Heroes, Part 1

Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Heroes are everywhere. As long as we have walked this planet, we've spoken of heroes. From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Superman and Captain America, every culture throughout time has had heroes of their own. Joseph Campbell wrote that a hero is "one who has given his or her life for something bigger than oneself."

There are many types of heroes in history and myth. The Romantic hero who holds his or her own truths above societal norms, the Chivalric hero who holds to a solid ethical code, and the Mythic hero who exhibits strengths and talents beyond that of normal men and many many more. All these heroes are present in the games we play, whether the developers read The Power of Myth or not.

Of these many heroes however, the Mythic Hero is by far the most common in today's video games. Kratos, Master Chief, Ryu Hayabusa, the list goes on. Every one of them has abilities and characteristics that put them head and shoulders above the average man. Kratos (equal parts anti-hero and promethean hero he may be) has the powers of a God. Master Chief is a genetically enhanced, cybernetic super-soldier. Ryu has mastered secret and magical ninjutsu arts and made himself more supernatural being that man.

While the Mythic hero is a wonderful template for game heroes, especially potential franchises, I would argue that these are not the most compelling heroes out there. The sheer power exuded from these characters, while exciting and fun to experience, makes them harder to relate to from a personal perspective.

Superpowers are great to play around with but the most compelling heroes, those that really reached me as a child and even now are those that had the everyman quality. Figures such as Batman and Paul Sant, average men thrust into impossible situations.

I think I relate to these characters because I can see myself in their place easier than I can characters like Superman. I'm not from another planet, despite what some of my grade school friends might have told me, I can't stop a train with my bare hands. If I'm shot, I will likely die.

This is what I like so much about ODST. I've played through the Halo campaigns as a SPARTAN countless times, I've beaten every game on Legendary yet I've never felt more vulnerable than I did playing ODST. Despite the challenges I faced as the Chief, I never felt outmatched by my enemies. I was a secret weapon, a war winner. Now I'm just a futuristic paratrooper.

I've always loved the Halo games for their variety, design and gameplay. The Chief and I go back a long time, but playing as the Rookie is a far more visceral, far more real experience for me. I have to worry about how much cover I have during a battle and for once I'm actually worried about letting my enemy get close.

The Master Chief may have sacrificed much of his humanity to become what he is, but the Rookie and the rest of his squad willingly volunteered to fight a war against insurmountable odds and even then, put themselves into the very worst of the fighting. These people have truly given their lives for something greater than themselves.