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The Pezman

REBUTTAL TO: "A Tribute to an Old Fashioned Hero"

I'm not very familiar with Ragnar of Burland, being that I have not played Dragon Quest IV. However, I do feel inclined to disagree with Mr. Bloom on pretty much everything he claims. Not only do I believe the gaming industry to be rife with morally-fixed heroes in both modern and classic gaming, but that characters (note that I do not label them "heroes" if morality is in question) who experience inner conflict are one of the most powerful and potential elements of an action story.

One of the first video games characters to every grace a television screen in all his eight bit glory was "jumpman," later renamed Mario. Mario was an honest plumber, working his way through green tubes to save some princess or another from some villain or another. His moral direction was never in question. In his wake spawned several other such unwavering heroes, some more successful than others: Link, Sonic, Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, Bubsy, Cool Spot, Toejam and Earl, Ty, Sly Cooper, Rayman, Earthworm Jim, The Tick, Tak, Jak, Daxter, Ratchet, Clank, and a plethora of others. Active heroes who are go-getters and don't have to think twice about pursuing the villain of the hour are as common now as they were then, perhaps even more so. They exist in RPGs as well: Locke, the "treasure hunter" who is aware of the Empire's evil from the very beginning, or Lucca, who immediately decides to take action once Lavos is introduced.

However, the large majority of these unwavering heroes comes from platform games, and there's a very distinct reason for that. Plots of platform games, though they have improved in quality and depth over the years, are all essentially a different version of the good guy overcoming all odds to stop the omnipotent being, corporation, or army. Their large focus is on gameplay, they don't need to have an engrossing story. However, in almost any RPG, moral conflict and uncertainty are a cornerstone of plot. Where would Terra's complexity be without her self-questioning, or FF7 as a whole without Cloud's inner turmoil? Would FF9's Dagger have been nearly as interesting if she hadn't had serious qualms with confronting her own mother, or LoD's Dart with his father? No, what makes these stories interesting is that right and wrong aren't so clearly defined, and that people can be middle-of-the-road, seduced back and forth, question themselves, or completely apathetic.

Scenarios with pure good versus pure evil don't leave a lot of room for rich storytelling, and the question becomes how the good (or evil, sometimes) side triumphs rather than why a given side triumphs, and what it means. Platformers, with their fairly stylized stories, are able to address the very specific hows of the battles. RPGs, conversely, only differ in gameplay mechanics by so much, but their scenarios and situations allow for deeper level analyses of who's good, who's bad, and what's good or bad about them. It's not difficult to condemn AVALANCHE as a terrorist group who did more harm than good by blowing up these reactors, and that Sephiroth was doing what he genuinely believed to be right for the planet by mercilessly slaughtering everyone he came across. It's also interesting to note that FFVI's Empire, the side of evil, houses both the rational and caring Leo and the demented and more or less unfeeling Kefka.

I don't believe that video games of today are either lacking in larger-than-life, straight-ahead heroes or that we've outgrown the simplicity of a good guy versus a bad one. They may not be found so much in RPGs anymore, but the quality and depth of RPG stories in general has escalated over the years, as more has become technologically available to us. It would be impossible to have an FFX quality game with an FFI sense of larger-than-life heroism.

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