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What is a Hero?: Sonic

12:29 PM on 11.20.2007 // Cowzilla3

[Editor's note: The Community Blogs Promotion week continues! Cowzilla3 is up to bat today with his What is a Hero? series. It's a new series from him where he takes a look at videogame heroes and tells us what he thinks makes these characters a hero. -- CTZ

Before reading this please read the introduction so you know what I’m trying to do with this series and why I’m talking about heroism. Then, if you wish, read about Link, Solid Snake and Mario.

Before we jump into the next hero, I’d like to comment on something that has come up via the truly awesome responses in each blogs comments since I’ve started this series. Many of videogames early heroes were designed around necessity (Mario for example as Necros pointed out). Thus their look and often times their actions weren’t created to make a statement or define them as a character but instead because they had to look or act that way. This doesn’t mean however that the way these characters define what a hero is to us is any less valid. In fact the technical limitations of videogames forced the medium to have an entirely different standard of what a hero should look like and how they should act (Mario once again being a prime example). The point being made here is that it doesn’t matter if videogame heroes were designed around necessity or not because either way, they still apply to how we perceive heroism and they still teach us lessons about it.

The second point I would like to make is something that should have been in the introduction but I missed. Videogame characters, more and more so, do define how we think. If you believe that our generation wasn’t some how influenced by the stories of Mario, Sonic or any other character, then you’re just wrong. The stories might have been simple, the morals easy to understand and the dialogue blatantly obvious but we all learned from them in one way or another. Gaming, like books, art, film and every other form of media, does help to define how we perceive different ideals. I would say games especially define heroism since in the majority of them you are placed in the role of hero. With that being said let’s move on to our next hero: Sonic.


Sonic is the fastest blue hedgehog around, which when you think about it isn’t saying much as he’s also the only blue hedgehog around, still he has some serious speed. He is usually fighting against the evil Dr. Robotnik (also known as Eggman) who has plans for world domination. These plans almost always include collecting a certain number of Chaos Emeralds or the Master Emerald and more recently the Sol Emeralds, which in turn will give him ultimate power or the ability to power one of his ultimate power machines. Sonic then must race through levels, sometimes with the help of his plethora of friends, to collect these Emeralds before Robotnik does or in some cases steal them back from Robotnik. Everyone knows Sonic is a hero and he has no problems living up to the role and talking about it, to the point of annoying arrogance. Sonic’s attitude towards life is often nonchalant despite the life threatening situations he is in, this attitude makes him appear truly “cool.”

What Does He Teach Us About Heroism?
There are no ifs, ands or buts about it, Sonic the Hedgehog is an arrogant, self righteous, jerk sometimes. If someone is in trouble he knows the best way to save them and that way is his way. This arrogance often puts him at odds with others who are often times trying to accomplish the same goal. Sonic’s speed can be interpreted as a metaphor for his life in that he blows past everything without much care only to recant his mistakes afterwards, if he happens to make any. In fact if you were to play simply the first two levels of each Sonic game you would probably get the impressions that a hero is simply arrogant and proud. Of course you would be wrong because, much like a Saturday morning cartoon, almost every Sonic game teaches us a life lesson about being a better person and Sonic’s life lesson, although he never seems to learn it that well, is that arrogance and hubris are never good things outside of small doses.
Sonic's arrogance (and the blatant life lessons in almost every game) teaches us two things about being a hero. The first is that believing in yourself is one of the most important features of being a hero. Without Sonic’s belief that he can take care of any challenge, be he able to or not, he wouldn’t tackle any of those said challenges. His approach to life, though irksome to others and often the cause of many problems, is also what raises him up to anything that confronts him. Heroes believe in themselves and are thus able to accomplish what is set before them.
The second lesson about heroism is not as good. Sonic never actually seems to slow down or learn from his lessons. Sure at the end of each game he makes amends but that rushing lifestyle that applies both literally and figuratively never seems to stop. This is only complicated by the fact that most of Sonic’s enemies, like Knuckles and Shadow, seem to be misinformed about the blue hedgehog’s general intent too do good, thus leading to conflicts that could be easily avoided. Sure, in the end we learn that talking first might have been a good idea but for the most part Sonic shows us that heroes don’t have to care about what they’re doing as long as they apologize for it later. Truly, not the best lesson about how heroes should act and made all the more annoying because Sonic seems to want to show that heroes should not be acting in this way. “Do as I say, not as I do” seems to be his general lesson.

