Chivalrous Heroism In Fantasy And Why It’s Important (And Necessary)

I always wanted to be a hero.

As a child, I had a plethora of outlets in which to find numerous heroes to idolize and emulate. Books, movies, games…these were all places I could find numerous characters ready to face down the hordes of any evil that was thrown at them. However, out of all of these heroic stories, the ones where the hero must walk through hell and back to save his beloved were the ones I enjoyed the most. There was something beautiful in the idea that a man, facing insurmountable odds, would traverse deadly landscapes and fight impossible foes all in the name of love. I daydreamed endlessly of being the kind of hero that would battle death itself to keep love innocent, pure, and unharmed from whatever evil might befall the land. I imagined the most chivalrous type of hero that I possibly could, and I knew that this was the kind of hero I wanted to be someday.

However, it seems that all those years of daydreaming of being the hero I was just daydreaming of being a sexist asshole.

“I don’t need your help you sexist, gender-oppressive brute!”

At least that’s the impression i’m getting from everyone nowadays. In my last post I spoke about certain authors who essentially criticized numerous works of fantasy because they weren’t as “socially conscious” as they should have been. To wit, I argued that these authors were doing a great disservice to the developers and authors of these works by forcing gamers to take issue with these games because they had not completely adhered to real-world issues. Not too long after completing that article, a few friends of mine began commenting on the roles that sexism played in certain games, and I was really taken aback by a few of the interpretations that I read. Some of them were actually insulted that completely honorable characters had been written in to heroic roles. More specifically, they were bothered by male characters being written in to protector roles that were responsible for the well-being of another female character. To me, this is a completely asinine and immeasurably small issue to be bothered by due to a few of factors:

  1. The dynamic of a male character protecting a female character has been portrayed in literature and other forms of media for centuries.
  2. This well-known plot device is used as a means of creating, building, and nurturing a relationship between these two characters.
  3. The dynamic is used to advance the plot from point a to point b.

These factors are mostly seen in love stories where the two main characters are placed in a situation where they must depend on one another to reach their destination in the plot. The example that my outrageously outraged friends used was the relationship featured in the game “Ico” between Yorda, a young girl imprisoned in a desolate castle by an evil queen, and a heroic boy named Ico. The story began with Ico being sent to this abandoned castle to be locked away in a sarcophagus till he dies, but a fortuitous quake cracks open his tomb and he is able to escape. As soon as he does so he comes across a captured young girl who he immediately decides to set free and leave with her. Upon freeing the girl, Ico realizes that he cannot understand the language she speaks and that shadowy creatures will constantly attempt to steal her away unless he can protect her. Yorda is essentially defenseless and must rely on Ico wholly for her safety, and it is this dynamic that people began to take issue with.

However, the people who are bothered by this fail to realize that by altering the relationship between the two characters that the story, which they admittedly love, would no longer exist. If Yorda was fully capable of taking care of herself then there would be no reason for Ico to exist. You see, it is because Yorda is dependent on Ico that he has a purpose, and without her he is nothing. One the most enjoyable games that I’ve ever played, Enslaved: Journey to the West, uses a very similar dynamic where it places a female character named Trip in the care of a male protector named Monkey. Many of the criticisms regarding this title focused on the accusations that Trip was far too sexualized (read: attractive) or far too helpless and dependent upon Monkey for her survival. Once again, the problems with these criticisms are that they selfishly wish to remove an essential part of the plot-line all in the name of sexual equality. If Trip hadn’t relied upon Monkey’s brawn to help her get around then there was really no reason for Monkey to exist, and the game could have just had you play as Trip the entire way through. She already had the brains department locked down, so why not just make her a tough, mech-destroying badass to just do away with Monkey entirely?

Well, it’s probably because without Monkey they can’t very well create a love story now can they? Just as Ico before him, Monkey’s purpose and existence is wholly dependent upon Trip’s damsel role. It might not be entirely “gender-neutral” in it’s design, but it’s a far more compelling story. The same can be said for this little list of games:

  • Resident Evil 4 – If Leon doesn’t have to save Ashley then there’s no reason for this game to exist.
  • Knight’s Contract – Bad gameplay aside, if Gretchen didn’t rely upon Heinrich then Heinrich has no reason to exist.
  • The Last of Us – This is a Father/Daughter type of scenario, but Joel’s protector role is still dependent on Ellie. If she didn’t need him then he doesn’t exist.
  • The Prince of Persia 2008 – Prince’s entire existence is hinged on protecting her. In the end he even goes far enough to sacrifice the world for her.
  • Bioshock: Infinite – The main male character develops an important relationship with the female, Elizabeth, due to their knight/damsel roles.

I’m sure there are more examples out there, but those are the ones that stick out the most to me right now. Also, I’m not trying to say that every good game depends on a man protecting a woman, but I am stating that those games right there are wholly dependent on that dynamic. If you took it away then they’d be much lesser games for it. Besides, it’s not as if we are experiencing a shortage of games where females aren’t ridiculously kickass characters who are tough as nails.

“I don’t need NO man.”

What i’m trying to convey to you, the reader, is that this seemingly “unbalanced” form of chivalry is absolutely necessary in these tales. Now, I’m not saying that stories can’t have a strong female lead to be an effective piece of literature, but I am saying that there are specific stories where it’s not appropriate. Just as there are stories where it wouldn’t be appropriate to have a male as the lead heroic character. However, nobody ever seems to complain about the games or books where a strong, independent female takes the lead role. Why would they? They’re too busy bludgeoning chivalry to death because it decided to rear its head in another game elsewhere, and that’s why I chose the title for this article.

It appears to me that the chivalrous tales being told today in gaming are being singled out and targeted because they dared to show men and women in a more traditional role. The people making these arguments weren’t satisfied with destroying chivalrous actions in the real-world, and have now turned their ire to male characters who do not actually exist. In the realm of fantasy, where anything should be possible so long as the imagination can conjure it, the busy-bodies of the real-world are trying to stifle creativity by claiming that certain stories shouldn’t be told because they don’t make all characters “equal”. This is extremely troubling because I feel as if these people are attempting to remove an important aspect of story-telling. Now, I’m fairly certain that by this point in the article that most women have discounted me as a sexist, knuckle-dragger and fled to different waters. However, calling me a douche wont make my points any less considerable. I believe that chivalry and heroism is an important aspect of our culture and more importantly the male culture as a whole. It’s these ideals that have driven men in the past to write love songs, epic poems, and filled bookshelf upon bookshelf just so they could live out their fantasies.

Too bad heroes aren’t needed anymore.

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