In the comments section of my last blog, Dreamweaver suggested that I write a “10 things about you blog”. This was my initial plan, and the first idea that I had was to think of a video game character who was most like me. I've been gaming since I was very young, and so surely there would be some character I could identify with, right? It actually proved incredibly difficult to find any protagonist that didn't fit into certain stereotypes. Unfortunately I'm not an anthropomorphic animal and so I had to look at the male, human characters. Just for reference I'd say I'm of average height, a bit overweight, white, average looks and a thoroughly beta male personality.
I decided to look at my video game collection. It struck me that very few of the games I own feature anything other than the stereotypical Alpha male as the protagonist. Strong, tall, attractive, very well built,charming, clever, sharp, hip, dedicated to their cause. Every character on the street fighter poster on my wall looks like they could kill a man. Even Dhalsim. Mario may be an overweight, moustachioed man, who works in domestic services, but you can't deny that he's pulling above his weight with Princess Toadstool, or any of the other women in his life. I'm not saying that we should always play as characters that look like they would fit in on the big bang theory, or on the biggest loser but surely there should be some variation right?
Modern Shooters tend to include characters who either work for the army, or look as if they could. Do they represent the modern gamer? They certainly make up a large element of the modern gaming market. Nathan Drake, Joel from the last of us. Marcus Phoenix. Master Chief. Aiden Pearce. It seems like the protagonist of most of the big titles present men as the alpha. The dominant athletic killer. Jumping through obstacles, soaking up bullets. Is this the way we as gamers see ourselves? Or do we just not have much of a choice about it?
Gaming isn't alone here. Look at the blockbuster films of this summer. Captain America, Wolverine from the X men, Mark Wahlberg in Transformers, and the Expendables. Huge men. Even uber geek Peter Parker seems to have lost his nerdy characterisation for this current iteration. We're used to seeing strong athletic men in the leading roles. This is hardly a new trend for Hollywood either. Over the years Charlton Heston, Yul Brunner and Arnold Schwarzenegger have all played the Hollywood hunk. Maybe it's more believable if the hero is played by this kind of character. But at least in film I can think of several characters who don't fit the description. Donnie Darko, Walter Mitty, Napoleon Dynamite and pretty much anyone played by Jack Black.
I understand the concept that in gaming we are looking for escapism. An opportunity to escape the mundanity of day to day living, and become a larger than life character. Be the hero you always wished you could be! But at the same time, when given an opportunity to create a character, a lot of us will spend a lot of time creating ourselves in the character creator. Doesn't this indicate that we want to play as ourselves? Most of the Mii's or Avatars that I've seen have been designed to look like the user.
I found the Infamous games really interesting to look at in terms of character. Delsin Rowe doesn't fit the standard hard man criteria of most blockbusters, and is in fact a petty vandal of average build, but he is given powers which turn him into an unstoppable force. This worked really well for the game in terms of a power fantasy but there were even a few disheartening things about Delsin. The main one of these was the fact that in the latter stage of the game, when he met up with Eugene, he clearly thought he was better than him. For those of you who haven't played second son, Eugene is a stereotypical geek character who also has secret powers. He was a fanatical gamer, who had issues with people in general and especially girls. Our protagonist would often mock him for these elements of his personality. In truth it felt as if the makers of the game were trying to play the cool card, “Hey you're playing one of our games but at least you're not geeky like this”
Beat em up games offer a wide variety of participants that can vary quite dramatically from the normal alpha style of characters. While I mentioned Street Fighter earlier its worth considering that Vega is especially flamboyant, and it has long been suggested (but never confirmed to my knowledge) that Zangief is homosexual. Some of the characters are fat, some are thin, and some are not even fully human. Dynasty warriors is another (non western) example of a game which features wildly different characters. Some display strong alpha personalities, whereas other are noticeable for their largely overweight bodies, or flamboyant speech styles. In both of these games though there is something which you can say about all of the characters. They are all vicious fighters. It's worrying that after considering which video game character I'm most like, that I'm going to have to retract my earlies statement about anthropomorphic animals and pick Octodad.
Happily though I can say I did find my likeness. I looked at my Nintendo collection, and realised there were all sorts of protagonists here. Mario is a player so I couldn't pick him. Luigi was too thin, and Wario and Waluigi were too mean. Starfox and Donkey Kong are not human, and Kirby just terrifies me. The protagonist that I'm thinking of is Captain Olimar. A reluctant hero, Olimar is a curious and mostly peaceful man, who's interested in plant life and animals. He's not too tall, a bit overweight, white, has average looks and a thoroughly beta male personality. It took a while but I finally found my guy.
And then it hit me. I know that there are a large amount of people who play video games, and I can't pretend to know anything about the majority of these people. I have not conducted serious research like a big company would. But from talking to people over the years about video games, and through reading a lot of blogs, magazines and articles about games and gamers, I've always had the impression that there are a lot of “geeky” personalities who play these games. Certainly not many of them fit the do or die, vicious, alpha athletic machine men that we play as within the games. I consider myself part of the entitled white heterosexual male audience which video games are primarily marketed at. If I find it so difficult to identify with a character, just think how hard someone outside of this entitled group would find it.
Thanks for taking the time to read this blog, and cheers for the feedback on the last one, I really appreciated it. This one went off tangent from the “10 things about you” that I was originally gonna do, but I will get back to that one soon. Rowdy Rhod aka Captain Olimar signing out.