still murders people, the same can be said of Ezio in the Assassin's Creed games - he is acting out of a sense of justice and doing what he believes to be right but he's still an assassin, he takes the lives of others and steals.

Then there's Agent 47 from the Hitman games, yes - he's a hit man but is it really necessary to kill his targets in such elaborate, sadistic ways? His creativity in taking lives is scary.

Oh, and you do not want to accept a donut from that guy...

Good intentions aren't the only mark of a good person, but morally obscure characters, whose actions are hard to ascertain will always be popular in video games because ultimately, the majority of us are outsiders and psychologically speaking we will always root harder for an anti-hero.

Take God Of War in which Kratos was tricked into killing his family. Knowing this, it's easy to understand the reasoning for his actions, we would all like to think we would do the same. He does redeem his heinous actions by sacrificing himself for the sake of all mankind but the atrocities he commits and the intense violence with which he exacted revenge is pretty horrifying. His sacrifice doesn't change his villianous actions and the screaming...oh, the screaming!

Of course, there's also the Grand Theft Auto series, morality is definitely flexible in the GTA universe yet, there's no denying that you are flat out playing a purveyor of illegal activities.

What about Pokémon trainers like Ash? Isn't it cruel to keep animals in captivity? The poor Pokémon are caught and then forced to battle one another for...the honour of their captive?! That's pretty messed up. It's easy to argue that the Pokémon could escape or walk free if they chose, but wouldn't another trainer find them eventually? Yep, Pokémon trainers are the ultimate slave masters. Shocking, isn't it?

At least we'll always know where we stand in Wolfenstein...we're absolutely, without a doubt, 100% the good guy in that...right?

Whatever side you find your protagonist on, just remember that bad guys are the sole reason that heroes and good guys exist.

Without the bad guys of the gaming world, the intentions and purposes of video game heroes would be futile. We owe the bad guys a debt of gratitude sometimes...unless they're Hitler.

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