The Makings of a Hero - Tyler Lee Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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The Makings of a Hero

As some of you may know, I graduated college with a degree in English/Literature, which means I really enjoying looking at things from an analytical, philosophical, literary, and/or sociological perspective, especially things I love (books, comics, movies, video games). That is basically what this piece is about, me analyzing what a hero is in video games. I hope you enjoy.

Heroes are an abundant archetype when it comes to the media, whether it is literature, film, or video games. We worship them, hate them, strive to be more like them. Within these gallant warriors and do-gooders lie many different ways to define them, from what they do, to how they act; from the journey they take to the personality that processes their decisions. In this piece I will attempt to categorize video game heroes into three different types, depending on how they are played, as well as discuss the overarching element of "the hero's journey" that the hero takes that shapes him into who he is. For the record, as far as I know I made these types up. If you can think of a better classification system, then that's great, this is just how I perceive them.

Part 1: Distinguishing Heroes - From The Hero of Time to The Last Free Man

I'm sure anyone could come up with several more sub-types or categories of heroes, but from what I've played, there seems to be three distinct types of heroes in video games. It is within these three types that the gameplay is defined and shapes the overall experience for the player.

The first type is probably the most common; let's call this type the Detached Hero. This kind of hero is always third-person. You can see them, and know that they are a separate entity from the player. They are simply the character you control. This is where the detached label comes in. The Detached Hero also has a mostly predetermined quest; all the decisions have already been made. The player simply pushes the hero through the already chosen path. This means that there are little to no choices for the actually player to make, or the choices are so miniscule that they have virtually no affect on the outcome of the story or quest.

Examples of a Detached Hero are ones like Mario, Link, Mega Man, and Nathan Drake. These characters are always seen at all times and the player never really feels like they are truly in their shoes. In the Legend of Zelda, gamers know they are Link desperately trying to rescue the princess (Despite being able to name "Link" something else. Like mentioned above, this is a choice that has no affect on the game itself). The same could be said for the Uncharted series; You are Nathan Drake. These hero's tasks/quests/missions are also highly predetermined, and simply have you carry them out through the character.

The second type of hero, the Personalized Hero, is very prevalent in games from developer Bioware, such as Jade Empire or the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series. The name stems from the player's ability to make this character "personal" to them. This hero is mostly seen in third-person (With a few exceptions we'll get into later), but instead of being merely a premade character like Mario or Nathan Drake, the Personalized Hero is often times created in some way by the player. The gamer is allowed to create the hero (sometimes from scratch), choose their gender, appearance, fighting style, backstory on occasion, etc. These options are common throughout many Western RPGs like the ones mentioned above.

Like the name suggests, players will often times make the character look similar to them, personalizing it. Alternatively, players often also choose to make the character look completely different from them, but still have an appearance that they like, again, making the character's appearance "personal."

Another identifier for the Personalized Hero is the option of choices allowed to the player. Games like Mass Effect, Infamous, and Dragon Age allow the player to make choices, whether they are part of dialogue, combat, or other situations. Perhaps the player must choose a dialogue option that supports their comrades or reprimands them for something, or a choice in combat to show mercy and spare an enemy or kill them then and there. Unlike the Detached Hero, these choices can (And most of the time, do) have lasting, often long term affects on the story of the game. In the Mass Effect series, choices made in the first and second game can have long reaching consequences all the way into the final installment of the trilogy. Again, the name for this type of hero comes from players often making the choices they feel they would make in the situation. They may also choose, instead to act as they would, to act completely different, still making the character's choices a big investment.


The third category of hero can be called the Embodied Hero, due to the perception the player has, seeing and acting from the hero's point of view, creating the illusion that the controlled character is the embodiment of the player, within in the game. Series that take advantage of this type of hero are the Call of Duty and Halo franchises, but more so (And possibly most successfully executed) in the Half-Life and Portal series by developer Valve. Throughout these games, the player is inserted into the role of hero and sees everything from the first-person perspective, giving the appearance of the player actually seeing the journey through the actual hero's eyes. Many may think that these types of heroes are more at home in the Detached category, but I believe that perception makes all the difference. By inserting the player into the perspective of the hero, you change the experience that the player will have with the game itself.

Actual dialogue from the character is little to non-existent, usually to keep immersion in the moment and in the hero from breaking. The Halo series offers dialogue from the main character, Master Chief, but very little, where Half-Life never has the protagonist, Gordon Freeman, speak. Pushing immersion within the character further, the Half-Life series has no cut-scenes, but merely scripted events that continue to happen from the first-person perspective, allowing the player to experience the more intense story driving moments from the hero's perspective.

Obviously there are games and franchises that mix some of these types of characters. Bethesda's Elder Scrolls series is probably the best example. The Elder Scrolls series is a fine mix of the Personalized and Embodied Hero. Though played from the first-person perspective and having no cut-scenes, only moments the hero plays out from first-person, the series also offers players the ability to create and customize their character. The player can also make choices in dialogue and combat that can affect the overall outcome of the game itself.

Despite their differences and vastly diverse offerings of gameplay, each category of hero mentioned above has the potential to give the player an absolutely breathtaking and/or enjoyable experience. Within my list of favorite video games, each type of hero has a place.  The Detached Hero, for example, may seem like it has little to offer in both excitement and heroism, but that is definitely not the case. Link, Cloud from Final Fantasy VII, and Nathan Drake, though Detached Heroes, offer both epic and pulse pounding adventures for the player, and have been part of games and franchises that rank among many gamers "Best of" lists.  When it comes down to it, it is a combination of the type of hero the player controls, and the adventure/journey the hero takes the player on.

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