Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Oh Yeah, You're A Hero

Perhaps when you come down to it, the matter is a question of how you define a 'Hero.'   If we are to take the ancient Greek word, heros, there's plenty to justify player character actions as fitting that definition.  The Greek heroes were petty, infantile, selfish, greedy, intransigent, boastful, inconstant, arrogant, squabbling and utterly lacking in loyalty or a sense of duty.  So yes, if we must go back far enough, I'm willing to concede that your characters are 'heroes.'

This was not the ideal presented to me in my youth, through the eyes of children's authors, fairy tales and Hollywood films and TV.  Without question, a lot of those depictions, say of El Cid or King Arthur and His Knights, were dead wrong.  When you read Le Morte d'Arthur, you find out what a randy bunch of humping lords were the sitters at the Round Table, and any honest account of history will tell you El Cid was a mercenary bastard without much sense of mercy or compassion.  But still, when I talk of 'heroes' and get responses, I don't hear the gentle readers advancing arguments like, "You don't know what you're talking about - heroes are self-serving money-grubbing pricks, and that's what our character's are!"

No, it sounds to me as though the argument is that the characters ARE what the fanciful 20th century painted up for children's viewing - the noble King Arthur and the loyal Robin Hood.  Or if the reader prefers, the courageous Dorothy, the inquisitive but ever-considerate Alice, and the constant Wendy.  Creatures without a single sin, without even the temptation of sin, struggling against villains and foes far beyond their ken, but certainly conveniently dispatched of once a good pail of water comes to hand.

Naturally, there can be no real discussion of 'heroes' without a point or two made about 'anti-heroes,' who are all the rage of Hollywood in the here and now.  I'm not talking about the other Alice, who today fights Zombies constructed by the Umbrella Corporation ... selflessly, I might add, but then her lack of any need for comfort might be explained by her genetic enhancement.  No, I mean any character played by Jason Statham, or a variety of cookie-cutter actors just like him, who are allowed to butcher and kill and slaughter and maim, as long as they don't keep any of the money they grab afterwards.  Anti-hero and ordinary hero rules are the same: you DON'T get rich doing this.

Let me qualify that.  Ol' Jimmy Bond doesn't take his cut from the barrels of money he gathers as he executes his enemies.  He doesn't go out and buy a lot of shit to ramp up his killing potential.  He's given gadgets by the powers that be that enhance his natural proclivities, but he doesn't BUY them.  Alice the construct finds a shot gun or a blade and such, but she doesn't have ye olde Wallymart to buy stuff from ... if she doesn't have it, she doesn't NEED it.

What I'm saying is that if your conception of a hero is someone who slaughters orcs, then brings back the cash to upgrade your character, you're NOT a hero.  You're a selfish dick who enjoys killing in order to subsidize your material lifestyle.

Those orcs stole that money from someone, and now you're stealing that money from the orcs.  But it is STOLEN money.  You're a thief ... unless you hand that money over to the local village, and that means all of it, every last fucking copper piece.  You don't need money.  You're a fucking hero.

Oh, and for the most part you don't need toys, either.  All Quixote needed was a few pieces of junk he thought was armor.  He had heart.  He had his faith.  That was all HE needed to go into combat, and if you're an honest-to-god hero too, you don't need all this crappy junk slowing you down.  Armor is for people worried about their own lives, and you're not.  God will look after your life, and he'll take you when he's ready.  In the meantime you need to be as fast on your feet as possible if you're going to grab that maiden before the jaws close.  If you're moving half-speed because you're in plate, you're not a fucking hero.

People have very interesting - and inaccurate - ideas of what makes 'selflessness' actually selfless.  But this kind of delusion is pretty standard.  The other day I caught the end of Platoon, which is just the sort of anti-hero non-hero delusion that runs rife through our culture.  The movie, right down to the final scene, is just whine-whine-whine about the suffering struggles of American soldiers, supposedly the good against the bad, as ALL of them invade a foreign country for trying to govern itself.  Oh, sure, we can feel awful and sorry for the poor innocent Vietnamese, but fuck those guilty Vietnamese, defending their country and all, what a bunch of assholes, don't they see I'm trying to win an Oscar here?

Sorry.  If you enter into an orc lair, and kill orcs because they're orcs, and take their money to buy armor so the next orcs you kill find it harder to hit you, you're not a fucking hero.

Though no doubt you THINK you are.  Villains always do.


Carl said...

Good post today, Alexis.

I take issue with your characterization of Platoon. The movie is about the enemy within. The Vietnamese barely have a cameo in that film. The real war is going on between Barnes and Elias for the heart and mind of the kid. Vietnam is just the setting.

Alexis said...

Yeah. Exactly my point. Vietnam is just the setting.

Try to imagine a group of Arab soldiers whining about their personal interior voices while sitting on a blasted, smashed American landscape. Let's see an American company make THAT picture.

Talk about your cognitive dissonance.

Satchmo said...

I agree with you on that point Alexis. A kleptomaniacal burglar with a penchant for killing is not a hero. And in a world where killing other creatures to gain power and prestige to buy tools to help you kill more creatures more efficiently does not seem conducive to producing heroes.

However, I still look back to your cleric posts you made in 2009. In them you described how to reward someone who followed the mandates of their (fictional) religion, not only making the game world seem more real, but also giving a player good reason why someone would want to play a character whose class seems rather restrictive.

