Wednesday, June 2, 2010

We Can Be Heroes

Reading this article from Pop Matters inspired me to ponder the Apocalypse. Or, more specifically, the alternate reality settings many of our favorite games use to tell their stories. I favor the post-Apocalyptic settings because I think they provide an interesting landscape that speaks to the potentiality of society’s downfall in a variety of ways. We are often fighting against the disastrous results of what went wrong, searching for humanity amongst the rubble of corruption or supernatural force that has stolen control away. In Bioshock we are struggling to escape the mutated state of Andrew Ryan’s Utopia, because according to our perception what is happening in Rapture is wrong. We never see the mutations as a misstep in the progressive path of plasmid development and the game certainly doesn’t guide us into a scientific trial and error process to further Ryan’s dream. Why not? That story has potential as well. But in that context we are not saving a world gone wrong, we are assisting with its continual destruction. We are not heroes, we are villains.

In Borderlands you cruise through Pandora, a world abandoned by its corporate leaders and sent into chaos. Now, I understand that Pandora is a fictional world, but it certainly can be seen as the alternate history of a world abandoned by its economic infrastructure and left to fend for itself. You play a set of characters trying to create order from the dog eat dog world that remains. Why not play a set of characters destined to promote the ruffians subversive behavior and provoke continual discordance? That scenario isn't very humane and it doesn’t have a well placed end result that allows the player to feel heroic. I am currently playing Alan Wake and trying to save my wife from a perceived ‘Darkness’ by using ‘Light’ in a nightmare (alternate) reality. I could have easily played the part of the villain and directed the narrative from her point of view. But I want to save my wife and be a hero. I want to see the end cut scene where we reconcile and everything is glorious once again-me and you against the world, dear. I stayed strong to save the Princess even when she was ‘in another castle’ because I was Mario, the plumber with a heart of gold who could overcome all of the obstacles in his path to win her favor. I like being a hero. I don’t want to be a villain. I want to save the world from chaos and unrest over and over again in different ways. I want to feel as though I could handle any situation the universe could head our way-I’m prepared.

I was thinking about this when I spent a couple of hours back in Denerim (Aw, you thought Dragon Age was behind me? Think again!) last week playing the most recent DLC, The Darkspawn Chronicles. This time I was playing for the wicked team as a Hurlock assisting the Arch Demon in taking down Ferelden. It felt decidedly gross to slaughter all of your teammates one by one and I swear I almost choked up when I savagely gored Alistair to death. Even if I hadn’t spent 40+ hours loving my Warden party, I think it would still be strange to kill off the characters that are fighting for peace and harmony across the land. When I was playing as War in Darksiders I felt as though the widespread angel massacre was all in the name of justice and balance-same with Bayonetta, who was supposedly a character playing for the wrong side. There is always someone else whose evil nature outweighs your own (You think I’m bad? Check out this guy!).

I am sure there are plenty of games out there where you guide the most evil character you can think of to the high point of chaos, but I don’t think those are for me. I love being the savior and hero. And I especially love all of the storylines that craftily steer you through a post-Apocalyptic landscape where everyone is counting on you-whether you are saving your fellow man from corruption or saving the world from supernatural annihilation. And although a game centered on plasmid research and development might be interesting, using it to further Ryan’s megalomaniac dream just sounds f**king crazy.

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