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Sephzilla avatar 8:48 PM on 07.12.2012  (server time)
My White Knight Complex – How I can’t stop being the hero

I like to believe I have a decent variety in my tastes as a video gamer. If someone were to ask me to list off various titles I would consider my “favorites” I’d hit a few genres along the way; Devil May Cry 3, Super Mario Bros. 3, Final Fantasy VII, Total Annihlation, Metal Gear Solid, Shadow of the Colossus, and so on. Although, I need to come clean about one thing that gives me issues as a gamer…

Games that give me choice.

It’s not the actual ability of “choice” that gives me an issue. The issue is that I always know what I’m going to choose, and I can’t seem to help myself from breaking this trend. So pardon me as I go a little introspective, as I try to break down my own psyche as a gamer.

”I ain’t no hero, never was… never will be – Solid Snake

That, admittedly cliché, action hero quote probably applies pretty well to my real life self, I’m not a heroic person in a lot of ways (as are likely most of you). I’m generally the type who would probably flee instead of fight, and in person I’m generally a bit more reserved and keep to my own unless I’m surrounded by my close friends. Yet, if you put a controller in my hand and sit me down in front of a system I transform into the video game equivalent of Captain America.

When my friends and I would gather online to play Halo or Call of Duty I’d become the guy who’d call out orders, think up team tactics on the fly, try my hardest to keep our morale up, and be the guy who’d lead the charge. The only thing that could match my desire for victory was my will and determination to make everyone around me better. I’ve been this way as long as I can remember, dating back to the days when I played Delta Force on PC and beyond. 

You’re likely asking yourself what’s so terrible about being Captain America, because every good team needs a person who steps up and takes that leadership role. In all honesty it’s not a bad thing because, to continue the Avengers analogy, a team full of Tony Starks would never get anything done and everybody would have a bad time. The only problem is that this side of me is something that’s more or less ingrained into my personality, not necessarily something I can flip on and off like the kitchen light. And while it’s a blessing for games that are team-oriented, it can be a relatively unpleasant curse when it comes to other games.

My urge to be Mr. Good Guy manifests itself in a couple of ways depending on what other type of game I play especially if, as I mentioned earlier, these games allow for any method of choice with the character I play as. 

Fighting games, for example, are an area where my ability to choose gets trumped by my instinctive desire to be “the guy”. By that, I mean I always tend to flock towards whoever is the main character in the sense of the games storyline. I will begrudgingly admit that for years my first, and almost always only, character choice in Street Fighter was Ryu. While he’s the main character in terms of the game’s universe he’s also a similar determined fighter who, while not a traditional leader, tends to lead by example. I don’t always play as him nowadays as I used to, but even now I still have times where it feels wrong to not be playing as him. Soul Calibur is a relatively similar case, where my character of choice is always and will seemingly forever be Siegfreid. I got into the series around the time of Soul Calibur 2, when Seigfreid was actually a villain at the time (ironically). After I got more into the lore of the franchise I found myself wanting to play as Seigfreid more after learning his backstory. And, go figure, by the time Soul Calibur 3 & 4 roll around Seigfreid transformed into another white knight-esk hero. Hell, another fighting game a friend and I play from time to time is DragonBall Z: Burst Limit. While he will hop around through half of the damn Dragonball roster picking everything from Krillin to Recoome to Raditz, guess who I always pick – all Goku all the time. And, like with Street Fighter, if I pick someone other than him I subconsciously feel like I’ve already lost by not picking the right guy.

When it comes to fighters I do have a couple of anomalies to my otherwise white knight decisions. For example, in the newest Mortal Kombat my primary character is Johnny Cage. This guy, as you know, is probably low on the “white knight” hierarchy of MK characters. Another would be Bang Shishigami from BlazBlue, however I need to place an asterisk by this example. While Bang isn’t the true main character or “heroic” persona of the series, he’s built around the idea that he’s an exaggerated parody of the heroic archetype. So he’s basically a character who tries too hard to be a heroic Power Ranger which, when you think about it, isn’t exactly a huge deviation from my instinctive trends.

