Becoming a hero – Not being one

Video games are not about realism. And even if they were, they´d have already failed at it. Perfect realism isn´t something that developers or consumers should strive for. But I have one complaint that may be related to the matter of realism in video games: Don´t put me, the player, always into the shoes of some preset hero, some guy with superpowers or some ultra badass. Keep the ingame-avatar down to earth.

The concept of taking control over an unrealistic super hero stems from the very beginning of video games. Back then you defended earth with you pixelated space ship, now you´re the Master Chief, the perfect killing machine. Or you are Link, the eternal hero, chosen by the holy triforce and given its power. Or you´re the special bounty hunter called Samus Aran that slays whole armies of enemies all by herself. These are the typical video game avatars you play as today. And even if it´s not about physical super powers, there are games that feature unrealistically smart characters that are super powered in their own way. Super powers have been great for decades, but isn´t it time for some change?

An example of a popular franchise that went a bit of that way is Halo. Halo: ODST puts you into the body of a not-super special guy. It´s only a bit of the way towards “down to earth-guys”, but the ODST-guys are far from being the killing machine that the Spartan Master Chief is. In that game, you encounter known enemies, but have to think of completely different attack approaches as they can kill you much faster and take more of your shots. While being very different in feeling from the main-games, ODST found many fans. There is another video game series that could take the same approach, but chose not to do so so far. Talk is about Metroid. Fans might remember that great cutscene at the beginning of Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, that showed how the Ing attacked the group of Federal Space Troopers. Since that cutscene I want a Metroid Prime-spin off that puts the player into such a Federal Space Trooper. Metroid Prime 3: Corruption strengthened that desire when they showed how normal Federal Space Troopers used the Phazon Enhancement Device (PED) to gain super strength for a short amount of time. A game based off being a Federal Space Trooper could offer such a great level of immersion, leaving you as a NOT almighty guy. The worst offender, in a way, though, is the Legend of Zelda-series. So far, it was always a young, brave boy chosen by the triforce. But said boy always presented itself as a super powered hero. Big part of that is his green tunic, which I already wrote about. But that´s just a part of the misconcept of modern Link. Shigeru Miyamoto claims the Zelda-series to be about exploration of an unknown world, but only as a real innocent youngling can this concept stay true to its old meaning. A hero warrior, that Link became more and more, game by game, isn´t someone you believe to be innocent. Again, make it all more down to earth. Less talk about “the chosen one”. Which brings me to another point.

“We´re not the Chief, but we´ll give our best.”

The whole concept of there being a “chosen one” is seriously boring and out-dated. There is nothing more boring than a chosen one, who has to follow his fate and do something just because “it is said” to be done by him. Bo-o-ring! Think of it like that, which would you rather like to play: The game, where a shiny knight sets out to save a princess…or the game, where a shiny knight dies at the beginning of the game, and a completely unrelated farm boy finds the knights armor and sword, and takes on the knights mission, out of pure lust for adventure. It is these average Joes that make a game more interesting. When you have badass characters like Dante, Solid Snake, Sam Fisher or Samus Aran, you already know that everything will be okay, that you´re awesome, that you´re powerful. But if you play the same story from the perspective of a normal person, it becomes exciting…because you cannot predict what will happen (sure, you´re still supposed to win the game, but doing so without super powers is just more interesting).

Setting out to do what I choose to do

I look at all these super powered heroes and can´t help but think: They were okay…when I was a kid. Playing some strong guy, when I myself was a child was interesting, because “pwning” enemies felt great. Now I´m grown-up (my body, at least) and I´m more interested in questions like “what would it be like if I myself were to do these missions?” And I don´t know the answers, because developers keep making games with heroes. That´s why I like the concept of games like The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion (but not its execution). That´s why Half Life felt great (and Half Life 2, as well, but all NPCs kept talking about you as if you were their messiah, which was kind of off-putting). It´s why the concept of the Zelda-series is great.

I guess it comes down to: Do I want to immerse myself in the game, or do I want to “pwn” some evil guys? Because that´s the big difference between realistic and unrealistic player characters. There is Halo and there is GRAW. There is Metroid and Halo: ODST. There is Zelda and  Oblivion. And all those games show the stark contrast between being a hero…or an unlucky guy who got himself into some shit. I for one prefer being the guy covered in shit. How about you?

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