Written by: Adam “ManKorn” Korenman, CC2K Video Games Editor
4) Non-Psychotic Protagonists
If you’ve read my column before, you know that I think the Uncharted series is one of the best in gaming history. That said, it suffers from one of gaming’s worst tropes: the Psychotic Protagonist. Nathan Drake, for all his lovable charm and pithy one-liners, straight up kills about a thousand people over the course of three titles. By the second entry in the series, he is sneaking up on enemies and breaking their necks, often in horrifically graphic ways.
And the trend is all over the place. Niko Bellic of GTA IV struggles with the horrible actions of his past life, and then proceeds to break every law known to man when he moves to America. This isn’t a trend known only to games, of course. We see action movie stars mow down so many bad guys that it is almost comical.
But, taken out of context, it really robs our main characters of the moral high ground. Nathan faces off against some pretty dark forces, but we only see them kill two or three people over the course of a few hours of gameplay. That’s a paltry number compared to the pile of bodies left in our own wake. The same is true in Watch Dogs, Fallout, GTA V, Assassin’s Creed, and even The Last of Us. The only game I’ll give a pass to is God of War, since you are playing a character hell-bent on killing EVERYONE. Seriously. Kratos should be called the God of Death.
The problem is that game designers see a higher enemy count as indicative of headier action. Alien: Isolation could have been a much better game if they had kept the antagonist list a lot shorter. A single alien and maybe one or two others and you have a serious situation on your hands. But instead, they decided to throw an army of murder-eyed androids into the mix, just to “liven things up.”
So what is it we really want?
How about a good guy who is really good? Who deals with the brain-frying stress of combat in a more realistic way? Think Spec Ops: The Line but with less soldier-type protagonists and more average-joe. In fact, why not try modeling your character after Clive Owen in Children of Men. Over the course of that awesome movie, Clive never so much as picks up a gun, and yet he is no less bad ass than any other action hero.
In fact, I would wager to say that a hero who kills less is more impressive.
We are starting to see some of that mentality coming through. Dishonored rewarded players for subduing guards rather than killing them. Metal Gear is all about that tactical espionage action. But the closest we’ve come to seeing this type of hero is in the Batman: Arkham series.
Sadly, there is nothing on the horizon that looks to break away from the tradition of the mass-murdering hero. It will take a very brave design team to implement a “less-is-more” approach to the enemy count, and even more talent to make it fun for gamers.
Here’s to hoping it will happen soon.