Branching away from fighters, another area where my ability to choose is subconsciously ripped away from me is any game with a moral system. You can likely see where I’m going with this, in any one of these games I only ever seem to follow one path.

In Knights of the Old Republic I never even bothered to choose the dark side path at all, and would even restart from an earlier save point if I ever did anything that resulted in getting dark side points. I swear that by the time I beat the game, my Jedi was so holy and good that he made Luke Skywalker look like Denzel Washington’s character in Training Day.

Given the Captain America reference from earlier, inFamous is another game I need to mention when regarding my white knight issues. The morale system is pretty straight forward – you’re choosing whether or not you want to be Captain America or Swarm (Image source & quote: Trev’s blog), you’re either justice incarnate or the worst thing since Hitler. I, obviously, go the hero route for two reasons. The first reason is to satisfy my natural drive to constantly be the person people look up to. The second reason is that the hero path of inFamous generally just feels more challenging and satisfying. There’s a certain extra level of satisfaction when you jump into a hostile situation where civilians are around, stop all of the bad guys, and every civilian walks away unharmed. Within the game it teaches you how to use your powers a bit more appropriately, not to mention when you do get a chance to go all out in the game it makes you appreciate your more devastating powers a tad more.

The heroic gamer side of me impacts me more than I realize at times, whether it be emotionally or through how I play the game. Continuing with inFamous, I hate seeing people get hurt in the game (whether it be due to my own actions or from a bad guy) and I’ve had numerous times where I could go out of my way to revive civilians even if the current firefight is still going on.  The first inFamous even had an event during the storyline that delivered a right hook directly aimed right at the people who love being the hero, and it resulted in one of the personal more emotionally fueled moments I’ve had as a gamer this generation. Pardon me as I delve into spoiler territory; in the original inFamous the bad guy, Kessler, throws Cole into a Kobayashi Maru-esk no win scenario. Hanging from one building is Cole’s love interest Trish and hanging from another is a group of doctors, and Kessler forces Cole to choose. The twist, which you find out through replays of the game, is that there is absolutely no way to save Trish. If attempt to save Trish, the Trish hanging from the building is just a decoy and the actual Trish plummets to her death with the doctors. If you try to save the doctors, Trish falls to her death because the lady hanging from the other building is actually her and not a decoy. 

Obviously it’s a forced event to further the plot, but it worked effectively. It drove me to actually dislike Kessler because he robbed me of my chance to truly be the hero. I felt like Vash The Stampede after he was forced to gun down Legato (in the anime version), I was angry but at the same time I felt like a part of me was lost. It was well done storytelling, but ultimately I doubt it would have resonated with me as much if I didn’t have that instinctive desire to go down familiar heroic path.

Maybe part of the reason my video game self is like this is just because of the stuff that I was around as I grew up. I was, and still am, a huge fan of comic books and superheroes so perhaps that Captain America or Spider-Man-esk responsibility to do the right thing rubbed off on me. I’d also imagine there’s a certain amount of RoboCop or John McClane sense of duty sprinkled in there too.  So perhaps it’s just a case of me imitating what I’m most familiar with. Perhaps it’s a different case; in most video games if you follow the “main character” you tend to get the most interesting story or if you follow the good path instead of evil you tend to get the “true” ending of the game. I actively can’t think of a game that has a morale system where the evil ending is the canonical ending.

Or perhaps, just maybe, it’s all just part what’s great about video games. Like most other forms of entertainment, video games provide great escapism. When Peter Parker puts on his mask and turns into Spider-Man he goes from being a timid nerd and becomes a cocky and wise-guy superhero who tries his hardest to do the right things, he gets to transform from what he is into what he wants to be.

Do I consider this whole issue with constantly trying to be the hero a problem, yeah I guess I do, but does if it hurts my gaming experience however, not really. I'm primarily curious if anybody else out there shares a similar “white knight complex” as I do, or perhaps something similar to it. Ultimately, my curiosity makes me ask myself if the escapism a video game provides allows us to temporarily be our true selves or if it lets us become what we wish we could be.

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