Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Where Have All the Heroes Gone?

Over the weekend, I revisited my unfinished copy of No More Heroes for the Wii. My interest in the game was rekindled after seeing several journalist list it among their favorite games of the year. I also needed something to break up the monotony of Persona 3 and 4 (which, although I love them, are both 80 hour epics), so it was win/win.

From the outset of the game, I found myself strangely drawn to the character Travis Touchdown. I'd even say that I identified with Travis more than most other videogame character I've previous encountered. In large part, this is because, like him, I too am an anime fan, owning not only DVDs and and manga, but also figures much like those seen in Travis' motel room. It was refreshing to see a character who not only shared these interests, but was also the protagonist and not just a weepy sidekick (sorry, Otacon).

The deeper I got into No More Heroes however, the more I was repulsed by Travis. He isn't heroisc, despite his status as the protagonist; in fact, Travis is a loser and a pretty terrible human being. He's approximately 30 years old (based on information from cutscenes), lives in a motel, has no "real" job, really only ever thinks about sex, and his closest friend seems to be a video store clerk. What's more, he earns money primarily by doing odd jobs like mowing lawns and pumping gas. In essence, Travis is far from the picture of success, even by Santa Destroy standards.

Travis' occupation as an assassin is also problematic. In the context of popular media, being an assassin isn't necessarily a bad thing; they're even glorified at times. However, in these instances the character in question has a noble reason for killing others, making them a sort of anti-hero the player or audience can rally behind. Travis' motivations though are anything but noble; they're rather base in fact. He states in the opening moments of the game that he's aiming to be the #1 ranked assassin in the United States for two reasons: to earn money and get laid. I find this information rather nauseating, truth be told.

What's interesting is that Travis doesn't finds people like himself just as disgusting as I find him. Before he fights Bad Girl, the #2 ranked assassin, Travis confronts her about what he views as disgusting behavior. "You're no assassin. You're just a perverted killing maniac." "In essence," she replies, "they're the same." It's obvious through this exchange that Travis doesn't realize that he and Bad Girl are more alike than different, although she certainly does. The boss battle itself seems tailored to let the player come to this conclusion as well. Bad Girl is the hardest and most time-consuming boss in the game. There's no real trick to beating her; it is simply a matter of endurance. Even Travis himself admits that he had a hard time defeating her. In many ways, this fight and the events surrounding it act as the turning point in the game, and for me personally it precipitated my change of view towards Travis. This was not a character I liked and it disgusted me to think that we had similarities.

I wanted Travis to have some sort of redemption by the end of the game, perhaps a sign of hope for the future. Unfortunately, Travis is the same loser at the end of the game as he is in the beginning. Although I enjoyed the game immensely, I'm still rather troubled by the message Suda 51 (the game's director) may be trying to send, but even that is hard to parse. No More Heroes is unapolegetically a parody of modern videogames, complete with fourth-wall breaking references to the "player," so Suda may not actually be saying anything about gamers through Travis' character. It's possible that Travis is only caricature of how outsiders (like the mainstream media) view gamers.

No comments:

Post a Comment