It’s the same plot for any video game protagonist: We begin our story to find insurmountable odds stacked against us, we’ve confronted an entity with power far superior to our own, or we have awoken to a mysterious destiny that we are compelled to follow, and sometimes our story is a combination of all three. As a protagonist, we may face all these challenges, yet fall short of being considered a true hero. Time to explore the elements necessary to create a popular hero or antihero.
There is a pretty strict structure to what most of us look for in a hero. To truly appreciate the struggle of a protagonist we need someone who is selfless and willing to go to extreme lengths to help those in need. Completing unnecessarily long quests for a small reward can often be frustrating, but without that we fail to prove our worth as a competent hero. Even once we have completed every mission and driven away the evil, all we are left holding is the accomplishment of a good deed. For some of us, the satisfaction of saving the world for people we barely knew is enough, and we can slip into the shadows to just disappear. One game comes to mind where the hero was sent back through time to relive his childhood, leaving no one to write songs of the dangers he faced to save the kingdom. Others need that recognition, maybe a simple reward of a chili cheese dog, or the entire journey was a waste of time. Every once in a while we might not survive, like the time we were a prince on a road trip to our wedding, only to die for our kingdom.
Not all protagonists fit into the same mold. We may emerge from a past filled with war and lost everyone we loved. One game in particular we killed our family all thanks to a god, suffered unimaginable darkness, only to seek revenge on the god that cursed us. We’re supposed to be the hero, so why are we slaying all of these people? Because in our hearts we know we are fighting a greater evil. What about the time we won a beam katana during an auction on the internet, and made a goal out of becoming the number one assassin in the association? These protagonists follow a less righteous journey, but have our full support out of a desire to succeed.
Have you ever related to a protagonist? Some might say they have, which is great, but most do not. You may have noticed in this article that I’ve constantly referred to the protagonist as being ‘us’, or ‘we’, and that is intentional. Whether you are answering the call of a princess, saving the world from annihilation, or training for the next evolution, you as the player have assumed the role of the main character, the protagonist. For this reason, many of them are left hollow and you fill their personality. This gives us the opportunity to feel and react in their place for the situations we’re presented in the story. This, I’ve come to realize, is the greatest difference: We often relate to a compelling antagonist, but the player shares the emotions of a well crafted protagonist. Every story needs a hero, whether we win, lose, or sacrifice ourselves for the greater good, and the game is better when we come away feeling as if we have lived their journey.