When it comes to narrative and what people enjoy, the antagonists are generally considered more interesting than protagonists. This is because they are more interesting as a foil to the hero and are considered the point of change which drives the plot. While I certainly don’t believe in such a thing because I happen to enjoy protagonists more, I certainly can understand the appeal. Relating to an antagonist through escapism is not only an acceptable mode of appreciation for the game and the story of which it creates, but also because it is a cathartic experience to do things or see things done that are not allowed to be done legally. The same can be said of heroes who are not only aware of their vigilante efforts causing trouble for the common man, but who thrive on such perceptions in order to be more effective. These anti-heroes are known for being different and less morally right as the rest, but tend to still fight on the right side of the law because they feel strongly about what they fight for.
Today, we focus upon the anti-heroes. Those who fight for a moral cause but through rather immoral or personal means by their own choice. Games are interesting in this endeavor: Most focus upon or direct the player’s character into a heroic role but not exactly in the means and efforts of that role. While the players certainly act outside the bounds of moral heroism as far as that definition can entail, the character is generally seen as a hero because of the association towards the end of the story with their goal realized. The focus today will be to distill those actions and place them before a mirror for us to decide where they stand and give us a greater understanding of the people we are in control of. Let us begin.
Kratos (God of War)
This man really needs no introduction if you’re from the middle of the Playstation 2’s product line. The killer of Gods, the vengeful destroyer of all that is held dear to mankind from above, below or just in the middle. Kratos is a ravenous beast whom we control as we crest his never-ending wave of destruction and chaos against his mortal and immortal adversaries.
This is one of the most-blatant Anti-heroes ever conceived. Yes, the gods are clearly vengeful and immoral elitist beings on high who treat their subjects like mere servants and cattle to their very whim, but this guy threw a man down a Kraken’s gullet just for a key. Keeping the man alive wouldn’t even have inconvenienced him; it was just a callous display against human life. And one time would have been bad enough, but this same guy was tortured and killed two times more!
Even if this wasn’t enough, everything alive that he touches is killed or is indirectly killed in his wake. All for what, exactly? In the end, the world is free from divine tyranny but at the expense of total chaos: Their divine presence kept the world itself together.
Where he stays even as a hero in this context is his final act: killing himself out of redemption to prevent the world from truly knowing the level of suffering he went through. This comes about from an innocent death that even he regards as innocent and much like his own daughter dying once again. In another perspective, this specific person resigned herself to her fate because of Kratos’ need for vengeance. What his sacrifice entailed was more of a choice to allow humans the freedom to survive or die. That is heroic in certain ways, but far more indicative of a bittersweet notion of morality near the end that can never be explored.
Solid Snake (Metal Gear Solid series)
The legendary hero of Zanzibar Island and Outer Heaven may have the biggest fan base in terms of hero-worship just outside our next choice but he certainly doesn’t see it that way. All of his time as an agent, he could only see himself as a killer and cog in the system and honestly from all his codec transmissions, it seems rather true. Every member of FOXHOUND that he faces at Shadow Moses are more than just soldiers; they were people who gave their lives for an ideal that Snake could sympathize with and appreciate their skill on the battlefield. The world Big Boss wanted was one of the power and majesty of war bringing soldiers together in the harmony of battle. Snake and his brothers could only attempt to live in this philosophy because they could not find any identity for themselves other than combat. Otacon and Meryl stood at a place where neither one could hope to understand how he felt about war and how it had scarred them instead.
Solid Snake may have a moral compunction, but he does not act upon those feelings until the second Metal Gear Solid. As a private operation, he and Otacon can serve to right the horror of the Metal Gears but at the same time, limit how war becomes more of a financial commodity as the fourth game is so proud of displaying. His rough exterior and tactical mind bordering on a degree of insanity, Snake is a man who is simply trying to find himself in a war zone of his creation as well as those of his family.
