Videogames are intimately familiar with the concept of the hero; Games seem built for protagonists, with worlds pieced together and relationships formed to benefit the hero's journey. Yet a strange thing occurred to me recently: many of the gaming world's best protagonists are actually terrible protagonists, at least from a storytelling standpoint. Many lack the depth and dimension of those leading men and women found in film, stage, and literature, while others simply fail to develop a personality at all.
If we look to literature for inspiration, we might stumble upon one Hiro Protagonist. He's the hero (and the protagonist, wouldn't ya know) of the Neal Stephenson novel Snow Crash, a brilliant science fiction novel from a man that many consider one of the fathers of steampunk. Snow Crash is one hell of an influential novel...yet there's still that ridiculous name staring back at you: Hiro Protagonist.
Stupid? At first glance, sure, but if you know Stephenson, you'll recognize this as an obvious bit of absurdist humor aimed at poking fun at our conceptions of the leading man in literature. After all, Hiro begins the novel as a pizza delivery man for the mafia, which is neither heroic nor protagonist-like. Many pieces of criticism have suggested that Hiro isn't even the real hero of the novel.
When we look back to games, the essence of the problem is that narratives have become filled with real Hiro Protagonists, but in this case, no one's laughing, and game worlds and narratives are paying a high price.