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Gaming Vigilantes: The Modern Day Robin Hood?

Gaming Vigilantes: The Modern Day Robin Hood?

Mar 12, 2016

From the archives: Nov, 2013

Throughout the last few console generations, there has been a growth in the amount of vigilante, and rogue-like characters that have crept into the gaming world. Naturally, these sorts of characters have surfaced because of the growing popularity of stealth games, but what is it that draws gamers to these independent, strong-willed and anti-hero characters?

Anti-heroes are often littered with a moral-compass dilemma, wherein they do what they believe to be the right thing, but at the same time they may have to do the dirty work “for the greater good”.

Assassin’s Creed, arguably one of the biggest, new stealth franchises born of this generation is based around righting the wrongs and bringing the wrong-doers to justice. Altaïr, Ezio and Connor act upon their own believes and honour systems to bring order and justice to either themselves, their assassin “family” or for the greater good. In Assassin’s Creed in particular, your character has to steal, stalk and murder to bring order to their respective cities, all the while acting outside of the law.

Assassin's Creed vigilante

The hidden blades are a signature weapon in the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Many have fallen victim to a swift stab from these blades.

With vigilante characters, however, it is important for developers to make what the protagonists are fighting for mean something. The audience have to understand the characters’ motivations, because if they do not, they will not care for the character and will feel his actions unnecessary. If gamers do not believe the characters actions to be justified and exciting to play-through, they will put the controller down and not bother to continue. It seems that a good mix of empathy, revenge and an against-all-odds battles have been the core elements to this generation’s success in stealth and vigilante characters.

Another highly rated stealth/action game released this generation was Dishonored. The main character, Corvo, is framed for murdering the Empress of Dunwall. It’s the players task to set out and prove his innocence and clear his name. Gamers can choose whether they wish to do this as violently as they like, by assassinating all those that stand in his way, or stealthily progress through the game, planting information and unveiling who truly committed the crimes and outing them. Regardless of your method, there is certainly a large appeal for these stealthy, rogue-like characters and games.

Dishonored's Corvo turns vigilante to clear his name

In Dishonored, gamers can chose between killing all those in their path, or keep to the shadows and remain a ghost.

Developers have latched onto these characters as a means to create a product that still feels quite fresh. Stealth games in particular have a unique niche in that even if they have elements of shooting or melee fighting, there is some strategic and tactical play involved. This ties into the game-play, in that it serves as a different style of puzzle solving. If you want to be as stealthy as possibly, you need to be very patience and methodical, can be both the most frustrating, but also enjoyable things about the game. Furthermore, it’s understandable that gamers find it fun to assume the avatar of a character that belongs to a minority, that can work in the shadows and successfully undermine the corrupt, upper echelons of society and bring justice to the masses. The rogue characters in today’s video games almost feel as though they are the modern day equivalent of Robin Hood.

While there could be honour in the vigilante/antiheroes actions from the characters in Assassin’s Creed and Dishonored, it’s hard to discount how popular murderous revenge can be for some gaming titles. In both Max Payne and The Darkness, both main characters (Max and Jackie Estacado) have their loved ones brutally murdered and want nothing more than to seek revenge. The scenarios and narrative that may occur could be extreme because they will not let anything stand in their way. To quote Johnny Powell, a character in The Darkness II: “Killing Jenny [Jackie’s girlfriend] was the dumbest thing the Mob could have done, because without her, Jackie not only had nothing left to live for, but he had nothing left to lose.”

Darkness 2 Jackie Estacado seeks his revenge

It’s hard to imagine a situation where wielding a demonic power will lead to anything but pain for those who cross you.

When you have a character with this mentality, it could lead the game anywhere. Plus, when you have a demonic life-form symbiotically living inside you, it’s just asking for you to annihilate everybody that dares to stand in your way. Dual-wielding guns with two serpentine-demon heads protruding from your shoulders is certainly one way to go about it.

To progress through some of these vigilante/violent games, however, you do have to play out some of these brutal or violent scenes.  Violence and death will always be an integral across the entertainment industry. Having peoples’ lives on the line, especially the characters that you care about most, raises the stakes and keeps you engaged. Sometimes in gaming, being the antihero and stepping outside the law can be the difference between life and death.

It is important that we keep these vigilante characters, particularly in the stealth genre, fresh and exciting. There are only so many times you can be double-crossed, or have your loved ones taken from you before that feels too commonplace and predictable. Hopefully, next gen title Watch Dogs will be unique, new and exciting when it comes to the character’s motivations and the game’s narrative. It is a shame that a flagship title for the next gen consoles has been delayed, but for a stealth/action game, it’s essential to smooth out the rough edges and make the game flow effortlessly, while simultaneously keeping us on the characters side by having a clear understanding of their moral compass.

Sam Barwick is a writer at GamingIQ, follow him on Twitter to earn bonus points, and make sure to read his other articles here.

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