A rebel without a cause.

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.

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  1. August 07, 2011 at 10:40pm
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    I haven’t got anything to add to the argument, but I must say I find it strange how the character of Garrett is so resilient to the impact of other peoples artistic license than say, Sonic or Mario (Easy examples, but I’m a bit tired). For the most part, alot of the fan community output (In the form of fan missions- I sorta skimmed this article, but I hope the writer is aware of the large number of fan missions for the first 2 games, as it nearly totals to over a thousand or so- and a small bit of fan art/fiction/etc.)

    He’s complex as you make him. But for the most part, I find his character type to be more average in all other forms of media and entertainment.

    It’s just that in the world of gaming, he’s so goddamn unique… No, radical!
    I don’t have much more to say. Except that someone really needs to do a video review of this game on blistered thumbs. That would alert people to this under-appreciated classic.

  2. June 17, 2011 at 05:51pm
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    Garrett is definitely one of my favorite video game anti-heroes. I’ve only been able to play Deadly Shadows in its entirety though, thanks to my brother losing the installation disk for the first game and my computer not liking the second. He’s an interesting character with not only an unwavering (if less than noble) ideal of what his life should be like, but also a willingness to look at the big picture and put aside his present personal safety in order to achieve and/or reclaim that ideal. He just wants the freedom to live the way he wants to without the interference of the Keepers or various supernatural horrors, and is willing to go so far as to save the world multiple times to regain that freedom whenever it’s taken away from him. Plus some of his comments about the city and the people in it are highly entertaining, largely thanks to his cynicism, which was the final factor that earned him a place on my personal list of favorite game characters.

  3. June 16, 2011 at 09:59pm
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    I disagree with you and would say Kratos is an anti-hero. His goal throughout the series is simply vengeance, which I could consider just, since the Gods constantly manipulated him and lied to him to fulfill their own goals. This goal would be good enough for any protagonist, but what sets Kratos apart as an anti-hero is his personal characteristics: one-track mindedness and blinding rage. He has character because he has a personal style of destroying anything in his way to fulfill his goal, whether selfish or not; he only cares about his goal, and will do anything to fulfill it. Furthermore, his twisted and overblown sense of justice (towards being constantly manipulated) and being blocked from his goals enrages him, and actually pushes him forward; his anger further reinforces his determination, which in turn causes him to care less about the consequences of his actions and to cause even more destruction to reach his goal. He has a protagonist’s goal, but reaches the goal in a way which makes him an even bigger antagonist than the Gods. He is an anti-hero because even though he has a protagonist’s goal, he reaches it through enormously un-heroic, even villainous methods stemming from his personal characteristics.

    • June 17, 2011 at 04:19am
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      Kratos is a protagonist, but is not a hero nor heroic.

    • June 17, 2011 at 05:27pm
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      Being a hero or anti-hero has nothing to do with having a goal or being the main protagonist. In Overlord II, the Overlord is the protagonist but is still a villain. An anti-hero is a character (protagonist or not) who accomplishes things that are often ultimately good with less than heroic methods or motivations. The Punisher from Marvel is an anti-hero because he strives toward a noble ideal while using highly ignoble methods. On the other hand, Garrett from the Thief series is an anti-hero because he’s constantly being dragged into saving the world when all he really wants is to make everything go back to normal so that he can live his life the way he wants to. Furthermore, both characters have a personal code that they adhere to. Their codes may not be shining examples of goodness, but their codes still exist and have an effect on how they ultimately choose to react in any given situation.

      Kratos, on the other hand, has no code and if his actions benefit innocent people it’s purely by accident. It doesn’t make any difference to him if whole civilizations are wiped out if it means that he gets his revenge. Kratos has the exact same motivations and methods as many villains, in fact, and has nothing in his actions or personality to differentiate himself from those types of villains. Just because he’s the protagonist of his series and is defeating arguably worse evils doesn’t make him an anti-hero. In the end, he probably wouldn’t care if his actions accomplished absolutely no good at all, and he certainly doesn’t care how many innocent people are slaughtered in the name of his personal goal of violent vengeance. He’s even killed people who would have been just as easy to not kill simply because he felt like it and didn’t care. Kratos is actually more of a tragic villain protagonist than anything else. (Yes, villains can be protagonists, because the definition of a protagonist is nothing more than a character whose circumstances and actions are the primary force to move the story forward. Being the protagonist does not in any way indicate being the good guy.)

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