Good, Bad or Something In Between?
Once upon a time, my game heroes were just, undeniably good characters. They were Sonic, Mario, Alex Kidd, Spyro. Sure, they were all cartoonish, kid-friendly characters but they were still doing the right thing in the right way . Even Sonic with all his ‘tude was ultimately a good guy. These characters were more than heroes. They were our friends, the things we could turn to when we couldn’t take much more. I’m pretty sure we’ve all been in the position where we felt a little better after jumping on a goomba or two, right?
Then something changed. Our heroes’ goals started to become a bit more dubious. Their methods a bit more ruthless, aggressive.
They were less good.
Don’t get this wrong. This isn’t an argument about violence in videogames – more of a brief opinion on enforced morality and imposing our will upon these characters we control. Whilst I’ve sort of looked at it before, Spec Ops: The Line was something more of a special case. The rest of our modern day heroes – characters like Ezio, Alex Mercer, Corvo, every single GTA protagonist – get more of a choice over who they kill and who they don’t. They have inched further and further into a grey moral area. Even in games such as Dark Souls or The Binding of Isaac, where the enemies are of the monstrous abomination type, there are situations where I have to ask myself a hard question – one that I have to ask on a regular basis now.
“…Wait, am I the bad guy here?”
I don’t exactly mind being a bad guy – I still have very fond memories of playing Dungeon Keeper, after all. I just don’t want the game to pretend that I’m 100% good. Prototype 2, for example. There’s no debating that Heller suffers in the game, and that he was wronged. But much like Mercer from the first game, he is essentially free to do what he wants. If your health is running a little low, why not just nab a civilian off the street and devour them whole? Alternatively, keep hold of them and run them up the tallest skyscraper you can see and then just throw them off.
Admittedly, those may be extreme examples with the latter one being a wonderful example of the sorts of dissonance you can get between a character and a player – I’m pretty sure Heller isn’t messed up enough to do that to the average civilian. Regardless, the point stands. So many of our games allow us to do so much that we’ve come to expect it.
Essentially it’s something that’s come hand in hand with the development of our medium’s maturity. And I will always maintain that games have matured, are still in the process of maturing. Their characters had to mature with them and become these semi-realistic, more morally complex hybrids. I shouldn’t complain.
But there is a part of me that will always want to be the out and out hero in the story. Sadly, I don’t think it’s a sensation that I’m going to get back any time soon.