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Adventurers of our Time

by Sean Hillman
Nov 13,2002


Wanted Dead or Alive: Heroes

Adventurers of our Time

As I was sitting and writing the third installment of this series I happened to turn on the TV and turned the channel to ESPN. Sports Center was just coming on and I learned to my shock that Johnny Unitas was dead. This of course was 9-11 and for Baltimore Colts and football fans in general it was another reason to remember September 11th in sadness.

Of course for non-football or non-sports fans in general, Johnny Unitas was just another Human being. His passing is sad but hey what did he ever do for society? Arguably the greatest pro football quarterback to have ever lived and he did not do anything for society? What are they talking about? Johnny U was old school. Johnny U was a man. Then it hit me all of a sudden. Johnny U was a hero...

I went back to the computer and saved the Column on Heroes of the Eastern Philosophy for column 4. I apologize that I am going a bit out of order, I wanted to set the table a little more for the whole discussion but here it is November (when your reading this) and I think its going to be appropriate to discuss this new topic. Lets save the Taoism for December.

So in thinking about Johnny Unitas I could not help but think back to a few weeks when Ted Williams passed away. Again he was just a baseball player but people who knew him or about him also realize he was a war hero. So here is a man who made a contribution to society on two levels. He fought a war for us and he played baseball for us.

Ok yes he played for himself to and that's a fine thing. Same with Johnny U. They played for us and they played for themselves but because they entertained us we gladly allowed them their own personal motivations and rarely made any value judgments on them.

Hero by Reputation Alone

Here we get back to the idea that fundamentally we do not care what our hero does on Saturday night. We don't care if he kills Orc babies and feasts on their flesh as part of some weird ritual. The Hero performs the Heroic Act and we applaud them for it. We love them for it. We reward them for it and we do not mind if ultimately they do it solely for the reward. They met our expectations and that pleases us. It is the audience that makes the hero...

Hero = Action2 * (Unconventional Wisdom) * Performance

We seem to moving further away from the idea that Heroes are wonderful people who act selflessly on our behalf. Of course some Heroes are that and much more, extremely selfless and moral (whatever that means) individuals who give of themselves for a greater hole. Yet when we utter the word Hero that is certainly not what most of us envision.

Johnny Unitas once lead the Baltimore Colts (damn you Indianapolis! lol j/k) to four touchdowns in I believe 2 minutes. (Maybe more or maybe less not exactly sure and feel free to comment and correct me.) Wow. That was good and something that few have ever come close to repeating. He was an integral part of the Colts team that defeated the New York Giants in what is widely considered to be the greatest NFL game ever played. He was feared and idolized and there will be a bronze statue of the man in front of Raven's stadium. That's pretty intense.

So why all the hoopla? Was he the best at every aspect of being a quarterback? No. Yet John Unitas could, Sunday in and Sunday out, perform for the crowds. He performed at high level and succeeded in the goals that he set.

Lets take a look at a fantasy figure or three here. What if you went to the Wizards of the Coast* website and read: "Drizzt Do'urden* dead at age 80. Drizzt passed away last night as he was ripped apart by one thousand demons who just got plain sick and tired of a good Dark Elf flaunting in their faces." You would be shocked. You would be dazed. Possibly you would be happy if you hated Drow, Elves, Rangers, or guys with lavender eyes. Never the less, his death affects your life. Why? He is a character in a series of books for god's sake. Well lets face it, Drizzt performed for us time and again. He was a heroic figure of myth and we idolize them every bit as much as we do Joan of Arc or Ghandi John Wayne.

Well of course, you say, we love our fictional heroes but how does this affect our gaming? Well characters in most games I think break down into three categories, at least in the traditional corporate model. We have the Clones, who seek to act out the life of a favored Hero or protagonist or (even) antagonist from literature or some other entertainment medium. We have the Idealists or Purists who seek out a rigid formula- the brave warrior; the powerful mage; the virtuous female druid; to reach the same level as the Icons of that formula. Then we have the Anarchists who seek to break every model and icon into a thousand pieces. From all of these it is assumed that when they reach a certain "level" of competence they will become Heroes. Indeed as I have mentioned previously we often refer to them as Heroes from the get go when we should be referring to them as Protagonists. After all they are not Heroes yet.

For the Traditional or Corporate model there seems to be a set number of steps to Hero-hood. Kill X number of Dragons. Kill Darth Maul wannabe. Slay a Vampire Master. These are the roads to being a Hero at least in the past. The water is much muddier though when one delves into the more modern, or Independent model of Role Playing. How can one be a Hero is your summoning creatures of darkness to aid you in your fight? Well if we remove the moral connotation from the word Hero (remember Hitler was a Hero to man) its very easy to describe the characters who attain that level. A Demonic underling who refuses to punish his own followers for failure and must face off against the head Demon is acting Heroically. He is acting, going against common wisdom, and he is performing not simply for himself but for a perceived audience. Many characters in Indie RPGs have a fuller control over the story then in the Corporate model and thus can more fully control the Hero aspect of their character. This could be towards more Heroism or a rapid retreat away from the word and all entails.

More then one critic has politely pointed out that you cannot equate role-playing characters who are fictional to real life Heroes. Motivations are different and the things they do are not real. You can extend this to sports Heroes. They play games and we idolize them. Yet don't they gift us? Make us feel good? For a few moments brighten our life in such a way that we feel better? They perform and for that we should be grateful. Thanks Johnny.

Next time I promise some Eastern Hero-ology and perhaps we shall delve into the nebulous life of Anti-Heroes.

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