Why am I always the chosen one? In so many games, the entire world revolves me, the grandest and most perfect of all heroes sent from on high, pre-ordained by the gods to fulfil the ancient prophecy and save the forces of good from the ancient evil. As fun as all of that can be, the formula gets boring after while. Why do I have to be the chosen one all the time? Can't I be anyone else?
You're probably familiar with the trope, as it's not one exclusive to RPGs or even video games as a whole. You are the chosen one, chosen by fate to carry out your destiny, which is just another way of saying "you're gonna win". I almost feel bad for the antagonists who try to oppose me, especially when I have fate
on my side. So why does being the protagonist have to come with this sense of empowerment, even when facing insurmountable odds?
Of course, some games handle this trope better than others. Let's compare the three most recent entries into The Elder Scrolls
, starting with the latest. In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
, you are the Dragonborn, the hero sung about in legends who has been foretold to defeat the evil dragon Alduin. The story here is as straightforward as it gets. You are the hero and/or heroine born with the ability to defeat the big bad, and upon discovering your gift, you head to the mountains to train with some old monks who will help you hone your abilities. After finding a few magical MacGuffins, you eventually defeat the great evil, just as fate foretold. If any of that sounds like a spoiler... it shouldn't. The story in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
is as cookie-cutter as it gets, with the general gist of the plot's straightforward direction being stated more or less outright from the get-go.
In that game's predecessor, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
, you play the Hero of Kvatch, a mysterious nobody who receives a get out of jail free card from the gods as part of an orchestrated plot to save the world of Nirn from the invading forces of Mehrunes Dagon. Pretty standard stuff. Aside from being chosen by the gods to save the land, you're nobody special. You don't have any powers or anything unique outside of being given the chance to start your journey in the first place. What's really interesting however, is that you aren't necessarily the "chosen one". Rather, Martin Septim seems to fit the trope more closely than the actual protagonist. Instead of playing as the most important character, around whom the whole world revolves, you are instead tasked with finding said character, and helping them fulfil their
destiny. Compare this to the more recent Loren The Amazon Princess
, a turn-based RPG in which you are not the main heroine, but instead her aide.
Finally, we get to The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
, in which you play the Nerevarine, who may or may not be the chosen one of legend. As the player character, it is your duty to unite the land, put an end to the blight, and smite a false god. All pretty good stuff, but what's most interesting is one of the requirements for being the, or rather a
Nerevarine. During one of the game's main quests, you are infected with Corpus, the disease ravaging the Dunmer people. After drinking a potion that may or may not cure you, you keep only the positive effects of the curse, with the negative ones being annulled. Whether you're cured because of the potion, or because you are indeed the proper incarnation of a god, remains uncertain. Are you truly the chosen one? Or are you just what the people of Morrowind want you to be?
In the case of the Nerevarine, where you may simply be filling the role the Dunmer want you to fill, the player character isn't necessarily a true-blue chosen one, just the right guy in the right place at the right time, telling the people what they want to hear. Expanding upon that idea, the Chosen Undead in Dark Souls
is probably my favourite example of the this trope, as it turns the traditional idea of "the chosen one" completely on its head. At first glance, it's your pretty standard affair. After being freed from prison, you set out to fulfil an ancient prophecy which states that, after escaping the Undead Asylum, you'll go on to ring the two Bells of Awakening, gather the four Lord's Souls, and ultimately overtake Lord Gywn as kindling for the First Flame, to keep the Dark at bay.
At least, that's what most players are duped into thinking the first time around. In truth, you're not the chosen one, but rather, one of many applications. Your liberator, Oscar of Astora, only freed you because the denizens of Lordran want to throw as many people at the prophecy as possible, hoping somebody will fulfil it in a desperate attempt to stave off the end of an age. After ringing the two Bells of Awakening, the player will find Frampt, who fills the player's head full of grand ideals about being "the chosen one", destined to put an end to the curse of the undead. Now, if you sequence break hard enough and do some digging, you'll instead meet Kaathe, who gives you an alternate proposal. Upon close examination, it should become apparent that the entire prophecy is a farce fabricated by a failing hierarchy to manipulate you, the player, as a pawn in a losing game. Instead of using tired tropes as a crutch, Dark Souls
decides to instead subvert it, turning it on its head, and giving players one of the most intriguing stories in an RPG to date.
I won't dismiss every game that borrows the concept of the chosen one, however. The first example that springs to mind of this being used well is Brütal Legend
, in which the player character Eddie Riggs is a warrior destined to travel to the Age of Metal and liberate humanity from their demonic overlords. Considering this game's tongue-in-cheek homage, this doesn't feel offensive in the slightest, especially when the main character doesn't really get the credit for his actions. Like the Hero of Kvatch, Eddie's job is to get someone else where they need to be.
In a world-changing story, your protagonist doesn't have to anything special in order to be important. Commander Shepard in Mass Effect
is the hero because they're willing to take the antagonistic body seriously. Because they're good at what they do, they're given the chance to continue their quest. As silly as the plot is, you're given a second chance in Mass Effect 2
because of what you did, not who are. Compared to the Hero of Kvatch, whom the gods choose to save to start their quest seemingly at random, Shepard is a far more compelling character, which is saying a lot, because Shepard is really pretty boring.
Honestly, your character doesn't have to be important at all. The protagonist doesn't need some special power that no one else has in order to be interesting, it's more inspiring to hear the story of an average Joe rising up and being recognised for their actions. If you're not going to change the world however, I should be able to go about my life as a (relatively) normal person. The motto for The Elder Scrolls is life "another life in another world", but that's never the case. You have to live a pre-determined life of valour and excitement. If a game let's you ignore the main plot, than you should be supported in doing so. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered there was no real questline for the the Bard's College in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
, even though you could rise to fame and glory several times over.
Sometimes, it's more fun to experience a more personal plot with a down-to-earth, grounded character, instead of the extra special centre of attention power fantasy we get all too often. I'd rather be an anti-hero like Geralt of Rivia or even a sidekick to the real hero, as is the case in Loren the Amazon Princess
, where you don't even play as Loren the Amazon Princess. And you know what? I'm lazy. Let someone else save the world. If I can ignore the plot, let me pursue other meaningful activities, such as mercantile and pacifism. Part of the reason video games are so much fun is that I can be anybody I wanna be. If that's the case, why am I stuck playing hero all the damn time?