Duke Nukem (Bring It On, Baby….Oh right, the game…Duke Nukem 3D)
While we like to hail to the king, we have to place the badass in context to what is happening. There’s an alien invasion, and we are at the cusp of annihilation except for this one blond guy who fought them all beforehand….and he’s just trying to save the chicks and drink the booze. Am I supposed to relate to this guy?
Yes, to be fair, it is a parody of all the first-person shooters before it, but the point stands that this game really did cause a number of concerned parents and ornery teenagers both to wax idiotic at the time of its release. I’ll be the first to admit that the nineties was an age of hundreds of mixed signals. Combine that with a fan following for a sequel that wouldn’t come until the 2010s and we have a recipe for disaster. And that game tried to do everything without all the humor too! Perhaps I am missing the point here, but in the long run, I would really like my heroes to be a little more concerned about everyday people outside the beautiful chicks. Just saying.
The Human Faction (Warcraft Series)
This is one of those I’m going to have to explain because of the huge, huge mess that is the Warcraft continuity. For those not in the know, the series had a storyline which functioned quite well for its first two games then rewrote and described many things after its third installment and then did it again only four years later when World Of Warcraft was released, and turned up every single bit of that up to eleven.
The human side of the conflict upon Azeroth, now more commonly known as the Alliance faction did quite the slope sliding well before their prince went off the deep end with a cursed sword. The Alliance decided to expand and attack an opponent who had only recently came into the world under the manipulative leadership of demons. Coming through the Black Portal, they needed a new place to live. The Alliance served as an opposing force without an attempt at understanding, and just happened to piss off a warrior race in the Orcs. Add to it a number of decisions which alienated a large number of Elves and poor decision-making from the Crown’s emotional investment in affairs, and you have a very xenophobic society. This would be problematic enough for a burgeoning and tenuous alliance between the two sides in order to handle The Burning Legion and the forces of Arthas, but then we have the faction known as the Scarlet Crusade. First, they consider every Undead being, including those who have nothing to do with Arthas’ incursion and a strong unified culture based on survival that joined the Horde for those reasons an abomination that must be dealt with. Secondly, any being supporting undead is seen as a sympathizer and killed. Alliance or Horde.
The Scarlet Crusade is made almost entirely of humans. Take that how you will.
Cloud (Final Fantasy 7)
Now, most people would likely have imagined Squall from Final Fantasy 8 if I was going to use the archetypal anti-hero to relate to this illustrious role-playing franchise. One could even put Auron as a strong contender, but I went with Cloud because of a number of reasons. In terms of story, Auron chose to push Tidus and spurn the impetus of change in order to help a good friend from suffering endlessly as a being shaped out of literally millions over the generations as the living embodiment of immorality. In the end, the cause was honorable and in many ways fitting with the living corpse that was the bespectacled samurai.
Squall definitely fits the anti-hero mold as well. With no doubt, the character spurns emotion and compassion for calculating efficiency and the occasional brooding over the orders of his superiors. But what keeps him from being truly immoral is that his actions were under the thrall of a paramilitary organization who both were and were not acting on emotional baggage. He had to follow their orders and advice since that was the way he was raised; as a tool and a soldier.
Cloud made every decision of his own volition. He responded to his first real relationship ending with a half-hearted attempt to fight back, and in a fit of misread hope and desperation he gave the Meteor Materia straight to someone he considered his mentor. If not for the fact that Cloud himself was delusional and living through his best friends’ life as if it were his own. On that same note, Cloud also maintained an attitude that ranged from disinterest to plain survival of the fittest, even against his own allies. The distance he places between them is the furthest of any other main protagonist, and yet they all manage to stay together despite the clear and present danger he has put them through. While one of those reasons could be considered an attraction from our resident hand-to-hand fighter and one-disc staff user, the others aren’t exactly that connected or that interested in Cloud, really. Any real appreciation he extends toward any allies after a certain point is laden in his actions and his apologetic attitude to seek redemption on the one person who ever trusted him as a human being instead of a genetically enhanced mercenary. A girl who would have never admitted that he let her down so many times. The threat was defeated in the end, but the man behind it had more demons and loose morals plaguing him the whole way.