Your Heroes Should Die

superheroWARNING: This post contains spoilers for Halo 3, Metal Gear Solid 4, Resident Evil 5, BioShock 2, Red Dead Redemption, and God of War 3. Read at your own risk.

Epic is currently running a promotional contest to determine whether Carmine lives or dies in Gears of War 3. I think Carmine should die, as well as Marcus, Dom, Baird, and Cole. If this game is truly the end of “this story,” as Epic has claimed, then why not slaughter the entire cast in a glorious Alamo-like last stand?

Of course, fans like Marcus, and they would assume the death of the main character means death of the series. It’s a natural assumption, but one rarely applicable to video games. Many major franchises have created such well-realized worlds that developers could easily write other stories that don’t revolve around the usual heroes. Killing the entire Gears of War cast would give Epic the freedom to go anywhere with the inevitable Gears 4 instead of being tied down to Marcus and his exploits. Even if the gameplay remains the same, changing the cast helps a series stay interesting. In order to keep a franchise fresh more heroes need to die.

Master Chief somehow survived an entire ship being torn apart and was left orbiting some unknown planet where he’s sure to land safely. Solid Snake’s speedy aging somehow stopped, and he decided not to kill himself. Jill Valentine went back to normal (save for her hair) after becoming Wesker’s mindless slave; apparently total mind control has zero residual side effects.

These characters need to die. I understand the desire to keep a franchise going, but from a narrative and character perspective, keeping them alive only dooms them to a life of endless violence. What do you think will happen to Master Chief on that new planet? What will Marcus do once the last Locust is dead? What will Jill do now that she has her mind back? Solid Snake cannot live the normal life of an old man; he’s a warrior, someone who lives for the battle, so he’ll jump back into the fray at a moment’s notice. He might complain about his bad back and the cyclical nature of war, but he’ll fight regardless. That’s all he knows how to do. That’s all that any of them know how to do.

And it’s not that these characters are violent by nature — they face powerful foes that threaten worlds. Such huge conflicts come to define their lives: Master Chief versus The Covenant; Solid Snake versus Liquid Snake; Jill Valentine versus Evil Corporations; Marcus Fenix versus The Locust. To take away this central conflict is to rob them of the very thing that defines them. No other adversary can possibly be as big as the one they already faced, so any continuing adventure will invariably be a disappointment.

Beyond that, the finality of death is powerful and moving, and games have the potential to showcase this better than any other medium because players can tangibly feel that finality by killing their avatar in a dramatic way. It’s not unheard of: The death of Delta in BioShock 2 is a symbolic passing of the torch from father to daughter; the death of Kratos in God of War 3 is a single selfless, repentant act that makes up for a lifetime of wanton cruelty; the death of John Marston in Red Dead Redemption is both of these and more, a culmination of everything I’ve talked about, a video game killer searching for a peace he’s ultimately denied. These characters lived in violence and must die in violence, and when done right (as the three examples above) their deaths can be properly powerful and moving.

Kratos’s death is especially interesting since he’s a symbol of all the selfish violence all video game heroes carry with them. His final action shows us the only fitting conclusion to such a life.

They should die; all your heroes should die.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,