Sunday, August 11, 2013
On Heroes and Their Portrayals in Games
Mogs note: There are various spoilers within about several games, each of which has a little heads-up beforehand.
One of the various things that have been rolling around in my head lately is thanks almost solely to the Neverwinter Nights 2 LP I've been reading over the past few nights, which I just finished last night. Neverwinter Nights 2, for those who are unaware, is a game made by Obsidian using the Forgotten Realms setting of Dungeons and Dragons with all the trappings you expect from an Obsidian game. It's buggy, flawed and rushed to completion, yes, but it's also intelligent and interesting in the way it goes about several types of things regarding party balance, morality and the story's take on that and more. At least, in concept and theory it is, since there are all sorts of things that change based on whether your character is Evil or Good, Lawful or Chaotic, Male or Female, but where it falls flat is that even if you're playing a Lawful Evil character (as the LPer did), you're still getting treated as if you're a hero at the end of the game simply because of one bit of plot armor. So it feels like a game where you -can- be Evil, and the game goes "well isn't that neat", though it expects you to be Good.
Of course, it's not an unfair thing to expect. In games, when given the option to be Good or Evil, a majority of players swing towards Good for one reason or another. Sometimes it's simply because we've been conditioned by games that don't offer such choices, sometimes it's because the benefits of being Good simply outweigh those of being Evil, and sometimes it's simply because games don't offer enough potential for Evil to make it truly worth it. Whatever the reason, players will generally dedicate their first (if not only) playthrough of a game to the 'good' side when one is offered, which leads to things like inFamous: Second Son making the Good Ending canon "because more people chose it", despite that....not being a very effective barometer for the reasons discussed therein the post under that link. (With spoilers, be careful) Everyone just expects the main character to be good because they're the main character, so of course they're going to be good.
That's why I chose to lead this post with a picture of everybody's favorite Badass, Big Boss from several Metal Gear Solid games. Now, it's been long enough, I think from the original Metal Gear that I don't have to spoiler tag certain things about it, but I did sort of give you a little warning there. As we all know, Big Boss is the Main Bad Guy™ of Metal Gear, whom Solid Snake eventually defeats and presumably kills. (And we know it doesn't take and Big Boss is the inevitable Main Bad Guy of Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake as well) The reason this is important, of course, is because with three games that have Metal Gear Solid titles attached to them, we play as Big Boss (or, well, the man as he -becomes- Big Boss) and he is always portrayed as something of a heroic figure, even if the context isn't quite so kind. What I'm saying, basically, is that he's never been portrayed as the Antagonist just yet, even though we all know he is eventually supposed to get to that point. I can't even cry retcon as much and as loudly as I want to because the original Metal Gear games were provided with both the Subsistence version of Metal Gear Solid 3, but the recent HD remakes as well, as a clear intention for the player to get to know Big Boss as he will eventually be.
Of course, both halves of the game that we'll colloquially know as Metal Gear Solid 5 (Phantom Pain and Ground Zeroes) will feature Big Boss yet again as the protagonist (for most of the games, I suspect, but not all), so maybe we will finally reach that point. In all honesty, there's no getting around it - Big Boss has to eventually be shown in his fall from his past, his morals and his past ambitions to get to the point where he's at in Metal Gear 1. Peace Walker (and to a lesser degree, Portable Ops) are a good start when you look at the context over the portrayal (namely the fact that you're kidnapping and brainwashing soldiers to your cause in building up what is eventually known as Outer Haven, with the caveat being that the cause seems noble), but it's not quite there. I don't need Big Boss to grow a mustache and start twirling the end of it, of course, but there has to be a point where we look at Big Boss and collectively realize that "wow, this is Not a Good Guy™" before he is -finally- the Big Boss that we know him to be.
What's interesting in that realization is that it lead straight to another one for me. One that does sort of bolster my confidence in the ability of it happening within the confines of Metal Gear Solid 5 somehow. It's not much of a spoiler to say as much, but over the course of Metal Gear Rising: REVENGEANCE (For which I have previously mentioned a fan survey suggesting a sequel that can be found on the main Metal Gear Solid website) you come to the realization that Raiden is honestly Not a Good Guy. It's not even in the vein of something that I can call subtle, and it's only down-played by the fact that you're up against enemies who are pursuing what can be called an actively evil goal. I do get confused as to who did what now when it comes to the game, but I am -fairly- certain that they more or less maintained a story that Kojima made for the game, even if there were certain changes made to it (such as setting it after MGS4, rather than before it). Essentially, while it's not subtle and while it's in the confines of over-the-top awesome things, which REVENGEANCE is full of, it does give me confidence that we can be pointed to Main Bad Guy Big Boss over the course of MGS5, which I look forward to quite a bit.
The problem that I have with games in general is that there simply aren't enough games where you are playing someone who is genuinely Not a Good Guy by the end of it. And even when we do, they're often of...dubious quality (apparently I have never written anything substantial about [Prototype] as I was going to link it here. Huh.) which more or less defeats the point. But I'm less interested at this point in games where you play someone who is a bad guy (like [Prototype]) and more interested in a game that actually lets you be the Hero for the whole game until the end where things take a turn and force you off the heroic path for reasons that are...well, understandable. That in itself is rather difficult to accomplish, because you're dealing with extremes here - Good is Good, Evil is Evil and for the most part, they're generally all set up as things that are absolutes, barring the backstab that most games have to inevitably have. And not without reason - while good characters do bad things and bad characters do good things, it's always presented as just that, not a redemption or a fall, but a faceted approach.
Honestly, it takes a lot of pacing and a lot of nuance to pull off, so it's no wonder most games don't even dream of attempting it, especially when it's easier and more dramatic to have an asspull Face-Heel Turn that is then conveniently explained away by a few plot points in a very loose interpretation of the events contained therein. I think that is basically why I can't think of any examples that show off exactly what I want from a game along these lines, because there's not really anything that you -can- list off that fits into the archetypes. There are a few examples that you guys know I like to throw around about excellent characters because they're Not Good Guys even if it is a bit spoilery. Caim, from Drakengard, doesn't fit however because even though he is an antagonist in Drakengard 2 (and fucking awesome, and done with taking shit from anybody), honestly -everyone- in Drakengard 2 is an antagonist since the main party is trying to un-make the world (same as Caim) and the people trying to defend the Seals are unrepentant assholes. And there is the stand-by of Kain from the Legacy of Kain games because the 'Evil Ending' of the first game is canon which sculpts the rest of the series, but Kain, similar to Caim, was never a Hero. His entire story is revenge and selfishness, so the 'Evil Ending' obviously makes sense because he is Not a Nice Guy.
All I really want is a two-part series (or more, but at least two parts) in which you play as the hero for the first part and play out his fall from grace in a way that is entirely believable, and the second part, you play as someone who has to take him out. I know this has to exist in some fashion somewhere, but I'm not sure if it's actually in the way that I'm thinking of it. I also know that there's a lot of games that have a setting where the main villain is a fallen hero, but that doesn't really count because you don't really get to see the villain before he became as such. You don't get to feel as the hero feels, and you don't get to understand, even if you disagree, with his fall. And you will likely disagree with the fall, but it will be understandable. Not something like "The Empire is also evil" or "I was tricked by a witch" or something like that, but just a genuine temptation from evil for something that is obvious and reasonable. Someday, I will find these games and it will be an awesome day indeed, but until then I fear I'll just have to make do with my lovely anti-heroes which are neat all the same.
Jack the Ripper is still so awesome because REVENGEANGE is so awesome you guys