We really shouldn’t be surprised that our generation are constantly berated for being the selfish ones, obsessed with instant gratification and more vain than that guy who probably thought that song was about him: we’ve grown up around games that are forever placing us in the shoes of The Most Important Person Alive, the ones who’ll save the world, get the girl and collect all the unlockable hats.
I don’t think I’ve played anything recently that hasn’t cast my Generic Male Avatar as the only person who could possibly stop Generic Threat from taking over the Generic Game World. From the type of games that literally give you a big button that says “Press Here To Save Human/Alienkind” – Mass Effect, Deus Ex – to the ones that task you with a meaningful quest to rid the world of some naughty chap who wants to burn everything, control everything or just generally mess everything up, there are a multitude of experiences that teach us that either you’re the hero or you’re just some NPC.
But considering how often games are referred to as a method of escapism, why is it almost always the case that I’m being given a mountainload of what essentially amounts to hero homework? Isn’t it enough to have some virtual world that I can roam, far away from the real-life pressures of work and laundry and taxes? No. My long list of Things I Have To Do In Order To Be A Productive Adult has been replaced by a stress-inducingly high amount of pressure to save the planet.
Not to mention the power fantasy bods that come with all this responsibility. Gears of War gives you men that take brawn over brain to its most ludicrous point, with men that more closely resemble a bargain bin full of offal than actual human beings. Fable translates your actions into grotesque approximations of badassery, your luminous scars telling the story of many battles lost. See, you can’t even do badly without it contributing to how awesome you are.
It’s hard to believe the game’s narrative telling me that I’m the best driver, fighter, or footballer in the world when I’m just quite blatantly not. Look, I crashed into about 20 lampposts on my way to the objective. I kicked that other footballer man in the mouth by accident. I tried to shoot that rogue alien but I ended up seducing him. While that latter one was certainly a pleasant way to spend an evening in space, I really don’t think it’s going to net me Intergalactic Employee of the Month.
When games like Destiny are telling me I’m The Chosen One, only to plonk me down in the middle of a planet surrounded by myriad other Chosen Ones, it’s even harder to take it seriously. Just tell me I’m a grunt like everyone else and I’ll be absolutely fine with my ultimately unexciting existence.
Maybe we don’t need to carry the weight of the world on our polygonal shoulders. Plenty of games manage to incorporate the player character into a much wider narrative – The Walking Dead’s ragtag group of survivors never solely depends on you, or on any other person; MMOs require teamwork to make the most of the game, and while there might be moments best suited to your unique talents, you’re by no means the world’s only snowflake.
Sometimes we need to be taught the lesson that it’s okay not to be special, not to have the red carpet of fantasy rolled out for us every time we press Start. Give Gears of War’s Meat Men the chance to ditch all that chainsawing business in favour of farm management. Take the time in Skyrim to stop and smell the Nirnroot. The end of the world can wait.