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Video Game Heroes Are Superhuman By Default, Don't Take It for Granted

Posted on Wednesday, May 7 @ 18:26:19 Eastern by

Let's not take the physical well-being of our video game heroes for granted.

Just by virtue of being a virtual doll, most video game protagonists have superhuman powers, even without being able to fly, fling psychic daggers, cast ice magic, and punch ogres in the face with the power of a thousand speeding freight trains. Most of these powers and gaming tropes are intrinsically well-understood without needing to be explained, but sometimes we forget how superhuman (or non-human, taken another way) they can be.

Perhaps the most obvious boon is that they don't usually need food, water, or sleep. If anything, having these "things" is simply a bonus that heals HP, MP, and status effects. But characters don't need to worry about hunger or thirst for weeks on end, or need to rest for eight hours like any other human being. And if they do happen upon some roast chicken on the road (ewww...) or some random potion in a trash can, it can all be eaten in one gulp or without having to be ingested at all. A mere touch will do.

Moreover, they don't have to worry about stomach capacity, malnutrition, and nutrient deficiencies. The process of making sure something is cooked and edible is instantaneous as well. Is that a rabbit I just shot an arrow through? Nom! Super fresh!

Beyond that, most video game characters don't contract diseases apart from the occasional status effect, all of which can typically be cured by coughing down some random cure. I mean, running around Silent Hill for one hour would likely infect you with every STD, and that's just the ones we know about. I wouldn't be worried about zombies or shitty human beings in a post-apocalyptic world, so much as I would the flu.

Their immune systems are virtually perfect. No skin infections after not bathing for five days? After wearing the same exact dirty clothes for weeks? And that's only if their clothes even get torn in the first place. No risk of heat exhaustion or hypothermia? Not needing to piss and expel human waste? I mean, all that imaginary food has to end up somewhere, right? It's to the point where I wouldn't bother sending any of them a fruit basket as a gift; send Fruit of the Loom instead.

A large part of their power comes from having infinite stamina and sometimes the ability to carry a seemingly endless supply of ammo and equipment (I'm looking at you, Link). Sure, there's often a stamina bar in the corner, but even that's deceiving when characters can just stand for five seconds before they're good to go... which sometimes works for health too. So long as they have but a sliver of HP left, they've got all the energy in the world. In fighting games, each character is more or less perfectly fine until the final K.O. but if any person got his head and stomach pulverized like they do, he would feel the effects of being stunned well before being knocked unconscious. (Or be knocked out with one straight hit to the head.)

Their bodies are also somehow magically resistant to specific limb-damage as well, practically impervious to being dismembered in any way. It doesn't matter if a ninja's sword should have severed your character's arm clean off; it's just a flesh wound. Touch a green orb or a spinning object with a red plus sign on it and all that damage is barely a scratch. As my female friends point out too, being on your period doesn't help matters at all (Lara Croft is lucky she was never on one in the latest Tomb Raider).

Beyond that, hardly any of these video game heroes experience mental and psychological damage. Because really, every last one of them should have a severe case of PTSD. Being in an environment where everyone is after you, where you must kill or be killed, where you're usually left alone for days and weeks at a time in a nightmarish purgatory, would take its toll on anyone's sanity. Someone, please take care of our video game veterans (let alone our actual war veterans, which is a manifesto for another time).

Of course, all of these criticisms essentially boil down to a lack of realism, and video games are mainly about fun, which is why there are so many of these suspensions of disbelief in the first place. Besides, video games aren't the first medium to have these tropes; characters in comics, film, and books rarely need to sleep, eat, or drink because it's either implied or boring (or both). After all, drama is just life with the boring bits cut out. If we take realism to its extreme in fiction, the Lord of the Rings should have been titled Lots of Walking.

That said, much can be said about simulation games like The Sims and survival games that have touches of realism in their mechanics. Most players don't bother playing Fallout: New Vegas on hardcore mode, but after I tried it for a playthrough, it definitely makes the irradiated wasteland that much more imposing. Fields of maize, crates filled with purified water, and a sleeping mattress become a godsend, when I would take them for granted in a regular playthrough. Eternal Darkness and indie titles like Don't Starve revolve around maintaining the character's health and sanity, a point that's effective merely because they do break these tropes. (Poking fun at them is the basis of many video game comics.)

So it's healthy, every now and then, to be reminded that the majority of video game protagonists are superhuman by default. Sometimes I play video games for months without thinking about any of these tropes, because they've been so deeply internalized that I don't question it at all. But these ideas are an integral part of the escapism, the power fantasy, and the entertainment of video games.

What are some traits of video game characters that you take for granted?

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