Heroes are a fascinating topic. There are many stories and adventures especially interested in exploring the anti-hero. I intend to explore the topic of a hero character with particular interest to adventure stories in various visual medias with a focus on comics and video games.
For another discussion on the topic of heroes, check out this episode of The Dish.
This thought bubble was inspired in part by an opinion blog on Gamasutra about the New Prince of Persia characters with focus on the general opposition to the new "prince" character.
So we shall start with what is appealing about a hero.
There is something about a hero that is appealing to the audience. In general, people like to see a happy conclusion where the character over comes a conflict of some sort. So the act of the hero vanquishing evil is a very clean-cut representation of this ingrained (perhaps even cultural) pleasure of seeing "the good guy" win. So there's probably a good deal of historical and sociological stuff I could delve into but I really won't for now. Let's talk about character and appeal.
For me personally when playing a game or reading a comic, there are some types of heroes that appeal more to my tastes. Things such as the hero being an average Joe or slightly Athletic, having an open/friendly face, and generally someone in their 20s or older. I prefer my heroes to be smaller and skinny because it is less likely they can rely on brute strength to solve their problem. For example, Frodo Baggins. :)
Now that's my personal taste in what is appealing in a hero. However, there are some common things in my list that have universal appeal.
- The underdog: In general, it seems audiences prefer an average person against above average challenges. I think it is because the story is more interesting in that way. Spiderman can fit into this although he's a super hero.
-Ideal Age: Someone in their prime is more appealing as it turns out. This is perhaps also related to Attraction.
-Inner Strength: Not all their power comes from strength of arm but of will, heart, spirit, mind etc. It's easier for most people to related to that.
-Unlikely Heroes - (Children, Animals, Women, Elderly)
There has also been lots of exploration with unlikely heroes. One of the more untapped of these is the Elderly. (Think of the Pixar movie "Up".) Children are usually more common as heroes in children's adventures (such as Chronicles of Narnia). There is lots of appeal to that too.
Animals are sometimes used instead of humans. (Like several Disney films).
And finally, Heroines. They're just not as common as a male hero protagonist when looking at adventure tales or video games.
Now, comics and movies cover all these. Video games...only some. I could pull out some numbers but I'm sure it's obvious that a majority of game heroes are male humanoids. You are actually more likely to play as an animal character than a female heroine.
Just some trivia for thought as you may try to design your next adventure.
- StereoTypes: Video Games-
In the wide range of titles in games, there is a big stereotype that I see.
White, hyper-masculine, (bald), mean-looking, dudes. Along with that I also see White, Androgynous, Cartoon males from Japanese RPG.
It's so white...it's transparent.
Now the interesting thing to remember while designing a video game hero is that the player wants to associate with the character they control. They either want to "be" that character (roleplay) or "care for" the character (empathy). It is only my assumption that the big, muscle man is something that the player wants to "be". Powerful, dominating, and "attractive". (I have never bought a western video game because I thought a main character was attractive. They're all the most fugly sons of b*tches I've ever seen. The exception is the Prince of Persia series.) It's really bland.
On the flipside, white Japanese heroes are generally more the type you want to "care for" or empathize with.
There's lots of articles picking apart why this may be but if looking for universal appeal for your hero, you want to design the type that is easy to "empathize" with and not just "roleplay" as. And there is definitely ROOM for change and different types of heroes or heroines (if I may ask) to be explored. There are secondary characters that are ethnically different than the main character. But rarely is an adventured carried out by a darker-skinned character (of any ethnicity Indian, Native American, Ethiopian, Etc.) This is even true in Fantasy Novels!
It really is the market and culture of the creators that drives hero design for visual media. The hero encompasses an ideal or represents a cause.
When designing your hero look at examples from many cultures. You may find some surprising inspiration from another country's legends. Don't look to other video games for your inspiration.
Also take a look at how superheroes have changed over time. Also look at Disney Animation for a good visual design of heroes. And look at the variety. Hercules looks different than Aladdin or Prince Phillip (Sleeping Beauty...yes I know his name) or Quasimodo (Hunchback of Notre Dame).
Disney is actually a very good source to look at when looking for "universal appeal". They have heros you can admire, empathize with and desire to be like...or not.
Or do take a look at books about the subject of heroes. There are plenty.