I remember the beginning of this all, you know? Everything was simplistic and my Makers didn’t even give me a name. I was merely a body sent in to ascend to the top, hoist a problem up onto my shoulder, and dodge danger no matter what it meant to my health — mentally or physically. That wasn’t really ever factored into the equation and I became used to that.
Every single time I was released into the world, I was given yet another task where I had to only go forward, never backtracking, toward certain death. Chasms, fire, and beasts at every turn that gnawed upon my flesh should I remotely let my guard down for even a second and for what? A goal I, as the hero, was consistently given. Reach that flag. Sink into the depths even though they’re unknown, because someone needs saving. You’re not going to question it because you can’t. You’re a hero. You’re a man. Men don’t shrink away from saving the damsel, do they?
What Happens When the Hero Has Had Enough?
What about the day where I, as the hero, would say “no” because I’m tired of it? That one day where I decide it’s too much and I want to tell whoever keeps pushing those buttons that there’s more to me than a constant savior to a girl who may possibly not even want to be found — well, it’ll be a rough day. See, because nobody is talking about the fact I’ve been forced into these roles. If I wasn’t saving her, my story would be shifted and changed and I would be given a new task and my princess would become a village and my village would become a world and when that was worn out, it would become a galaxy.
I know that, somewhere, there’s a princess who wasn’t actually abducted but was infiltrating a lair when I was told to save her. I know there’s a princess who is putting on the mask and wearing my suits of armor because she wants a chance to save the day and she can have it, because I’m exhausted. Let her have it, you know? Let her fight the Mother Brain and let her take on Hyrule because I’m officially not even sure if anyone realizes her worth, let alone mine. Somewhere, there is a princess who wants to save the world and rather than people making a big deal out of her doing it, she’d rather just hide. Not her gender or the fact she wears pink, but the fact that she exists at all.
It’s not always about the bravado, no matter what the coin count at the end says.
Years from now, they’ll give you the option to either take her or me out once in a while and, while she’ll cheer and people will get excited to help her transcend all creation to tell her story, they’ll still focus on me. I’ll never stop. Forever, I’m going to be seen as the brave, the bold, the brutal, and the brainless, and it won’t be because I fought endlessly to do what was right — saving a human being who needed me or, hell, maybe thousands — but it will be because of what rests between my legs. The fact that I exist will be the subject of debate for years and nobody will see me as the victim; they’ll merely see me as the shining, grin-wearing hero who is always up for slaughter.
What about the message I’m telling other men like myself? Save the Day by Any Means Necessary is a rough bumper sticker to scrape off, but if I were to actually shake my head and deny the task at hand, I would be called weak and lame and emasculated for the world to see, and words like self-preserving and logical would be left out of those descriptors. Hell, even this would be considered just a whining rhetoric that should be discarded in favor of picking up a sword and heading into battle, thirsty for blood and ready for war.
The Hero is Bound to History
But, you know, my existence isn’t the actual problem here. It’s the fact that it doesn’t come from the ether; it comes from history. Prince Charming moved mountains to save Cinderella, and I think he even moonlighted on the side to save Snow White. Fair princesses in stories written by men to boost their egos and morale while gaining the fluttering hearts of troubled girls in a time that empowerment wasn’t something allotted to both genders but expected from only one. Mine. Through the years, iterations of this tale would make my existence not really a surprise, but an eventuality. I’d be thought out, sketched, and coded and set onto the brick with the sole purpose of saving someone I didn’t even know. Over… and over again.
Sometimes, they would take my girlfriend or someone who caught my eye and in those moments I was given decisions that have always been unfair to me. Save her or she dies. What was I, as the hero, supposed to do? What would any of us — hero or otherwise — have done? Should I have let the object of my affection be abducted, wrapped up in chains, and torn away from me? The stories were always ancient, but the emotion is never far away because everyone deals with loss and even I do as the objective to my earliest missions was to make sure the woman I loved came back, safe and sound, no matter if I died or not in the process.
What do you think it makes me feel like? To know that my life is expendable in exchange for that of another? My biggest task to date has been to save the day and at the expense of my own mortality and, while parades are thrown should I succeed, and I get that welcome home kiss when I land my finishing blow, it is not without its constant stain on my soul.
Know What? We Can Both be the Hero
One of these days, I’m going to step back and I’m going to be told it’s okay because the princess will not wander into danger but she’ll leap forward into it, head first and sword glinting. I’ll trust her because she’s been thirsty for adventure since the moment we met, but nobody really gave her a shot to be the hero. There will be a day where the villagers will be playable by all and will work together to stop danger rather than call just one man in, let alone a woman, to do so. Maybe, just maybe, there will come a time where the galaxy won’t need to be saved by a hero, but new worlds will need to be found and we’ll need to build their resources up, together, to survive these new frontiers.
Until then, you know where to find me. On your shelf, just your everyday average Jumpman. I wonder though, what would happen if one day, just one day, I simply did not come when you called?
I know, I know. That’s silly. You’d just start waging wars against each other.
Header image courtesy of Frits A. and closing image taken as a screenshot by the author, both with modifications.