The vast majority of worthwhile games these days have some sort of protagonist leading the way. Very often, these characters are seen as flag ships for the different consoles. For Nintendo there is Mario, a plumber with a very impressive CV including transferable skills like go karting and dinosaur slaying. Next for the XBOX we have Master Chief, an armour clad soldier who likes to shoot enemies that could have been dreamt up by an infant. Lastly, we have Sony's Playstation and its flag ship character... erm Solid Snake? Crash Bandicoot? This one requires a bit more thought as to my memory, Sony seems to market several characters for the Playstation, but it doesn't really matter. All of these can be regarded as heroes in the various games they star in, but this role is an interesting one to look at.
One of my favourite heroic figures has to be Link from the Legend of Zelda series. He has gone from a pixelated blob to a tunic adorned elf knight thing (or a Hylian as normal people might say), and time has definitely been kind to him as he looks better in every incarnation. The cartoon link from Wind Waker admittedly was not my cup of tea, but it did appeal to some. He proves that a man can wear a dress and still be considered as cool. He has a time travelling sword for goodness sake! Not quite as protective as the Tardis, but slicing your foes to bits is more fun than escaping from them through time.
The thing that really makes me like Link though, is the universe that he fights through. The one man against the rest of the world angle has been used so much, the dead horse being flogged is actually more of a fine paste now. This being said, The Legend of Zelda series always seems to approach this from a different angle each time, and keeps the experience fresh and new. The structure of exploring a wide open world followed by a dungeon and then repeating it over and over again can get a little tiring, but the tasks each one offers are unique once you get past the onslaught of maiming and death dealing.
Solid Snake is the typical sort of hero in so many cliched stories. Again, one man against the odds, but more realistically, he does not always walk away with the happy ending that is so sweet it would give Mario diabetes. He is a character that has quite a troubled past and you feel sorry for him. At the end of his Playstation One outing, he had a fictional terminal disease and, depending how good you were at a single button mashing sequence, lost his love interest. He's the gruff cow boy that saved the cattle by ripping off his own arm and beating the rustlers to death with the bloody stump. You actually see the sacrifices that he makes, and yet still pushes on which makes him seem like a truly noble and courageous gent.
The hero factor with Snake really kicks in though when you see him kick, shoot, sneak and snap his way through legions of highly trained military soldiers. When the final showdown of a game is fighting a bipedal nuclear super robot or three, which are fifty times bigger than you and have enough firepower to take on China, it is nothing short of awesome. A lot of people played through the game tranquilising and simply incapacitating the enemies. Not me. My preferred method was to knock out everyone in an area, and then go back and take their heads off to make sure they would not be waking up, even if Slayer played a two hour set by their side. This would probably draw more attention than would be preferred though. My brutal methods really kicked me hard up the arse though in Snake Eater in a section where all the enemies you killed come back to haunt you. That was a painful half hour sequence...
The final hero that I will list in this chapter is quite interesting, as it could be any of four. The first was a mute, the second a mob boss, the third a gang and the fourth hit the shores of Liberty City yesterday from Eastern Europe. I am of course talking about the protagonists from the Grand Theft Auto series. It is hard when trying to think of these guys as heroes. Generally, they are doing what they do for a good cause, but what they do is steal, murder, shoot, drive dangerously and murder some more. They are very much anti-heroes. I can see why someone would be angry if their mother is murdered, and that the police tell them to kill something every five minutes, but some of the war paths these guys can go on is plain crazy. It is hard to support the 'good guy' when through his actions seems to kill far more people than the 'bad guys'. It is quite a thing to get your mind around, but easy enough to drown out when you are knee deep in limbs and having tons of fun in the process.
Heroes seem to be slowly fading out of games these days, as you are now being forced in to squad combat where you all do rather amazing things, making your actions seem much less fascinating. Not all hope is lost though when it comes to wanting heroes in games. There are still many franchises, some of them mentioned here, that will keep going even after global warming drowns Holland.