My question then is there any point for heroics in D&D as you describe them? You've already mentioned that if people wish to restrict themselves they're probably not playing to their character's full potential, but is there any other potential to the character other than learning how to kill something more efficiently?

Alexis said...

No, Satchmo, there isn't.

Which every player of the game has long since come to realize, and which would be taken as fact if it were not for a small cadre of pretentious, preaching prigs who insist that for some reason this game must be about ennobling humans to some ridiculously insisted-upon standard.

We're just animals.

Satchmo said...

That's a pity. Oh well, so it goes.

Alexis said...

A pity? I haven't noticed my world suffering any.

There may be no other potential for the character, but the PLAYERS do very, very well.

Oddbit said...

It is a bit of a pity that in a first person shooter one cannot sit down over tea and discuss your issues with the opposing team productively.

UWS guy said...

The american hero is the same as the soviet hero; a loyal lapdog to the elite and the state. Ad&d 2e pushed this heavily that players characters were to be on the side of the authorities and to protect the status quo.

perdustin said...

So Luke Skywalker is a hero, right?

Alexis said...

"Wah. Wah. Where's my father? Oh, look to find out I have to fight these people here. Wah, that didn't help me! This is all about me! Wah!"

Not in my opinion, no.

Satchmo said...

Thank you Oddbit, but I don't play first-person shooters all that much- I'm still rather attached to Planescape: Torment, where fighting is optional instead of necessary.

JDJarvis said...

PC are heroes, they are supposed to earn enough loot over the course of their lives to build castles, raise armies, assume titles, and build statues declaring themselves to be heroes. It's how it works in the real world, why not in fantasy worlds?

perdustin said...

I respect your opinion although I may not agree with it. Am I misreading you or are you not suggesting that Dorothy Gale is a heroine? If she is a heroine, what qualities differentiate her from Luke Skywalker?

Satchmo said...

It does work like that in the fantasy world, JD Jarvis, but I think the point Alexis was trying to make is that those actions aren't inherently heroic.

Alexis said...

I hope that was facetious.

The way it works in the real world, when you've built castles and raised armies, and assumed titles and built statues, you promote your own infallibility and morality, as though it was all a blessing from your mythical God.

And if anyone tries to point out what a horrific, lying thief you were to glom all that together from the people you tramped over, you draw up your assassins and have them killed.

Like a pointer who was killed 48 years ago today.

Alexis said...

Dorothy vs. Luke?

Hah. That got a big, big belly laugh from me, perdustin.

I guess you can read it anyway you want to. Clearly, you will anyway. I'd recommend you read the book by Frank Baum, and decide for yourself.

Alexis said...

More generally:

Some of you are responding to this post as though I'm denying something you want very badly; as though in some way I'm condemning you, or in effect holding the candy high above your heads and not letting you have some.

In case you haven't worked it out yet, one of the things about becoming an adult, and therefore a learned person, is the realization that the heroes you were taught about when you were a little child was just a lot of bullshit.

Reality is a lot more interesting, and in reality, we are none of us 'heroes.'

Don't you see that's a good thing?

Anonymous said...

I do.

Carl said...

I have certainly never seen a PC that wasn't a violent thieving bastard. I suppose it would be possible to play otherwise, but there are rules for how to kill things, and all those tables for how to roll up what kind of treasure they have...

Tedankhamen said...


One of the problems with how the word ‘hero’ gets bandied about nowadays is because people are confusing different meanings of the word. I see at least three types of hero – first, the noble ideal, who by his or her acts is admired. Then there’s the dramatic hero, who is merely the central character in a story. Finally, we have the mythological hero, whose powers define their as nearer to gods than men.

For modern people, who use the word hero for a fireman who rescues people, then apply the same moniker to Arnold Schwarzenegger, the word ‘hero’ has become cheap. They confuse the ideal and the act with the image and reputation. Arnie is no more a hero than any other philandering millionaire, but the spin machine brands him as a ‘hero’ and he is rewarded more for a public appearance than the firefighter makes in a year.

We are all our own spin machines, and so roleplayers automatically apply the term hero’ to their current murderous hobo robber. I played a holy paladin the other day whose first in-game act was to murder 7 bandits without trying to parley. Heroic indeed.

Then again, the mythological and dramatic heroes were always imbued with human frailties – arrogance, lust, jealous, greed – which made their actions shine all the more against their base natures. And it doesn’t make them ‘anti-heroes’ either – that’s the most vacuous term I’ve heard in ages.

As for wearing not armor or following Arab warriors, adding in questions of foolhardiness and fanaticism muddies the waters even further.

Good discussion, though.

Oddbit said...

Like Alexis has already mentioned, but I don't know about pounded into the ground, you have to look at the base actions that are rewarded.

Killing opposition is rewarded, gathering wealth is rewarded, preventing your own death is a way to keep from losing reward opportunity. Completing objectives can reward experience for the player depending on the game, but the quickest simplest method to complete the objective is probably the best.

This is of coarse, the simplest for the player, not the simplest for the character. I want to talk to them, what do I use? How do I make them listen? Will they just kill me? Should we sneak in? What about they party member in heavy armor? OR I stab them with my sword, I know what to roll, when to roll it, and know they won't cause problems on the way out once they're dead.