Why is there such a deep connection with us and the characters we play as?
Every time we sit down and load up a title on our weekly play. Many of us really don’t stop to realize. Why are we fascinated with an Italian plumber in a red cap and suspenders or an over-muscled Greek demi-god. Sure, it may go back to what we learned in high school English class about, “the hero’s journey” and how we all wished we could experience such feats. In a way, that’s clear and present in our minds as we infiltrate an enemy base or raid a building for supplies. We experience the journey first-hand, albeit in success and failure. Yet there are underlying reasons as to why these avatars of our digital are so identifiable with us. Like Spike Lee once said, “It must be the shoes!” In reality, it isn’t just the badass war paint or double barrel shotgun. Let’s take a look at some of the more memorable characters throughout our not-so daily grind.
This unfortunate Marine, is thrown into the bowels of hell right from the start, with only 10 unbloodied knuckles, a full magazine of ammo and one serious case of paranoia. We all know where this goes; all of his war buddies draw their guns in the wrong direction (his). This only leads to their last gasp and post-mortem gurgles. By the first level’s end, he’s armed with a shotgun and chainsaw in hand – From there, it’s all on us to do the rest.
Doomguy is in a situation we’d never want to be in, where it’s everyone against us. Yet it’s a first-hand account on how we’d survive it. Laying down buckshot into a cacodemon’s face and watching tumble with on three percent health hits home with us. Because it was at that moment, we’d that could been the end and it wasn’t.
All of us experience this at some time in our lives, where death comes close in the flesh and almost taps our shoulder. Be it, by narrowing being hit in a pedestrian crosswalk while the light was clearly red or accidentally cutting your hand pretty bad while dicing onions. That impeding sense of Doom that is right around each of life’s corners.
Sure, we’d continue to get that same adrenaline kick with each Team Deathmatch session or CoD/FPS game. But the feeling you’d get, is irreplaceable to that of the dark and bloodied corridors of hell itself.
He’s our favorite red and blue plumber, whose on-call for all the wrong reasons. (Seriously, have we ever seen him really fix a sink or toilet?) Mario has more skill with eating mushroom and jumping to Shaun White distances. With a smile that never drops and the nerves of diamond, he stomps Bowser and his crew every time. (Provided we succeed!) As a reward, he gets the girl and simple peck on the cheek, as gratitude.
Doing what Mario does and how we get him to the nice green and white flag, takes a lot resolve. Avoiding the turtle shells, bullet bills, bomb-oms and flames pits can seem like an impossible task. Eventually, we make it through and the success doesn’t seem any sweeter.
Mario is our perseverance, the will to adapt and overcome through the chaos and dangers very similar to us. Some challenges are greater than others and vary to our own lifestyles. Tight deadlines, balancing the household checkbook, being a good parent, taking extra classes; can seem like those same impossible feats. Still, we move forward, try our best and make it work, even if we fully succeed or not. In our later years, that perseverance pays off, with less or no debt, a home that is ours and the true reward for all of our hard labor.
Sheperd (Mass Effect 1-3)
Three epic chapters of space exploration weren’t enough for many of us. The recent entry Mass Effect: Andromeda left deep yearns of space exploration and saving the universe from rapture. Regardless of how well your experience was with that title, there was one big thing that wasn’t the same – Ryder. As a replacement, to the neutral character of the original trilogy, Shepard became Ryder. Both were open to be either a male or female option, with each having their own personalities depending on the choices you made. Shepherd had options that could lead you into firefights, a resolution of a conflict or even convince someone to commit suicide. Sadly, Andromeda’s Ryder was never given the same sort of ability of true conflict resolution.
Like the Star Trek multiverse, Mass Effect focused on the fragile relations of the intergalactic races of The Milky Way and beyond. Many instances Commander Sheperd ends up being right in the middle of a bog of diplomacy. Depending on how the Commander responded, the end result could be successful or disastrous. Ultimately, it could always be finished with good firepower and biotics (space magic), though.
Sheperd is our free will, the choice is unique only to the player and leaves permanent results, much like you and I. Our real lives have confrontations and disagreements where an outcome is dependent on what comes out of our mouths. Very much like Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Natural Law, “for every action there is an equal or opposite reaction.” Our free will to speak holds the gravity of infinite possibilities of our own future. (Pun intended)
Tommy Vercetti (Grand Theft Auto: Vice City)
Known as the 80s anti-hero and narco druglord in the fictional metropolitan, Vice City. Tommy was given the short end of the stick, even when he became a made-man in the Forelli crime family. From the moment he stepped out of the taxi cab, Tommy was bound to end up as a chalk trace on the hot pavement. Guided by his own actions and rage, Tommy took Vice City for himself, piece by piece.
Almost everyone that booted up Vice City, knows that you really didn’t play for the missions or story. It was great excuse just drive around like crazy, solicit a prostitute then get a “return” of service, blow up the cops and beat down pedestrians. Causing this sort of havoc is what really coined the term “sandbox” in gaming and we loved every minute of. At least until our parents found out after hearing hours of police sirens coming from the bedroom.
Tommy is the underlying rage and frustration we have inside us. Much like Fight Club’s Tyler Durden, no one wants to admit they have an animalistic urge to channel their aggression. Grand Theft Auto was one of our first real punching bags to the stresses of teen adolescence, work and life as a whole. Gaming is hobby and an escape for many of us, regardless if you want to believe it or not. Perhaps we aren’t bound by our desires and impulses, like Mr Vercetti. But we all know that you cannot keep it all bottled up inside.