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The Everyman and the Action Hero: Building a Better Player Character


May 22, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 6 Next
 

Odysseus in Hyrule

There are two heroes in the Odyssey: Odysseus, the namesake, and Telemachus, his son. Now these are two gents who could step straight into a video game. After all, the Odyssey may well have been the original adventure story. Corresponding to the legendary, ingenious father and the good and loyal son, we can describe two general types of player character that are workable: the action hero and the everyman. These two tropes are rightly the staples of video game heroism.

The everyman is Dorothy of Oz and Frodo of Middle Earth. He or she is essentially the closest thing to who we ourselves are, thrown into the extraordinary circumstances of a ripping good tale. True, we often find the seeds of greatness in these characters, but, like Harry Potter and Luke Skywalker, they have humble beginnings.

Everyman characters are always a person stripped down to just their most sympathetic qualities. They are good, but not too good, and humbly average, at least at first and in outward appearance. Their most important feature is a highly polished surface, in which we can see our own faint reflections at all times. The everyman is never very proactive, at least to begin with. As with Dorothy, Frodo, Harry, and Luke, the action must come to them.

The action hero, on the other hand, is more about who we wish we could be. This type has never seen much point in depth or nuance. A look, a particular swagger, phrase, or other gesture is all it takes to get you Indiana Jones, the dusty cowboy, Batman, or the essential sardonic, hard-drinking ex-Green Beret. After all, there’s no need to clutter your fantasies with details. Unlike everyman characters, action heroes can jump into the action. They can jump onto your screen, fist flying, doing what they do best.

Note that the action hero and the everyman are really just flip sides of the same coin. The one is action, the other responds to it. The one arrives on the scene ready to do business, while the other must slowly learn and accept their fate and responsibility in the tale. In other words, both of them are ways of letting the story take precedence. They are both children of the plot.

James Bond and Feivel are twins, separated at birth. In video games, this form-follows-function character trait is even more important, where the protagonist steps aside not just for a good action-packed story, but for the many mechanics and systems of the game itself, which must always reign supreme.


Article Start Previous Page 2 of 6 Next

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