Spouse and friend were gleefully sharing this today:
And it started me thinking about something that's been bothering me for ages. You see it most often in fantasy-world RPGs, but it happens all the damn time: the player character of a game is a total Mary Sue [wiki / TVTropes].
In an RPG, you do just that: play a role. But there's a school of thought that you project that role onto yourself, and yourself into that role. Some games are designed this way: in a Fallout title, you are in first person as the Lone Wanderer or the Courier, and your character really is an empty shell filled with your own values and ideas. And in a Mass Effect, you get to customize Shepard, both in appearance and in back story, and so to an extent occupy that persona as well.
Then there's the other sort of game, one with a pre-defined character with a narrative arc not really of your choosing. You see it a lot in an FPS or an adventure game: Half-Life, Deus Ex, Uncharted, Heavy Rain, The Longest Journey -- all of these and many more are someone's stories, pre-told, that you help them through with occasional decisions.
That's just background. We mainly all know this stuff.
But where it's starting to bother me is where your player character, whether of your creation or not, is Destined to fill the Super Awesome Role of Mega Good. Someone needs saving? Your job! A planet needs rescuing? Your job! Timmy fell down the well? Your job! Rescue the princess? Your job!
The more epic the scope of the story, the worse this gets. And that makes sense, to a degree: if you're going to save the kingdom, the world, or the universe itself... you're going to need to be pretty badass. So the skills, the weapons, the powers... yours, all yours. And you look ripped (or ripped AND busty) and everyone gives you money and you're just such a nice person that you even stop to rescue that cat from that tree.
Unless of course the game has an Evil option, in which case you're just such a horrible person that you even stop to slice down that tree with a poor innocent cat in it.
It's as if a huge category of games operate on the Superman model: you're just that awesome because you were born that way. A smaller number operate on the Batman model: you're just that awesome because you had money and willpower and worked hard for a million years.
But I'm becoming a bigger fan of the third way: you're not all that awesome, actually, but with luck and timing and cleverness and help, you can still make a difference to the NPCs who need your help.
Really, I think these days I'm not all about saving the world. The Longest Journey lampshaded the Heroic Awesome Savior issue with April Ryan, but I'm not sure that's satisfying anymore. For all the flaws Heavy Rain has in concept and in execution, I find Ethan Mars a lot more workable than any epic hero of gaming I've yet met.