Prototype Revealed My Inner Bastard

Power corrupts.

It’s an old saying, half of an old saying to be precise, but it’s a good one. Even the strongest of wills or purest of hearts can fall prey to its insidious tendrils. With enough justification, the greatest hero can become the most vile font of depravity to walk the Earth. Now, thanks to Prototype, I can say that I’ve experienced it first hand. It’s an odd feeling, as a matter of fact, comparable to learning a profound life lesson from a Michael Bay movie.

When I started Prototype, I hadn’t given much thought to moral issues. I was more concerned with the visceral pleasures of hacking up soldiers with a blade formed from my arm and elbow-dropping tanks from off the top of sky scrapers. I launched into the game and was soon gliding around Manhattan with gay abandon. Zipping around with innocent exuberance, I had little idea how far Alex Mercer would fall and even less that he would be dragging me down with him.

Alex set off on his quest to rediscover his memories and became even more ridiculously powerful in the process. When you consider that you can run right up to the top of a skyscraper from the very start of the game, that’s pretty impressive. It also turns out that Mr Mercer is a bit of a dick and is quite happy to barge, punch, slice and chop through anyone who gets between him and revenge. It’s not a video game first, not by a long shot, but Prototype is distinguished by its complete obliviousness to its moral vacuum of a protagonist. Alex scares his sister, once, and then says sorry. He monologues a bit at the end. Other than that, he isn’t bothered by all the collateral damage caused in his three-way war with the infection and the military.

Scarily, neither was I.

It was early in the game that I took my first step down that slippery slope. At ground level, for a change, I spied a female character that I hadn’t seen before. Wondering if it would be just simple model change (it was) or a different animation set and voice, I grabbed the poor woman and consumed her. It crossed my mind that I had just devoured an innocent woman for my own amusement, but I wrote it off as an experiment, a freak occurrence, a one off. No more casual disregard for virtual human life coming from this corner, nosiree.

Not long after, I was being pursued by soldiers and low on health. I grabbed the nearest pedestrian and scampered up onto a roof to consume the poor sod for a little health. A necessary sacrifice, obviously. It soon became a regular occurrence. Like a character from an Anne Rice novel, killing to feed, to continue one’s own existence, had become normal.

It wasn’t until some time later that I realised what I’d become. I’m standing in a crowded street after a gruelling battle, battered, yet victorious, resplendent in my bio-armour exoskeleton. Flinging my whipfist down the street, I skewer a struggling civilian and pluck him from the crowd before devouring him mercilessly. My arm lashes out a second time, with similarly gruesome results. A third time, a fourth. Again and again until I have eaten my fill. Then the terrible truth dawns; Alex has become a monster and so have I.

I no longer gave a thought to the innocents who died in the crossfire. Even worse, I snacked on them whenever I wanted, snuffing out their lives in an instant. They had become meaningless; walking health packs.

I’m not one to shy away from playing a bad guy in games, however I rarely have the same attachment I do to my more heroic alter-egos. My first character in an RPG is usually a larger-than-life version of myself and I generally feel compelled to take the noble path, although not always, as Vault 13’s Overseer would be able to attest to if not for a slightly terminal case of bullet in the brainpan. Villainy is always a self-aware choice to behave differently to how I would normally.

This wasn’t about being evil. I’ve punched stupid reporters in the face. I’ve run over crowds of pedestrians while listening to “99 Red Balloons.” I’ve risen to lead the Dark Brotherhood. I’ve sacrificed my wife at the Temple of Shadow. I even made Zaalbar the Wookie…well…you know what I’m talking about, right? I’ve been a complete and utter bastard many a time, but this time was different.

This time I hadn’t noticed. This time there was no conscious decision, no choice to be a bad guy. I had been presented with near-limitless power and I had fallen. I’ve always felt that how you play games is a reflection of you as a person. Even simple things, like your favourite FPS weapon, can tell a lot about you. I’d always thought of myself as a good guy, a hero saving countless virtual worlds from destruction. Sure, I dabbled in evil, but that was to get the other ending, more achievements or to really get my money’s worth. Besides, it was the character that was evil, not me.

Prototype taught me that, no matter what I think about myself, that potential for wrongdoing is there. I don’t think for a moment that I’m going to start slaughtering people wholesale any time soon, but it’s made me painfully aware that even if I believe I’m the good guy, I can still be a bit of a dick.

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~ by bigjonno on July 2, 2009.

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