Note: The following contains spoilers. You have been warned.
In a world rife with pop culture, almost everyone and their mother knows who Han Solo is. The roguish, self-centered badass that pretty much looks out for himself and his well being for a majority of the first Star Wars movie is an iconic figure in his own right. He would shoot first and ask questions later, often with a quick quip or snarky jab, chiding characters and looking for a quick way to get out of a tight spot. Characters like Han Solo are great additions to any story; they are the extraordinary men or women who are not exactly altruistic, but have a somewhat chivalrous code that they follow. It puts them into the gray area of heroics, the typical anti-hero.
Often portrayed by clever rogues, anti-heroes are loved primarily in the way they conduct themselves when compared to other strangers. Typically it is easy to say anyone who does not follow the clichéd codes of a righteous, forthright protagonist is considered an anti-hero. Strangely enough though, we see few true anti-heroes in video gaming that actually adhere to what an anti-hero truly is. True, characters like Scorpion from Mortal Kombat, Kratos from God of War, or even Wario are considered anti-heroic characters romanticized, sometimes to a point of sensationalism, for their diabolical acts. And it is hard to argue for or against them at times because they do fit the bill, albeit superficially, to the definition of one. But each of them, along with countless others, tend to have a similar flaw; that these characters tend to be anti-heroic because of design, rather than choice.
Now before you start getting upset and say to me these three, along with countless other characters are a ton of badass, no holds barred scoundrels that fit the bill quite nicely, let me explain myself with an example of a real good anti-hero. One that is, in my humble opinion, the best anti-hero in video games. That person is Garrett from the Thief series.
For those who have never played it before, the Thief series was a trio of computer games by Spyglass studios, which was at one point chock full of talented game designers such as Ken Levine, Warren Spector, and Doug Church. Some of their better known titles include the System Shock games, Ultima Underworld, and the Flight Unlimited series, all of which were best sellers and are often considered some of the best computer games ever made. Thief is no exception. Despite being a late 1990′s PC oriented title, the Thief series is often lauded for it’s clever use of stealth in gameplay. So successful was the model that even today, many critics consider the Thief series to be the best implementation of stealth mechanics in a game, even more so than the Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid series. But what really made Thief shine was not just it’s amazing gameplay, but it’s memorable protagonist.
Garrett is an orphan who, while starving for some food, tried to pickpocket a Keeper named Artemus. In the Thief world, the Keepers are a secret service of sorts, protectors that observe the world and try to maintain balance from two warring factions in the great city the game takes place in; the chaos loving, tree hugging Pagans, and the technocratic, over zealous Hammerites. Garrett himself was also a former Keeper after being caught by Artemus, trained to be in the shadows unnoticed by those around him, acting swiftly and silently against their enemies. He left the order to go into business for himself as a master thief, and over the course of three games becomes embroiled in several plots that involve all three factions in some form or another.
Garrett spends most of the games stealing stuff for rich clients and getting paid handsomely for it. His skills are unparalleled in the city, and his infamy is well known by the factions. Naturally, in he first game he becomes unwittingly involved with an elaborate scheme by the Pagans to bring about some old god into the world. He even loses his eye from the Trickster Constantine and his henchwoman Viktoria in a plot to turn all undead with dark magic. He would eventually get revenge against Constantine by replacing a magical artifact with a fake that would kill the trickster during the summoning ritual. But Garrett, in the second game, becomes embroiled in another conflict, this time against a branch off of the Hammerites, the Mechanists. Here he becomes involved platonically with Viktoria and the Pagans, fighting against the Mechanists as they plot pretty much the same takeover as the Pagans, only using technology and big brother tactics over magic and the undead.
Now that is the plot of the first two games over-simplified, but the point to learn from this is how Garrett fits in both. He has no allegiance to either side, nor does he truly care about the goals of each faction. Both of them have demonstrated their desire for domination, and both attempted to manipulate Garrett as a puppet to achieve their goals. In many ways Garrett is more of a mercenary that becomes involved not due to a crisis of conscience, but out of necessity. The factions’ actions force him to retaliate against them, all the while he remains neutral to a point, so the factions actually do not matter, as the allegiance Garrett has with them both is only temporary.