Hello and welcome to our new weekly article series: 5+. Think of 5+ as a top ten list series but with some serious changes. First, these are not “top” lists as I’ll be relying on my own gaming experiences for entries and there are many games out there that I have yet to play. I’m simply listing 5 examples of whatever topic I pick for the week and explaining why these examples stand out. Second, after listing my own examples one week, the next week will be spent discussing five suggestions offered in the comments by you. Remember to explain why you chose that example because I will have to rely on quoting you should I use a suggestion from a game I’ve yet to play. If you still don’t see your favorite featured, know that I am willing to use the same subject multiple times in these columns if I am confident that I still have enough material to discuss. Finally, this series will be focusing on video games in an academic sense. Focus on examples that bring something unique to video games as an art form. For example, this week is focused on video game heroes that stand apart from heroes in other media. You could suggest Master Chief for next week’s list but make your argument more substantial than you thinking that he’s a pretty cool guy who kills aliens and doesn’t afraid of anything.
Adapting historical events into video games is not an easy task. Video games need to give players freedom to act upon the game at their own will while history is a defined sequence of events. Building a game that gives the player freedom while also staying true to historic events is a difficult task for any developer. The Assassin’s Creed series has found an effective solution for this problem with the Animus. The historic events seen in the game are not happening in real-time but are being simulated for Desmond Miles as he tries to relive the events of his ancestors. This context allows players to make slight deviations from events as they historically happened but does encourage them to act precisely according to history in order to achieve full synchronization. Granted, the portrayal of history in Assassin’s Creed is far from perfect with its broad strokes of good-versus-evil and its intrusive Templar conspiracy storyline but it is still a brilliant technique at its core with unlimited potential.
There are many games that we play in order to feel powerful. As such, games that appeal to this concept tend to design the heroes to be as strong and skillful as possible. However, the simple fact is that many players are not skilled enough to maintain the hero’s established image all throughout the game. There are endless instances of players and, by extension, the hero of the story making mistakes that such a character should be above committing. It’s with this concept in mind that I have decided to give Phoenix Wright a spot on the list. Wright is clever and passionate enough to make it through his court cases but still young and inexperienced enough that he isn’t forced to break character should the player just start guessing at answers. Regardless of the player’s skills, Wright always acts as he himself would.
I see Link as having the same benefits as sci-fi icon Doctor Who in that their backgrounds have been written in such a way that it is impossible for either character to ever truly become stale. The spirit of the hero is reborn as a different “Link” in whatever era he is needed and is someone new every time. There are core aspects to him that remain constant such as being too good to ever harm innocent people but still mischievous enough to raid their pottery for supplies. However, it is rarely the exact same person appearing in two different games in the series. This is how Link can go from a wide-eyed child in a colorful world in The Wind Waker to being a werewolf allied with a dark imp in Twilight Princess. In fact, as one hacker has proven, Link’s character can even transcend gender with ease. The only problem is that, while Link has the potential to star in almost any story, that potential has merely had its surface scratched in the series’ 27 year history and Link has mostly been a typical tabula-rasa protagonist. Still, the highly malleable universe that The Legend of Zelda series offers to writers ensures that there will be plenty to said in the franchise’s many more years ahead.
Shadow of the Colossus is one of the games that people immediately put forward to prove the artistic merits of video games and for good reason. Wander initially appears to be your typical hero on a quest to save his beloved Mono by slaying a series of fearsome monsters. However, it quickly becomes clear to the player that something is amiss as slaying Colossi always concludes with Wander being struck with foreboding black tentacles. The tentacles are clearly harmful to Wander and even subtly alter his appearance throughout the game. More concerning is the battle with the fourth colossus, Phaedra, which can hardly be called a battle as the colossus makes no attempt to harm his opponent but is still slayed like the rest. At this point, it should be obvious that the being who tasked Wander with slaying the colossi, Dormin, is scheming something but our hero continues his mission without question to the end. By the game’s end, Wander proves to be the greatest monster of them all as his obsession with reviving Mono has blinded him to all logic and reason and puts the world at risk for his own selfish goals.
It is fascinating to see a character that never speaks a line and has almost no scripted actions throughout two games yet still has so much personality. Since childhood, her only interactions have been with mad A.I.s that have tried their best to kill her. Said machines have forced her to take part in a wide-variety of “tests” that often involve hazardous chemicals and may have left her with brain damage. Even more than Phoenix Wright, Chell is able to perform any insane action the player instructs her to while staying completely in character whether it’s jumping to certain death or imitating the rare endangered spy-crab. At the same time, a glimpse of an old science project of hers in Portal 2 shows that she is also intelligent enough to overcome the deranged trials she is forced to endure and ultimately defeat her adversaries. She is the perfect avatar to carry us through the Portal games while still being a compelling character on her own. Chell is precisely what a good video game hero should be.
That concludes our first foray into 5+. Let me know who I missed in the comments below and I’ll see you again next week for the user picks.