I’ve thought a lot about entering a post into this month’s RPG Blog Carnival being hosted at Casting Shadows…
But I’ve really struggled with what I want to say about heroes. It occurs to me that I talk about them all the time but I don’t really know what I’m getting at with all that talking. What I’ve realized is that, despite all my talk about loving heroes, I think I’ve lost my faith in them. I can see heroes in fantasy — but they’re always there because an author put them there — and I don’t really have a “hero” in real life… Remember when you were in elementary school (or maybe middle school) and you’d have to bring in a picture of your hero — stuff like that. Eh.
Heroes in fiction are a weird animal — especially in fantasy fiction. Look at Luke Skywalker, a very recognizable fantasy hero (ignore the robots, Star Wars is fantasy) even to non-gamers and think about his story. Here’s the thing:
1. Luke is (for all intents and purposes) an orphan.
2. Luke comes from humble beginnings.
3. Luke has adventure THRUST upon him — he gets little choice in the matter.
4. Luke, despite his humble beginnings, has real power. He also doesn’t have a mortgage, two cats, a car payment…
Luke’s only role in the story is HERO. He doesn’t actually have to do anything else. He just gets to focus on being a hero. Now, don’t get me wrong — I love Luke. But he kinda has it easy… the universe set him up to be a hero.
When I was a kid, I always preferred Lando when we’d go out and play Star Wars. It’s tough to explain but as I got older I realized that what I liked about Lando was that he was this slick, con-man type. He was a right bastard who betrayed his friends… but he gave up everything he’d built to fix his mistakes. And he needed help. He couldn’t do it alone. And after the escape, when he could have disappeared and gone back to the life of a con, he instead stuck around and led an assault on the second Death Star. And even then, he couldn’t have done that if Han hadn’t trusted him with the Falcon.
I like cooperative games better than competitive. I like role-playing because I perceive it as a shared storytelling exercise full of amazing characters more than min/max, optimized nightmares… and I think I look for the same in my fantasy heroes. Heroes who have the full time job of HERO are boring to me. I need my heroes to have other stuff going on in their lives — and I need them to be normal first, hero second — and I need them to have relationships (flawed or otherwise) so that they seem like real people. Then I can see them as heroes. I miss the idea of a flawless, perfect hero. I still want one. But I’d rather have one who has lived, failed, fought, failed some more, and learned to fight again.
I loved Rocky Balboa — the last Rocky movie — when it was out a few years ago. He said, “just keep moving forward.” I liked that. And he wasn’t the best, or the guy from Rocky 3 and 4 who punched out Mr. T and the whole Soviet Union… he was a guy, grieving his wife, sad about his relationship with his son, getting older, and he just needed to keep on being who he is. And it sucked. But he did it. And along the way he forged some very interesting and mature new relationships… and that’s why I loved it.
In The Last Unicorn, the charming prince threatens to kill the wizard if he doesn’t save the Unicorn… and Schmedrick tells him, “not all the magic in the world can save her… That is what heroes are for.” And Lir dies to protect her, and his death changes the world — because the Unicorn fights. Prince Lir was a “full-time hero” when he wanted Amalthea to love him. But he became a hero when he died for a Unicorn that he thought never could.
I could go on… I could mention characters from my games, Brandin and Mira… I could tell you the heroic tale of Targus and Valin. There are lots of heroes. But as was brought up in another post for this month’s carnival — Choice is what matters to me, what makes me love a hero. Doesn’t matter if they are little choices or big… heroes aren’t about the ADVENTURE — but about their choices.