If you take a look at the gaming landscape, you might think gamers have a God complex; we're always playing as characters that are powerful, nearly unstoppable beings. Whether we're shooting electricity out of our hands while we grind power lines, using an arsenal of weapons to single-handedly destroy entire platoons, or actually killing Gods, many video game characters are given an excess amount of power and tools to topple any obstacle.

But not every digital hero is armed with a machine gun and the capacity to exterminate everything in its path. Let's take a moment to analyze some of video game's more humble protagonists. The weak and the flawed. The characters that have all the odds stacked against them. The ones who get kicked to the ground only to stand back up and take further beatings.

Abe (Oddworld)

Let's examine out hero:

  • He has stitched lips
  • He is very skinny and apparently malnourished
  • He seems clueless
  • He carries the burden of saving an entire species from slavery

Abe has a lot going against him. He is able to possess his foes, and he's very sneaky; however, past that he doesn't get much to work with in the way of keeping himself alive. Abe's arsenal seems like it's filled with tools fit for a ten-year-old schoolyard bully: farts and rocks. For a guy who has to shut down a corporation and rescue a group of manic depressants, you would think he would invest in some more serious weaponry.

As if his primitive approach to offense wasn't bad enough, Abe's frail and easily-killable body also highlights just how hard he's got it. Wanna guess how many bullets it takes to kill the hungry looking green guy wearing a loincloth? If your answer was anything over one, you have far too much faith in our fragile friend.

That thing better be made out of Kevlar...


Ethan Mars (Heavy Rain)

A young journalist with night terrors. A weathered detective dealing with daddy issues. A federal agent trying to kick a drug habit. Heavy Rain is filled with characters that have some serious issues, but none of them quite match up to the problems the game's leading man has to deal with.

Within an hour or so into the game, Ethan Mars demonstrates to the audience how completely depressing and horrible everything about his life is. His downward spiral starts off with his laissez-faire approach to parenting, leading to the death of his oldest son. Dealing with the psychological and physical trauma of losing a child sends Ethan's life into a dark place where he is divorced from his wife and regular hygienic rituals.

I don't wanna point fingers, but someone sucks at watching his kids

The events that follow are pretty much out of a script for a Fear Factor episode but with less boiled-chunks-of-animal scenes and more cutting-off-you-own-appendages scenes.By the end of the game (and mind you this is if you get the good ending), Ethan has crawled through glass, been electrocuted, caused major traffic accidents, been chased by police, and cut off a chunk of his own hand. It's not often, in games or any medium for that matter, that a protagonist gets kicked so hard while he's down.

Imagine how difficult this would be if Joe Rogan was yelling at you the entire time

Mario/Jumpman (Donkey Kong)

Nintendo left out a very important part of Donkey Kong's original 1981 narrative. The key, plot-developing scene was a phone call between Mario and the owner of a construction site inhabited by a gorilla. It went like this:


Mario Brothers Plumbing, how can I help you?

Construction Worker

Hey, I've got like a monkey or something wrecking my scaffolding out here. Can you come take care of this?


Sir, this is a plumbing company, you should contact animal control.

Construction Worker

C'mon, man. He stole some blond chick and climbed up the building we're working on. It's really disturbing our work flow.

Mario (sighing)

Sir, there isn't much we can do to hel-

Construction Worker

I'll pay you, just come get this thing off my site so we can get back to work. I bet the girl will dig it, too.


Fine, we'll be there shortly. Please don't provoke the animal any further.

I never understood Donkey Kong's obsession with barrels...

Mario is a craftsman; his training resides in the area of repairing and maintaining infrastructure. His first foray into animal disposal armed him with nothing more than the ability to jump. And jump he did. Our mustached hero had to leap over everything an oversized gorilla had to throw at him: barrels, fire, barrels that were on fire, and vaguely illustrated springy things.

Old Snake (Metal Gear Solid 4)

Okay, sure, he's probably one of the toughest characters in gaming. And yes, he is genetically, mentally, and physically trained to be a stealth killing machine. However, by the time we get to MGS4, Snake isn't the strapping young lad who could take out a tank with just a hop, skip, and a grenade. He's actually on the brink of death throughout the game, coughing and groaning the entire time.

...yet he continues with his unhealthy lifestyle choices...

Even the player has to deal with Snake getting old. His back will occasionally give out on a dive roll, making him stunned for a moment. It's certainly something you don't want to deal with if you're in the middle of a firefight. It's also not a very stealthy technique.

Snake's sense of shame was probably lost with advanced age

You (Dark Souls)

Remember that time you were playing Call of Duty and you got 25 kills in a row without dying and you called in that nuke and you ended the game and you did all of that because you're so awesome and talented? Well, whatever confidence you've built from playing games you are good at pretty much gets beaten to death when you play Dark Souls. The worst part? Your character isn't flawed. Nope, that guy is capable of completing the game quickly and efficiently. So what's the problem? You. You're terrible and Dark Souls wants to remind you of how terrible you are.

Is it me or did it just get a little meta up in here?

Every luxury you've taken for granted in gaming is stripped away, leaving only you and your complete lack of skill. Want to stock pile on health items before that big boss? Nope. How about save up all those souls so you can buy an item or gain a level? Sure, you can do that, but if you die you're gonna have a horrible time trying to get back the only currency in the game. And if you die twice, kiss your hard work goodbye. Dark Souls doesn't even have a pause screen. Go ahead and try. Hit start. See what happens. See? The game is still going.

Dark Souls is designed so that you're given just the right amount of help to not completely fail; the tools are there, you just have to figure out how to not die while using them. Feeling so overwhelmed and beaten down can be a very rewarding experience upon success, but the journey to the You Defeated screen can be a harsh one.

Actually, I made a graph illustrating how playing Dark Souls may affect your physical health:

I know what you're saying: nice penmanship. What can I say? It's a gift.

Playing as the untouchable protagonist is always fun. After all, video games are a great form of escapism, and what better way to escape than by pretending you're something awe-inspiring and amazing? But it's always a rich experience to feel the struggle of a character, to feel like you actually overcame an obstacle. The journey is usually harsher, but the victory ends up being much sweeter.