Accidental Hero - Why I can't help being the good guy
- The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
- Dragon Age
Words by Mick Fraser
I am not, by my nature, particularly altruistic. I don't give to charity, outside the odd collection box or guilt response to a NSPCC advert; I don't feed the poor, help the homeless or pet stray cats. I've never saved a life that I'm aware of nor cured any diseases, prevented a major catastrophe or even given blood (I would do, but there's a policy against taking it when a person is unconscious, which is the only time you'll get a needle in me without protest).
Which is not to say I’m a bad person, by the way. I’ve also never commited a crime, deliberately bullied anyone, sat and pulled the legs off a fly or allowed a good friend to go outside in a floral shirt. I’m simply a normal person, Joe Average, someone who, with a hard enough push, might well go either way over the good / evil divide.
But not when I’m playing games. When I’m playing games, I become a veritable paragon, a bastion of honour and virtue, an unbending saint in pursuit of truth and justice and “perfect” endings. Which is odd because, arguably, one of the main reasons to play videogames these days is to escape the humdrum “norm” and experiment with alternate versions of ourselves.
As soon as I realised someone had to be sacrificed, I practically jumped down the Archdemon's throat
But I can’t. I’ve gone back through many a game for a second or third time and deliberately taken the dark or evil route just to see what happens, but during that all-important first playthrough, when instinct as much as morality dictates the choices that shape my story, I can’t bring myself to play “evil”. Most of the time it’s an unconscious thing.
The first time I reached the finale of Dragon Age: Origins, it was impossible to kill a repentant Loghain even to the detriment of my Warden’s relationship with Alistair; it was impossible to give Morrigan my child (or Loghain’s) – and when the game offered me the choice of sacrificing my character or electing another, I threw myself willingly into that abyss without a second thought. It seemed the only right thing to do. For the sake of completion and experience I later experimented with all the endings, but during that first time, the one that counts, I couldn’t make an evil choice.
I never once took the canonical choice at the end of Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, always choosing to sacrifice Kain and save Nosgoth even after Soul Reaver made a pointless mockery of such heroism. I struggled with Bioshock when it required me to smash Adam Ryan’s head in. I couldn’t kill Letho at the end of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. I have never, ever, sat on the balcony of Tenpenny Tower and watched Megaton go bye-bye. I even wasted countless hours playing Halo on Heroic or Legendary and trying to keep all the marines alive.
Unarguably, Shepard works better as a hard-nosed bitch, but my original Shep was a real soft-touch
My Mass Effect save file containing every choice and consequence from all three games and attached DLC is a testament to my goodie-two-shoesness. The single Renegade act commited throughout the entire story was punching that damned reporter (it’s ironic that on a subsequent playthrough I discovered that the whole story and character of Shepard works better as a Renegade woman and, as a result, fell irrevocably in love with FemShep). Even when these “good” choices resulted in a loss of loyalty in a teammate or even their death, I couldn’t bring myself to reload and take the easy route. My time with my first, sacred Shepard is a masterclass in doing the right thing no matter the consequences.
Why do I behave this way? I don’t know. It would be nice to think that it’s because my automatic, instinctive responses to the moral choices presented in videogames reflect my real world personality. But it’s probably simpler than that. It’s probably more to do with the warm, fuzzy feeling I get whenever I do anything remotely nice for someone in the real world and the fact that I don’t feel it enough in games when I’m flagrantly gunning people down.
Or maybe I’m just a big old wuss. Either way, I do often wonder what I’m missing out on. Arguably, simply selecting the correct action for the character you’re playing is the “right” way through a game. Destroying the rachni because Shepard likely would is probably the “correct” choice (if such a thing exists), whereas opting not to incinerate a huge genocidal insect because at the time it’s not eating your face seems somehow stupid in hindsight.
I wanted to kill Letho for most of the story until I found out he wasn't all bad, at which point I let him go. Wuss
I imagine there’re plenty of gamers out there who are the exact opposite, who feel somehow incomplete if they don’t wipe out the denizens of Bowerstone every couple of days or who have never once turned down the opportunity to pop that atomic bomb in the centre of Megaton. But for me, it’ll always be the “good” option first, always the Paragon, the Light Side, the heroic sacrifice.
I think, if I’m dead honest, it’s because I simply like doing the right thing. I don’t believe in being cruel and unusual just because the option is there; I don’t think unnecessary murder or casual torture is particularly fun, even if it is only in a game. I think nothing of blasting, slicing or driving my way through hordes of aliens, demons, terrorists, zombies or criminals – but they deserve it. The good people of Albion don’t. The rachnii don’t. The poor old woman Alex Mercer just bloodily absorbed certainly didn’t.
But then the beauty of modern video games is that the choice is yours and there’s something out there to cater for pretty much anyone. I just like being a hero now and then. Feels good.
Words by Mick Fraser (Twitter: @Jedi_Beats_Tank)
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