30 Days of Video Games: Day 18, Favorite Protagonist

Yesterday we took a look at my favorite antagonist.  Games and stories need conflict and obstacles, which usually come in the form of antagonists.  But they also need protagonists.  Pretty much unless you’re playing a puzzle game you’re playing as a protagonist (Portal and Portal 2 exempted), whether it’s in first or third person, shooter or platformer, survival, or adventure.  A likeable protagonist can make the game easier to immerse yourself in, and can make the game more interesting.  For example, I highly disliked Dead Space because I couldn’t get behind the protagonist, Isaac Clarke at all.  I didn’t care about his story, didn’t know what was at stake, and I felt like I was being ordered around from place to place for no real reason.  You could argue the same happens in BioShock, but they fit that into the story.  You could also argue that all game protagonists are ordered from place to place by the sheer nature of game mechanics.  But from a story-based perspective, a protagonist is vital

That’s why I’m pretty sure my favorite protagonist is Marcus Fenix from Gears of War.  For starters the storyline of Gears is fantastic in and of itself.  But it’s one of those franchises in which I believe the characters really make it.  One of the reasons I got so into it was because I love the dynamics of Delta Squad.  Baird and Cole do plenty of talking, and Dom does plenty of peace-making, but it’s Marcus who’s really fascinating.

I’m one of those people who likes to really get into a franchise and its lore.  So I’ve read the Gears of War novels and gotten a lot of background, and from it, I’ve come to like Marcus as a protagonist even more.  The son of a wealthy, prominent scientist, Marcus spends most of his youth with the blue-collar Santiago family.  He’s considered an honorary brother by both Dom and his older brother Carlos.  Marcus is quiet, and when he’s not quiet he’s gruff and matter-of-fact.  He’s this huge, hulking guy, but he’s intelligent and introspective.

He joined the COG army as a mere Gear rather than an officer; his father’s wealth and standing could have gotten him a commission as an officer easily.  But Marcus is a man of principles, and would rather enlist with his brothers and work his way up with them.  He’s a man who wants to earn his keep rather than have things given to him.  He’s a man of duty, but he’s also a man who cares deeply about those he loves and cares about.

When Gears of War opens, Dom has just freed Marcus from a prison in Jacinto City.  Marcus has been serving time in the deepest, darkest cell there for abandoning his post.  Insubordination is a major offense in the military, but it’s later revealed that he disobeyed orders to go save his father.  In the end he failed, but the fact that he risked himself and his future to rescue his estranged father speaks volumes about the kid of man that Marcus is.  Throughout the first mission in Gears of War several NPCs make comments to Marcus about his past, which he just shrugs off.  And when finally faced with the man responsible for his imprisonment, Marcus doesn’t fly off the handle or get angry.  He calmly accepts that they must work together to end the struggle against the Locusts.

Now that’s not to say that Marcus is all happy-go-lucky, forgive and forget.  Not at all.  Beneath his gruffly silent exterior it’s clear that he’s struggling with his feelings, but he’d rather keep them at bay and focus on the issue at hand.  He realizes that there are more important things than personal feuds, and that he can worry about the past once he’s ensured that they’ll all have a future.

And all that?  Is just in the first game.

Throughout Gears 2 Marcus continues to develop.  We learn more about his family with a trip to the derelict Fenix estate.  While he’s his usual self, it’s clear through some of Dom’s dialogue that the visit affects Marcus.  Dom knows Marcus better than anyone in Delta, after all.  And Dom spent some of his childhood visiting the estate (though the two spent far more time at the much smaller, but far homier Santiago home).  When it becomes clear that Adam Fenix, Marcus’s father, may still be alive, there’s a slight crack in Marcus’s stony exterior, but he manages to keep it together.  He travels to the locus of the Locust kingdom, confronts the Queen, sees Dom through his heart-wrenching reunion with Maria, and blows up a Lambent Brumak.  It’s just another epic moment for Delta Squad, but there’s definitely some emotional tension going on.

The end of Gears 2 sets up perfectly for Gears 3, which I confess I haven’t finished yet.  I got to Dom’s death scene and have had a hard time picking the game up again.  I know I should, if only so I can see how Marcus resolves things with his father and with his feelings about Dom’s loss.  For such a violent, gory game series, Gears of War creates some remarkable characters and relationships.  They become real people with real issues and emotions, as is clear with Dom and his search for Maria, and Marcus and his search for inner peace amidst all this turmoil.  He’s a huge mountain of a man, but there’s a lot going on beneath the surface that make him absolutely fascinating.

Tomorrow: Day 19, Picture of a game setting I wish I lived in.  I’m going to try to post it, but may end up double-posting on Sunday, since my concerts are this weekend and I have dress rehearsal AND a concert tomorrow.  Then seeing Bard 🙂

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3 comments on “30 Days of Video Games: Day 18, Favorite Protagonist

  1. He is such an interesting character, but still has the bad dude personality. This is a awesome post, would defintaly be in my top 3, if not my #1 pick too!

    • Thanks! That’s what I love about him: he can be interesting and deep and complex without being whiny, and he can brood while still being a bad dude. So often brooding deep types are just whiny. Marcus is nice and matter-of-fact.

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