Much of this arrogance stems from his “I’m waaay to cool” attitude. Sonic’s over active attitude and tough machismo are relics of a cool obsessed 1980’s but that doesn’t mean they don’t influence how we think a hero should act. If our heroes are supposed to be just everyday guys Sonic sure argues against that. He has all the right moves and says talks like he’s the cool kid in a bad 80’s film. Sonic is almost a parody of what we stereotype heroes as: characters or people who are cool, smooth and totally removed from emotions. If you amp up James Bond or any other action star you’d get the ludicrous “coolness” of Sonic. He only propagates this attitude by reveling in the idea that he is a hero. Many times it feels like the reason Sonic is acting is not for the greater good but because he wants to prove he is the fastest and best.
As an adult I can see how ridiculous he is for the most part, but as a definition for a hero it creates an idea that heroes must be cooler than cool in order to help, and just doing good isn’t cool, being the best is cool. Heroes have to look slick and move fast. This can be especially noticed in how Sonic’s look has changed, from a chubby looking fur ball with a bit of attitude like so:
To the rail grinding extreme bad ass you see in the image above that one. A hero isn’t someone who may stumble around and not look cool doing everything, it’s someone who moves smoothly and always has the right foot forward. I wish Sonic were more of a parody or pastiche of the type of heroes our society often promotes but instead he’s often a scary reminder of what we endorse as good features for a hero to have.

Let’s not get too down on Sonic though. In his heart of hearts he isn’t a bad hero and most of the time he does seem to be trying to ward us away from these attitudes that he so flagrantly presents. This fact is true for the simple reason that beyond any doubt the most important thing to Sonic are his friends. Despite the way the inclusion of Sonic’s menagerie of friends may make the games worse they also make Sonic one of the few single player videogame heroes who is saving the world with plenty of aid. The fact that Sonic has had a sidekick in his games since his second outing shows that friendship is strongly important to him even if he blows it off easily. Every game features a friend helping Sonic out in some way and his cast of supporting characters is most often playable. More than just a feeling of not being alone like I mentioned in my Mario write up, Sonic actually could not complete many of his tasks without the aid of others.

Sonic shows us that heroes need help. Even if they are the fastest or best or strongest around they can’t do things by themselves. I find this to be one of the truly impressive lessons Sonic teaches us about heroism, especially coming from a character that seems so self centered. Friendship and loyalty often play a major role in what Sonic is doing and in recent years even defeating the final boss and saving the world took the teamwork of Sonic and someone else. It’s a stark contrast to how he acts sometimes but the biggest message Sonic sends about heroism, above all his negative attributes, is that it isn’t a one man show, it is rarely even a two man show. Heroism for Sonic, no matter how bad it might make his games, is a group event and this is in an attitude that is starkly missing from the world gaming outside an RPG.

In the end what comes strongest from Sonic is a sense that a hero is not infallible. Because of his bigheadedness and his need to be the best Sonic may be one of the most flawed heroes around. You might not see it to look at him, especially since his games are so kid friendly and blatantly obvious in their morals, but the fastest hedgehog on earth has a plethora of flaws that in a more serious setting would be incredibly dramatic and insightful. If he wasn’t forced to be so cool all the damn time these flaws might even come off as sincere. The trick is, Sonic teaches us, that even with these flaws, even when you lose all your rings, you just pick yourself back up, flaws and all and charge forward to save the day.

Of course if you truly want to be a hero to someone it's pretty simple. All you have to do is donate to Child's Play. You can even get a free game of your choice out of it. [Editor's note: This contest is not officially endorsed by Destructoid. This is all Cowzilla's awesome idea. -- CTZ]

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