Welcome to Gameological Q&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. It’s extremely similar to The A.V. Club’s AVQ&A feature. You might even say it’s exactly the same. If you have a brilliant question that would make a fun Q&A, send it to brilliantquestions at gameological dot com.
This week’s question comes from longtime commenter HobbesMkii:
I’ve recently come as close to finishing Far Cry 3 as I expect I will, and while I had plenty of fun with it, I’ve come to the conclusion that I really hate its main character, Jason Brody. He is arrogant, privileged, mistreats his friends and family, and I’m pretty sure he’s a psychopath. If the game didn’t require you to press a button every time he caught fire, I would’ve let him burn. Is there a video game hero that you can’t stand?
It took me years to realize that I don’t like Ryu, the violent obsessive who is the face of the Street Fighter series. We are talking about a man who has spent his adult life traveling the world alone, making enemies, and getting into fights. He claims that he does this to improve his own martial arts skills, but come on: He has already beaten crime lords, genetically engineered superhumans, and the grandmaster of just about every fighting discipline man has devised. He also compares unfavorably to Ken, a guy who started a family and relegated his beloved kick-punching to weekends, yet is still just as good a fighter by any reasonable metric. What are you really doing out there, Ryu? Maybe it’s time to stop selfishly cratering other world warriors’ faces and look at the world warrior face in the mirror.
Anthony John Agnello
Are we supposed to like Kratos, the snarling dummy that stars in the God Of War games? I like the original God Of War a lot, and God Of War 3 has some of the most visually stunning sequences I’ve ever seen. But I have never enjoyed any of those games on a human level. Kratos isn’t just unlikable because he’s an immortal monster willing to murder puny humans for no reason, nor because he spends every spare second sniveling about how he murdered his own family. I hate Kratos because he doesn’t try to redeem himself. If he felt bad about the years of bloodshed and genocide, he’d take his chain-knife things and go start a farm. Instead, his answers are to either kill himself or kill all the gods. Oh, and stop yelling all the time, Kratos. You’re giving everyone a headache.
No one can top Grand Theft Auto IV’s Niko Bellic. The Grand Theft Auto series has its fair share of colorful sociopaths, but Niko was supposed to be different—a troubled anti-hero forsaking his war-torn past to pursue the American dream and end the cycle of violence once and for all. In one breath, Niko waxes poetic about the guilt he feels at the senseless death and destruction around him, and then during the next, he’s nonchalantly running over innocent old ladies, shooting cops in the face, and selling himself out to the highest bidder. Niko could have been an interesting, flawed character you care about. Instead, he ends up as yet another morally reprehensible video game psycho, albeit one rocking some pretty sweet track pants.
I gave up on both Uncharted and Uncharted 2 about halfway through each game because I couldn’t stand being around Nathan Drake. Pretty much every rough edge that would make him human got smoothed over, and we’re left with this guy who’s little more than a sense of adventure, infinite energy, and a smirk. Every situation was an opportunity for him to show off how manly he was. “Nathan, we’re surrounded!” someone would yell. To which he’d snarl, “Just give me a big gun, and we’ll be fine.” I’d like to think challenges in games are, you know, challenges, and the protagonists of the tales are not always super confident things will go okay. Because of this cocky hero, the Uncharted games became exercises in running through the motions. There was no doubt I was going to succeed because Mr. Chiseled Chin doesn’t start wars he can’t finish, baby!
I truly cannot stand Desmond Miles, the modern-day main character of many Assassin’s Creed games. In the first one, he’s not very agile and also kind of thick, making new discoveries about his situation well after they had become obvious. The more we learn about his past—his upbringing and the mistakes he made along the way—the more it feels like either Ubisoft was making things up as they went along, or Desmond really was just a shortsighted, selfish buffoon. He knew enough to escape his family’s secret assassin headquarters and take up work across the country as a New York City bartender, leaving no paper trail along the way. That is, except for the legal acquisition of a driver’s license. Come on, man. Any bartender worth their salt-rimmed martini glasses should know how to get a decent fake ID. Also, it’s not a good idea to name your signature drink after the malevolent secret society that’s out to get you. I’m surprised no other assassins were sent to take out this liability before he was captured, though that may wind up being the plot of a future game. Makes as much sense as anything else in this series.
There have been plenty of lousy Star Wars characters, but one of my least favorite “heroes” is definitely the guy from Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. Known as “Starkiller,” this young man was raised by Darth Vader and grows into Vader’s personal assassin, even as he solidifies his role as the Emperor’s primary galactic enforcer. (Vader is basically middle management.) There’s no way you become Darth Vader’s personal assistant without drinking some Dark Side Kool-Aid, but Starkiller never seems very evil. Despite his suggestive name, he’s just some guy who very blandly goes about the terrible business of murdering Jedi. Never have I seen a guy who could shoot lighting out of his hands and flip through the air with a whirling energy blade and yet was also utterly boring. Lacking better ideas, LucasArts resurrected Starkiller for a sequel, making him a clone in search of his identity—exactly the thing the rest of us were looking for.
The so-called heroes in zombie stories aren’t always fighting the undead for entirely noble reasons. Sometimes they use the zombies’ lack of humanity as a convenient excuse to commit actions against the few remaining living people, thereby sinking even deeper into depravity than a mindless brain eater ever could. Nick from Left 4 Dead 2 never has a moment of greed with consequences as dire as Flyboy’s in the original Dawn Of The Dead, but he certainly exhibits the same qualities. If Valve had worked some kind “screw your teammates” option into the game, I could see him taking the opportunity. He was a degenerate gambler and conman before humanity started eating away at itself (literally) and even though he teams up with three other survivors and saves their lives countless times, he’s the least likable of the four. He’s smarmy and sarcastic (”Come on, Coach,” Nick says as he and the team climb a long flight of stairs to the roof to reach an escape helicopter, “maybe the helicopter…maybe it’s made of chocolate.”) He’s antisocial and clearly would ditch the others if the opportunity presented itself. (”Name’s Nick, but don’t bother learning it ‘cause I ain’t sticking around much longer.”) He looks exactly like the kind of conniving car-salesman type I’d throw myself in front of a horse-drawn carriage to avoid if I saw him coming the other way on a crowded French Quarter street.
This is a tough one because the last several years don’t lack in the unlikable main character department, especially when it comes to shooters (the stars of Kane And Lynch, Army Of Two, Gears Of War) and open-world action games (InFamous, Prototype, Grand Theft Auto). Special mention goes to Max Payne in his series’ third entry. That’s a character I once had an affinity for. Max’s cynical narration and pithy one-liners—in the tradition of 1930s detective noir—fit in well with the previous games’ gritty, dark New York City setting. Maybe when you’re hanging out in the flashy nightclubs and luxury yachts of Brazil rather than a back alley of Brooklyn, the Raymond Chandler act just makes less sense. Max also natters on incessantly about how he’s a sad drunk loser, but it feels like the rantings of a delusional narcissist considering he’s shot down half the population of Sao Paulo while deftly sliding down flights of stairs. Even worse is the actual writing, which often feels like self-parody. (”While I’d been dead to the world, some of my shipmates…were just plain dead.”) I hope Max goes to AA, decides to become an art therapist, and finds a nice girl to date before Max Payne 4 rolls around.