Being a hero in a game is remarkably similar to being a man. Not to mention that in videogames being a hero is most often to be a man.
What I mean by this is that in order to figure out what a hero is, we have to look at what a hero isn’t.
A hero isn’t a monster1
Once this has been established, heros can pretty much do whatever they want, simply because they are not monsters.
As long as a hero is killing monsters, there are no objections to how many monsters a hero has killed. There’s no threshold stating that if you kill more than this many monsters, you are no longer a hero.
As long as you are on the side of “good” you can pretty much do what you want, as a hero. Murder a village of goblins? Not a problem, they were Other anyway, and in contrast to the hero, automatically on the “wrong” side.
I mentioned women earlier, and that is of course because men have traditionally had a hard time defining what they are, except to point out that they are not women. And because they are not women, they are better than women. Morally superior, kind of.
This is an excellent way of placing men and heros on the side of “good”, no matter the atrocities perpetrated. Women and Other are placed on the side of “evil”. This means that you are pretty much entitled to do whatever you like to them, following the logic of heroism. They are evil. You are not.
The idea of good and Other is also deeply rooted in the colonial mindset. Because the Western world is “civilized”, it’s okay to obliterate cultures tjat are not like ours, because we are the good ‘uns. The others are exactly that. Other. Thus – in the minds of our colonial selves – not entirely human.
Looking at any kund of game, be it digital game or TTRPGs, this is an idea that is necessary for us as players to be able to keep playing. The opposing elements in the game have to be othered or dehumanised or the cognitive dissonance would explode into a very uncomfortable situation.
Never mind the blatant racism incorporated in this mindset, or the sexism inherent in never letting women be the heroes. We’re placing our (white men’s) enjoyment above the Other. The Other is there for entertainment and/ or pleasure.
Now, before you start arguing that this is only games, this has no impact, I would like to point out that games are cultural artefacts and that they do carry meaning.
Historically, play and games have always been an esteemed part of social, spiritual and cultural life.
Playing With the Past
We have ignored that meaning for a long time because it is uncomfortable to confront it and what our games represent if it is true.
Maybe it is time to take a second look, not only at what we put in our games, but how we put it there and what values it conveys.
We don’t have to stop being heros. But maybe we should stop being heros at the cost of the Other. Maybe it is time to realise that the Other is just like us.