Thursday, 31 January 2013

Big Damn Heroes

Have you ever found it odd how different Game genres approach their ‘Heroes Journey?

Well no, probably not, as you are all happy, well-adjusted people but this is the kind of stuff I think about when my brain grows tired of attempting to be a productive member of society (also, Vikings).

Seriously though, while ostensibly each describing a fairly simple character arc, usually along the lines of ‘bad guys do bad thing, you have to stop them, you stop them, much success’, they tend to approach it in vastly different and usually pretty weird ways. Not only that, but sometimes they seem to draw characters from entirely the wrong era.

Let’s take two of the most straightforward examples and I’ll try and show you what I mean. The two I’m going to use are the random soldiers of FPS’ and the random peasants of Western RPGs. I’m using these because; well a little bit because these are the games I play most, but also because they’re the games with the most character-focussed view. Compare the solo heroes in most of these games to the Omniscient Gods of RTS’ and the spiky haired, mal-nourished teenagers of JRPGs and you’ll see what I mean.

Eat a Damn Cheeseburger!Source

Let’s start with a brief rundown of how the two characters normally play out.

Your standard FPS, whether Sci-Fi or Modern, begins with you and usually a squad being deployed or already present in some hot-spot or warzone. As things escalate around you and people shout whatever random Caucasian or semi-ethnic name you’ve been given (Johnson! Ramirez!!) it will eventually become apparent that you are the only competent member of that particular military/space marine corps and the next 8 hours are spent rushing headlong into a wave of bullets and enemies.

Meanwhile in a normal Western RPG (except Elder Scrolls Games where you are always some kind of criminal, I assume because Bethesda are ‘down with the streets’) you are generally a plucky and not unduly downtrodden peasant living in a facsimile of Arthurian Britain. When your surprisingly pleasant country is invaded by todays flavour of ork and all the professional knights and soldiers are routed it’s up to you to start gathering allies, combine powerful characters and forces and save the day!

Also, sometimes you’re Link.

If anyone says 'Hey, Listen!' I'll knife youSource

Now let’s think about that for a moment. Apart from the accumulated works of Mr Stallone, Willis and Schwarzenegger the one-man army doesn’t really have a place in the modern world.  There’s a reason an entire SEAL team took down Osama Bin Laden and not just one dude with the mystic power to open doors.  You know where we do find a culture that holds the greatest warrior of a group up to do the heroic works?

If you guessed Vikings then you’re wrong…

 Nah I’m just messing with you, the Vikings loved that stuff. 

 It’s just that they were a continuation of a tradition that was on going for thousands of years. Amongst the Celts, Germanic Tribes and eventually the Vikings there was a warrior elite of fighting men around important Lords and Kings. These men could come from anywhere, even other tribes if they were particularly skilled, but once ensconced as a Hearth-Troop (Saxon:Huscarl) they formed a cultural elite.

It was from these men that heroes like Beowulf emerged, the best fighters of an elite unit tackling the most difficult foes to achieve their goals…

Sound familiar?

And lo, he did strike upon them as a Troll unto noobsSource

Now, if we look at the RPG storyline I sketched above we can see some definitely modern trends in it. In fact a lone man, or small group, building alliances and leading a grass-roots swell against some outside ‘evil’ force should sound very familiar indeed.

It’s called Guerilla Warfare and it’s how every modern war is being fought.

If you don’t think this is a fair comparison to make, well then let me point out that leading a regime change is literally the entire plot of Dragon Age:Origins , it’s also a sizable questline in Skyrim and once again the entire plot of Dungeon Siege 3 (admittedly there you used to be the faction in charge so it’s more of a reverse-coup).

When you look at it that way, it starts to look like Modern-Warfare is the barbarian to the developed martial prowess of our old-timey RPGs.

So…I guess this means Link is a member of Al-Qaeda?

Until next time friends, let us say Skål! and drink together.

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