The invalidation game
Vintage Game Club: Beyond Good & Evil

Into the dark

In the last game we met Drake under special circumstances. Almost immediately he was called to rise above his normal nature and be a hero. But we hinted there were shadier sides to him. In this game we want to explore that...We want the player to see the contradictions. He’s affable and charming, but he can also be a jerk. I don’t want to imply we’re getting heavy and angsty...but we really want to show a character with more colours to him. --Naughty Dog creative director Amy Hennig on Uncharted 2: Among Thieves [1]

Frozen drake The January issue of Edge Magazine features a cover shot of Uncharted's hero Nathan Drake, bedraggled and unshaven with sunken eyes and cuts on his face and arms. The accompanying article describes developer Naughty Dog's effort to "go deeper into Drake and see what makes him tick." [2]

This got me thinking about depictions of video game heroes and the seemingly inevitable trajectory towards darker, grittier renditions when they reappear in sequels. Many games assume, correctly I think, that when we return to a character we've seen and played before, we want to know more about who that character is on the inside.

Not every character requires such exploration - I'm pretty sure I know all I want to know about Mario and Luigi's sibling relationship - and sometimes the "go deeper" treatment needlessly muddies the water with little impact on the player. Rockstar's decision to feature a decidedly unhip, unglamorous (some would say sociopathic) Niko Bellic as the hero of GTA IV added a psychological dimension to the character, but from a striclty role-playing perspective, I preferred the less-defined (and less contridictory) presentation of CJ in GTA San Andreas. I'm probably in the minority on that one.

This trajectory into the dark can be explored from several interesting angles, but for now I'll focus on only one: the visual evolution from lighter, mostly straightforward depictions of heroes to their darker, more brooding, and often more stereotypically masculinized transformations. The fact is, most serialized video game heroes grow angrier, more muscle-bound and generally appear more malicious or disaffected.

Why that is and what it all means is a subject for another post. For now, I'll just assemble the images in hopes of stimulating discussion. What impressions do these images convey? Can you think of others that belong in this gallery; or characters that defy my thesis?

Ratchet and Clank
Ratchet and clank 1         Ratchet 2/

Ryu (Street Fighter series)

Super_SF2_Ryu              Ryu2 

Jak and Daxter
Jak and Daxter 1

Prince of Persia
PoP1          PoP2

Link (The Legend of Zelda)
Link WW          Link2 TP

Sonic 1          Sonic2

Advance Wars
Advance wars 1 box            Advance wars 2 box

Nathan Drake (Uncharted)
Uncharted 1          Uncharted 2

Sam Fisher (Splinter Cell) - variation on a theme?
Samfisherref1           Splinter Cell 2-1

Courtesy of reader suggestions:

April Ryan (The Longest Journey / Dreamfall)
April1            Aprilryan_2

Ethan Thomas (Condemned series)
Ethan1          Ethan2