Saturday, July 5, 2008

Who Wants to Be a Hero?

Spoilers from Mega Man Star Force 2, In the Starlight and Live Free or Die Hard.

Don’t we all. I can barely begin to count the times when my imagination has put me in the forefront of whatever story I read last. Or when I’ve just made up new stories with myself as the protagonist. If my imagination was reality, I would have found myself in every fantasy world I’ve ever known at least once.

Certainly, in video games, anime, comics, and movies, it’s common enough for apparently random people to end up being the hero that saves the world. In Mega Man Star Force, Geo Stelar meets an alien being and becomes the newest incarnation of Mega Man as a result. Of course, only the demands of the plot direct when and where that alien arrived, making the choice in the game world itself somewhat random. Magic Knight Rayearth is another good example, where the three people that were summoned from Tokyo could just as easily have been anyone else as far as the summoning spell cared.

The storyline of In the Starlight is another example. Eventually, the links that the protagonist has to the rest of the story are shown to be far more complicated, but before that point, said protagonist actually muses on many of the same things that I’m going to, about having a normal life as opposed to having strange things happening to her. Finally, in the fourth Die Hard movie, the computer hacker (who I will always remember as the guy from the Mac commercials) wonders how and why McClane does what he does.

Who doesn’t wonder what they would do if they were the ones forced into an unknown situation, and who doesn’t think that they’d do better than the protagonists of those events? And yet, I find myself wondering these days if that would really be as fun as I used to think it would be. Who can really tell how much fun that would be? I’ve never actually been in any kind of situation that resembles one from a game, never had to prove whether I could stay calm or react quickly to an immediate problem.

Geo, in Mega Man Star Force 2, gains a lot more publicity and recognition. Although, most of that is recognition for Mega Man, not Geo, he still doesn’t like it. That was a little hard to understand at first. I know that when I do something right or reach some kind of goal, I’d rather have people know about it. I was irritated when I learned that the principal would announce the valedictorian and salutatorian of my high school class at graduation practice because I knew that I was the salutatorian, and no one outside school staff and students would be at that practice.

For Geo, though, it wasn’t a matter of people recognizing his actions. He didn’t like being called a hero because of the expectations that came with that title. The few people that knew who Mega Man really was kept turning to him when a crisis broke out, and he was afraid that he would fail to live up to their expectations. I can fully understand that; after all, everyone saw me as a genius during high school. Which can be a good thing, but gets very annoying when I hear for the third time, “You got a C? You???” Yes. I’m a human being, is this some huge surprise?

Being a hero is a lot harder than it may seem. For a very long time, I fantasized about how I would react if I found myself in any number of the fantasy worlds I’ve seen, as I already mentioned. And in all of those imagined events, I adapted to the new circumstances rapidly and acted with all the intelligence and efficiency I could muster. You would think, though, that the heroines of Magic Knight Rayearth would be able to do the same. Fuu had played video games before, after all. Yet they had no small amount of difficulty adapting to their new circumstances.

The difference, I think, lies in the setting. All of my fantasies have been with worlds I’m well familiar with. From the time I imagined myself also getting thrown into Cephiro and meeting the aforementioned magic knights, to all of the times that I’ve intervened at a key part of some other story, I’ve already been well familiar with the world and the rules. For Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu, they found themselves in an unfamiliar setting, and a situation that they knew nothing about. Who can say if they’d be able to retain their poise when faced with a completely unknown situation?

I worry that there are people in this world who are absolutely certain that they would make a good hero. I have no doubt that there are people that yet dream of them protecting others from some danger, or intervening to save the world. But those kinds of dreams aren’t how one becomes a hero. I can tell myself that I would intervene if someone’s life was threatened, even at the risk of my own, but I can never be certain unless I am actually tested in that regard. And because of that, I hope that I never will be certain.

Heroes aren’t created by people going out and looking for trouble. Geo Stelar, despite the power that he had access to, didn’t wake up every morning wondering what problems he’d have to solve that day. He was reluctant to act even when a problem threatened him personally. Yet he always did something. McClane in the fourth Die Hard movie didn’t really want to be a hero. As he put it, “Believe me if there was somebody else to do it, I would let them do it. There's not, so [I'm] doing it. That's what makes you that guy.”

Running around bragging about what you would do if someone broke into your house doesn’t make you a hero, and it wouldn’t even if you did manage to repel an intruder. Humility is a trait that goes unrecognized far too often, and without it, it’s hard to gain respect as a hero. Hoping to prove yourself as heroic means that you probably don’t have the right mindset to be a hero; as I see it, some of the greatest heroes are the ones that hope they never have to act, but do so anyway when they must.

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