A thoughtful and personal exploration of games

What makes a great game? – Part 2: Heroes


So, we’ve discussed a bit on music and today I found myself asking the question: “Why do I play games?” This can extend into why I watch certain television programs or movies or read certain books, but I’ll hold it to games for now. In part, I think I play games to be the hero or at least be a party to something heroic.

This day and age we’re surrounded by “everyday heroes” in our police, firefighters, military, etc. These are all well and good and generally awesome, but I have to ask, are there any classic heroes any more? By classic, I refer to the knight in shining armor stereotype (yes, I know it never really existed, but stay with me on this). How about the Jedi Knight, the superhero (or team of superheroes), the wandering samurai, the battle-hardened special forces team that saves the Earth from certain destruction time and again? These examples all come from the classic heroes of old like Hercules and so forth. So, I suppose the stories have been updated, but why do I want to experience the story of a hero?

It’s possible that living the story of a hero through an interactive and immersive experience allows me to feel like I’m a hero too. That my life is more than just sitting in front of the computer or console. Games allow us to experience fantastic events vicariously. By assuming the role of the hero, we become invested. It’s more or less what I call the “one more turn” syndrome (updated to be the “five more minutes” syndrome).

Heroism gives us hope somehow. I’m not entirely sure about the why’s and wherefore’s but that’s my experience. When I’m witnessing the actions of a hero (either AS the hero in a game or reading about it or watching it in a movie or show) I have a feeling that everything will work out for the better. That somehow, the hero will pull through. In a way, the hero is the safe emotional investment (depending on the hero’s creator, Damn You David Willis!). You can frequently rely on the hero to be there tomorrow and the day after and the day after that. The hero usually grows, overcomes great adversity, and triumphs over an ultimate enemy of sorts. All the while, I remain enraptured. I want to do that. I want to be there.

Let’s look at some of the games I like:

  • X-COM UFO Defense – team of unnamed heroes (well, generic names, but no one stands apart from the others)
  • Final Fantasy VI – team of heroes, each with a special ability that makes them valuable
  • Lunar: Silver Star Harmony – again, a team of heroes, but the story revolves around Alex becoming more and more of a hero as the game progresses
  • Mass Effect – you’re Shepard, the actual shepherd of your flock of teammates and what you says goes where your personal motives and play-style dictate the direction of the game
  • Wing Commander – you are the hero, the pilot that saves your carrier time and again and over time the crew rewards you with trust and a compelling storyline and a reason to continue to protect that beloved carrier
  • The Monkey Island Series – Guybrush is something of an unlikely hero, but when he first arrived, he knew exactly what he wanted: to be a mighty pirate; he got it and THAT is what being a hero is all about
  • Dungeons & Dragons – a place to build up from nothing; going into a hero, D&D is a reflection of work ethic, attention span, and a firm grasp of the rules (aka, the world you work in)

Lastly, I’ll touch on Star Wars. Star Wars as a universe of movies, books, and games, encompasses a wide variety of heroes. You have the vanilla hero (Luke Skywalker) that starts as a nobody, but rises to to occasion and to great heights of heroism. You have the rogue-type hero (Han Solo) that starts out as a mischief-maker and winds up proving himself in the face of real danger and becoming a better person because of it. You have the headstrong princess (Leia, of course), who stays strong the whole time but appears to learn that strength must be tempered with patience and mercy, and of course, the occasional sleight of hand that she picks up from the rogue. Hell, there are degrees of reluctant heroes and anti-heroes and on and on.

I believe games speak to that inner being that so desperately wants to be the hero. No matter how wonderful or terrible your life is, a game can speak to you and bring you to a world where YOU are the hero, YOU are the center of the story, YOU make things happen and YOU are the most important person in the room. For those of us who go through life ignored or trampled, a game can give us the self-esteem and inspiration to push forward in our daily life or give us enough satisfaction with life that we don’t need to push so hard to get what we want on a daily basis. All by letting us play pretend for just a little while.

I’m not sure if this stayed on point the whole time, but essentially, I love to be the hero. I love to ride to the rescue, I love to prove that being prepared solves a ton of problems, I love to vanquish monsters and champion causes. Games let me be the knight in shining armor, the Shepard in N7 armor, and the Jedi in knight’s robes.

To tie this in with the music from Part 1, when the music lends itself to the moment where you show your heroism, where the music starts that crescendo, the trumpets sound,  and you defeat that dragon or Reaper or Sith… well, it’s no wonder I keep going back.

Until next time, keep playing the hero, and maybe it’ll stick!

– Elorfin

P.S. Yes, I know the stories of heroes are tales where the characters and events most likely did not exist. There are no actual fire-breathing dragons in the world and metaphorical dragons, however real and problematic, don’t really measure up to the mythological dragon we fantasize of defeating. Still, when I try to answer the classic question that schools ask schoolchildren (what do you want to be when you grow up?), I hate to say that astronaut, firefighter, or policeman doesn’t cut it any more! *laughs*

P.P.S. On a more psychological note, playing the hero in a game is quite possibly a way of addressing the feeling of unsuccessfulness in some aspect of life. By feeling satisfied in entertainment, one achieves some sort of parity between that and regular life. The more one plays the game and strives to save the day in a fictional setting, the more the player might need something similar in the real world. Just a theory. I know I play games in part as escapism, but also because they’re just plain enjoyable and I love a good soundtrack and a good story and… well, I’ll touch on it more in later posts!

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