Anti-heroes have been a part of popular culture for a long time, but never have they been more accepted as a major part of storytelling and entertainment in the modern era. From one-time comic-book super-villain, Venom, to Wolverine, The Punisher, Daredevil, Batman, Star-Lord and beyond in the comic-book space, to videogame anti-heroes such as Darksiders II horseman Death, God of War’s Kratos and the most recent iterations of both Arthur Morgan and John Marston from Red Dead Redemption 2 and Red Dead Redemption, respectively, the anti-hero is now a cultural icon. But where and how did this type of personality come from, and why do we gravitate so proactively towards them? Thanks to Universal Sony Pictures Home Entertainment with the release of VENOM on 4K Ultra HD™, Blu-ray and DVD, we’re going to explore that exact question, and as with our last two exampled characters, it all might truly begin in the Wild West.
Specifically, in the Spaghetti kind. And yes, we’re talking about Sergio Leone’s classic Spaghetti Westerns. Whether it’s Clint Eastwood’s “The Man with No Name”, or Once Upon a Time in the West’s “Harmonica”, as played by Charles Bronson, Leone’s films have always centred around a wayward character not specifically tied to either good or bad; instead sidling somewhere in between, which would proactively become known as the “anti-hero”. People might argue that Akira Kurosawa’s Sanjuro, Yojimbo or even his seminal classic, Seven Samurai, birthed the true anti-heroes we know and love today, but we’ll keep this Westernised to forego that argument. But largely, what this suggests is the anti-hero has been with us longer than modern history and pop-culture might have us believe. But we digress.
What we want to do today is consider the best anti-heroes to grace videogames, and even talk a bit about how player-agency has changed the hand-fed concept of what makes an anti-hero in the first place, as videogames are in a unique position to allow
players a chance to truly shape just how anti
can be. So let’s start with a few staple examples, kicking off with a Nintendo 64 classic, which appeared at the end of that console’s lifecycle.
-- Conker’s Bad Fur Day
What makes a true anti-hero is in how much they don’t
care. In the case of Rare’s classic, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, which first appeared on the N64, and then later the Xbox 360, our main protagonist, Conker, give zero shits about anything other than himself. He also got drunk, unwieldy and aligned himself with whatever was going to serve his goals best: to get home to his girlfriend, Berri, after a big night out. Naturally, when you have a drunk-then-hungover bipedal talking squirrel as your anti-hero lead, hilarity ensues and you don’t just have an anti-hero for the ages, you also have an antithesis character to everything Nintendo allegedly stood for.
Kratos -- God of War (series)
In the most recent version of God of War, we meet and play as a repentant Kratos who chooses fatherhood over brooding, and works to teach his son, Atreyus, the value of life and survival. But not by “any means necessary” as was essentially the case with all of his previous outings before the Game Awards Game of the Year winner. Kratos’ thirst for revenge and blood is palpable throughout the God of War series, and he fits our bill as an anti-hero because of that desire for revenge. Wronged by almost everyone around him, Kratos’ sole goal is to exact a similar, if not more severe, level of pain on anyone who saw fit to ruin his day. And with his Chaos Blades in tow, he did just that. In revenge, we find Kratos as another videogame anti-hero staple, and one arguably hard to top.
Renegade Shepard -- Mass Effect
We talked a bit earlier about player-agency, and in Mass Effect BioWare gave players the tools to allow Commander Shepard, in the game’s sequels (more largely) to be the kind of person they wanted him or her to be. Wronged by the Citadel and now acting as a rogue agent in Mass Effect II, then completely rogue for the sake of humanity in the third game, Shepard embodied gamers’ ability to shape their protagonist -- and their story -- how they saw fit. You could of course play the game largely as a goodie-two-shoes, but the opportunity to play love interests off each other, as well as the various alien races and allegiances how you wanted through dialogue meant people could pretty much just be a dick. Which is, again, another true staple of what it means to be an anti-hero -- be a dick.
Geralt -- The Witcher III: The Wild Hunt
Few characters in videogames come as close to embodying Clint Eastwood in his numerous Westerns as Geralt of Rivia. We talked earlier about how an anti-hero simply doesn’t care, and in Geralt’s case, as voiced by the ‘care-factor-zero’ David Cockle, this Witcher is the embodiment of “job’s done”. He’s not loved by many as a ‘mutant’, but when hi help is needed, people tolerate him. The thing with Geralt, however, is that he’s a professional who never forgets. The game’s tagline: “the world doesn’t need a hero, it needs a professional”, is perhaps the best representation of what you get with Geralt and the world of The Witcher. A true anti-hero in every sense.
Arthur Morgan -- Red Dead Redemption 2
The main protagonist from the year’s biggest game is perhaps closest to Venom then we all might realise. He’s essentially raised by someone else with that person’s ideologies in tow. He’s disgruntled by revelations these aren’t ideologies he’s in full alignment with, and so sets out with his own agenda. Whether that agenda is right or wrong, is in the eye of the beholder, but his sense of decency is, at least, intact in his own unique way, much like Venom. Especially in the movie sense. Hardy’s portrayal of the conflicted symbiot as Eddie Brock speaks to all of us who’ve been dealt a poor hand and wanted some kind of lift, it’s just that not all of us have ever been handed an alien suit with superhuman strength to be able to see ourselves through any such scenario. And with great power comes great irresponsibility -- we’re all also not so lucky to have had sage words from our own Uncle Bens, which is why Venom is a perfect anti-hero -- a misguided, overpowered brute who’s heart is seemingly in the right place, but not entirely altruistic.
Thanks to Universal Sony Pictures Home Entertainment with the release of VENOM on 4K Ultra HD™, Blu-ray and DVD.