As is usual you should read the introduction to see why Iím talking about this. So far in this series I feel I focused on characters in videogames that have broken the mold of what a hero is. Maybe not in every way but each character has a uniqueness that defines them outside of the constraints of the steretypes applied to what a hero is. Iíd like to believe that this is the norm for the industry, that the gaming industry is constantly challenging our perceptions of heroism but in truth I seriously doubt that such is the case and thus I feel it is important to discuss those heroes (and they are probably in the majority) who donít break the mold but reaffirm our ideas of heroism.
I bring this up for two reasons, one because it needs to be brought up for its own accord and the second reason is because while breaking the mold is always good and teaching new values is a positive, we should not interpret the more stereotypical heroes as bad. They still teach us lessons about how we should act and for the most part those lessons are good ones despite the veneer of violence that lies over their actions. The idea of what a hero is that has been established in our heads is not all bad so when I discuss a hero that isnít breaking the norm I want to make it clear that I am not bashing him but simply stating the lessons we learn from him and seeing if they are truly what we want games to be saying about heroism. I also have a third reason for saying all this and that is that I donít want fanboys jumping on me like madmen if I say something bad about the next hero in the line up: Master Chief.
Master Chief is a genetically altered, cyborg who was trained and altered by the UNSC to become a SPARTAN-II soldier, an elite type of soldier who is stronger, faster and just plain better than a normal person, though most of his fighting is done with guns anyway. During the games we are led to believe he is the last of the SPARTANs. Master Chief fights against the Covenant, a group of alien races driven by their theological beliefs and convinced that mankind must be destroyed. During the war the discovery of the Haloís across the universe spur the Covenant towards basically destroying everything. The Halos were created to destroy the flood, a parasitic alien race that wants to consume everyone and everything. The designers of the Halos believed that the only way to destroy the flood was to destroy the universe. Master Chief is the only hope to stop both the Covenant and the Flood. The Chief is never seen out of his armor but is revered by all other soldiers as the true savior of mankind. Master Chief was in fact designed to be a hero. (Note: much of this information is garnered from the books. Below I do not include info from them since I havenít read them and this is about what the games teach us.)
What Does He Teach Us About Heroism?
If the massive gun thrusting out of Master Chiefís crotch in the photo above doesnít explain instantly what he teaches us about heroism your probably not going to want to read the rest of this anyway. First and foremost Master Chief is a killer. Heís been trained to be a killer, he is sent in to kill and when he isnít shooting (mostly because heís been placed in chryogenic sleep) heís probably dreaming about shooting. If the Chief teaches us one thing about heroism, and its quiet possible he does only teach us one thing since this one thing is so incredibly over arching, itís that heroes are violent. He even makes jokes that his general plan for solving most problems and saving the day is to shoot the shit out of everything that moves. As much as I desperately want to see these jokes as the Chiefís (read Bungieís) way of poking fun at the absurd amount of shooting going on it isnít often enough nor smart enough to truly be able to sway the lesson that a true hero is an incredibly violent one.
Letís not take this as a 100 percent evil lesson about the media defining our heroes as horribly violent people though. The chief is killing during a time of war against an alien race that is about to commit genocide on humanity (and it turns out everything else in the universe). If there is a time and a place for a hero that shoots everything in his path than this is it and the Chief definitely does fill those shoes. Though not truly overt the game does stress that the time for violent heroes is during war and not during peace. The Chief awakens at the beginning of Halo and when his job is done and the violent hero isnít needed anymore he disappears, drifting off, asleep, into space, only requesting that he be awoken if needed. The Chiefís abrupt appearance and disappearance shows us that violence is a trait of heroism that is not always needed and should be used rarely. Unfortunatley, to get this lesson out of the game you have to be looking far deeper than the average Halo player is going to and thus most players will only garner that a hero is violent and nothing else.
Master Chief exudes confidence but not the type of confidence found with Solid Snake where it almost borders on arrogance but the kind where you know your bad ass but you donít have to brag about it. The kind of confidence that allows you to jump out of a spaceship in the middle of space with a bomb in order to land inside another spaceship and then blow it up without a second thought. If Master Chiefís attitutude toward what he has to do teaches us anything itís that second guessing yourself is probably the worst idea in the world since it will most likely get you shot in the head which, despite your awesome suit of armor, will kill you. Master Chief, though seemingly aware of how incredible he is never comes off as arrogant or pompous instead exuding an almost everyman feel despite the fact that he is most certainly not everyman. Iím hard pressed to call him humble as he doesnít truly hide away from the lime light but that seems to be the only word that can ecapusulate how he acts towards and others.
Despite the Chiefs lack of showboating, or his attitude that makes his showboating not seem like showboating, he is still a hero placed on a very high pedestal (see wut I did thur?). Everywhere the Master Chief goes he is recognized and revered and yet he moves amongst the troops not as a savior but as one of them, defending them. Not only does this teach us the importance of a hero being no better than those that surround him (in the sense that all life is equal not in the sense that the stupid AI is worth a shit) but it also reinforces the very simple lesson of what heroes do: they help others. Despite his murder/kill attitude Master Chief is out there to help his fellow solider until the bitter end. In his mind, and most likely in all reality, humans need him and he is going to do whatever it takes to save his comrades. A mixed, ends justify the means lesson if Iíve ever heard one but one that rings with the strong lesson of helping others before yourself. Because of the troop functionality in the Halo games and the fact that you see the fellow members die in front of you it seems that Halo sends this message more powerfully than other games where lives are depending on you but they arenít surrounding you.
Much like Samus, Master Chief, eventually befriends his enemies but far from the lesson of compassion and eventual salvation learned from the Metroid series, Master Chief teaches us that heroes donít side with their enemies unless forced to. With the kill or be killed attitude discussed previously the Chief never shows any compassion towards his enemies and you can bet your ass if the survival of the Arbiter wasnít in the Chiefís benefit he would have been dead long before the end of the games. Friendship does not blossom out of understanding with Master Chief but from forced alliance. Eventually trust is earned and a bond is made between the two but it is not because the Chief offers this bond, or visa versa, but because the bond is forced upon him.
From this interaction we learn that heroes donít react with their hearts but with their minds. An enemy isnít a true friend until he has proven himself to you in combat or some other way. Instead of open acceptance of all heroes guard themselves from getting hurt or killed by being wary of everyone they donít trust. Maybe a good lesson to learn in the real world but one that fits easily into the ideas we have of macho male heroes who work as loners and a lesson that ignores the type of heroes that teach us that love for all is how we save lives and become a hero.
Iím not going to argue that Master Chief isnít one of your most basic stereotypes of heroism in our culture. His character development even fits into many of our old and new mythos and legends which have all helped define how we perceive our heroes today. What I will argue though is that not all the lessons taught by the Master Chief are bad ones. Our stereotypical hero is still a hero despite his dependence on violence and action. The Chief is fighting for good and while he may conform to the more basic defintions of heroism that does not make him any less of a hero. More importantly if we look deep enough at the character of Master Chief and the Halo games we can see that while they do reinforce violence and hatred on many levels they also try to stress that there is a time and a place for it all. Master Chief isnít starting any revolutions about how we perceive heroes, and most people arenít going to see him as anything more than a statement that heroes are gun toting killing machines but as a lesson in heroism he does give us more than his face value.