A good video game protagonist means a lot to someone who plays as him or her. They are often a lot more than merely a cool character. Sometimes it’s someone you look up to, maybe someone you share the character flaws with, or it could be just an uplifting power fantasy. Whatever the case, our favorite protagonists will always be a part of us, and we’ll come back to them every little bit. The following heroes have all made their mark as some of the greatest characters that games have to offer, who inspired us to see their stories through many times.
Ezio Auditore (Assassin’s Creed series)
Over the course of three games, we watched the life of Ezio Auditore de Firenze from birth to death, following every step of his character growth. We witnessed his change from the carefree young noble into the skillful and wise leader of the Assassin Order. And Ezio’s life was full of incredible events, from fighting the pope in the middle of the Vatican, plotting against the Borgias with Niccolo Machiavelli, to fighting both Janissaries and the midlife crisis in Constantinople. Out of all Assassin’s Creed main characters, Ezio is by far the most favorite, followed only by Edward Kenway from the Black Flag. In the end, we even saw Ezio establishing his family and finding a bittersweet end as a wise elder in the Italian countryside. In those final moments of his life, both we and him concluded that it was one amazing ride.
Commander Shepard (Mass Effect series)
The interesting thing about this character is that there’s no definite version. When talking about Mass Effect’s protagonist, fans usually refer to the Commander as “my Shepard”. Many games have protagonists that you can customize, but those are usually blank slates, and you’re the one who makes the entire story. BioWare did a different thing, and you have a character with an already defined role, but who’s also open to player choices. You have predefined goals to achieve, however, it’s up to you how you’re going to accomplish the given tasks. You could bribe everyone, you could shoot everyone, or you could also convince everyone. You are constantly following the storyline, although the finer details in the story are up to you to decide, and your choices are always validated by top-tier voice acting and writing. This makes players feel an immense connection with their version of Shepard. And no matter how unique your Shepard is, it’s still the same character, just with different nuances in personality and the way he/she does things. And that’s what makes a good leading man.
Geralt (The Witcher series)
The thing that makes Geralt such a great hero is the fact he’s not a hero at all. He’s not a knight in shining armor, brimming with valiant righteousness. He’s not struggling against major injustice brought upon him either. Geralt is just a real guy in a realistic (albeit fantasy) world, frequently surrounded by bastards, deception, and trickery, and not willing to take any of it. He is a decent person, but he’s not idealistic, nor does he want to be, balancing on the scale between mild douche and a total jerkass. Also, he has done some very bad things in the past, be it as a part of a job, or due to the fact he screwed up big time. That’s why he’s so relatable, and we can feel for the white-haired, witch-hunting mutant in a fantasy world. The way Geralt handles his challenges makes him more human and far more sympathetic than the typical run of the mill fantasy hero.
Lara Croft (Tomb Raider series)
Lara is the first major, globally popular gaming heroine. Despite the fact that she was originally made as a character for the enjoyment of male gamers (some of us really like pyramids because of her), she also managed to lure a new gaming audience, in the form of girls. Lara was a great role model for many young women all around the world, because she wasn’t only beautiful, but also intelligent, fearless, and capable of doing anything that a male adventurer – like her apparent role model Indiana Jones – could do. We saw her diving headfirst (literally) into tombs full of deadly traps, avoiding big rolling boulders, dual wielding guns, and solving puzzles. Not many game heroes, let alone heroines, transcended their video game persona into TV ads, music videos, movies, and more. Lara is also great because she successfully transformed herself into a heroine for the modern age, with the 2013 reboot which depicted Lara as a vulnerable teen who slowly evolves into the badass lady we all know.
Solid Snake (Metal Gear series)
Solid Snake is the type of hero we used to watch in 1980s action movies. He’s a gruff, sardonic, chain-smoking special forces veteran. His creator Hideo Kojima openly stated that Snake is an amalgam of several action heroes, but that his main inspiration was, quite apparently, Kurt Russel’s Snake Plissken in Escape from New York. Across a series of 20+ games, which have been published for over 30 years, we had the chance to watch the Snake “family” of parents and clones showing us how upbringing, genetics, and circumstances can shape someone’s fate and moral viewpoint. These games let us change our perspective, taking the role of the villain, and showing us what made them turn coat. Playing the games, we got to examine our roles as players, and the relation between the creator and his work. Add to that some incredible moments of addressing the players themselves and breaking of the fourth wall, and you’ll get the most compelling video game series of all time, with one of the finest protagonists leading it. Similar to Geralt, Snake is not a hero, nor does he aspire to be, he’s just an old, disillusioned super spy, who does things Ethan Hunt could only imagine doing and routinely saves the world in the process.
Video game protagonists are often more than just characters we play. Sometimes they’re our idols, or someone we’d like to be more alike, or just someone we relate to on some level. A good protagonist will make players relate, feel, and root for him/her. Even more, some protagonists are so iconic they change the gaming culture and even pop culture itself, spreading to mainstream media. The common thing for all these heroes is that they changed the lives of many people for the better, by allowing them to play through their exciting adventures.