Once you become a celebrity – and rest assured, we’ll all get our turn – there’s suddenly lots to do: endorse your own fragrance, be photographed looking haggard in gym slacks and baseball cap, adopt an orphan from a developing country. But you’re also abruptly elevated to the position of role model. Simply by being in the public eye, you’re supposed to set a positive example for the rest of us. By this logic, Colin Farrell is a role model. Paris Hilton is a role model. (Seann William Scott was in a movie called Role Models, but that’s just confusing the issue.)
We’re routinely told videogames make more money than Hollywood, so shouldn’t we also consider prominent game characters valid role models? Sure, these on-screen avatars are usually empty vessels into which we pour our own personalities through play. But some traits unique to the character remain, even if it feels like you’re choreographing their every move.
There’s a fascinating piece to be written about the constantly unfurling process of player/character transference and how it affects the way we negotiate and experience games. This isn’t that piece. This one’s about pretending to be various videogame characters for 24 hours to see if it improves my day-to-day life.
Such arbitrary quests are no fun without equally arbitrary rules, so here’s the deal: My wacky choices must have been born in videogamedom rather than be licensed from other media. (Sadly, that means no Optimus Prime or Spider-Man.) Other than that, no rules. A plan is just a list of things that don’t happen. Press Start!
Notable traits: Eats tropical fruit. Big tongue. Helps people.
Mario, of course, is way more recognizable but I can think of few things more annoying than jumping around in dungarees saying “It’s a-me! Mario!” for an entire day. Cute wee dinosaur Yoshi seems slightly more bearable, in that he doesn’t really talk and always seems keen to help in any way he can. I start off my day as Yoshi by eating some tropical fruit – well, a banana – but if it changes the color of my spit in any useful or meaningful way, I don’t actually notice.
Thoughtfully chewing, I call up a friend who’s in the process of moving house. “Hello Fluff,” I say. “Do you need any, um, help?” Soon, we are taking a carload of dusty bric-a-brac to the local dump. I heave some stuff into the recycling bins, reveling in the honest labor. “Thanks for that, man,” Fluff says. “It would have taken me twice as long if I’d had to do that myself.” Yes, I think to myself. Yes, it would have.
Next, he wants to buy floor tiles. We drive to a large DIY store. I carry four boxes of tiles back to the car. They are each very heavy. I drag the boxes up three flights of stairs to his apartment while he takes a comfort break. I am sweating in a notably unattractive manner. “Thanks again,” says Fluff. “Can I buy you some lunch?”
I suggest we go to a nearby restaurant called Mario’s because – yes! – I am that committed to the conceit. Fluff is sympathetic and supportive when I babble on about the article for which I’m researching, but clearly thinks it’s a pretty stupid idea. I decide not to offer to carry him home on my back.
Good role model? Yes. Acting like Yoshi actually helps you feel good about yourself and could possibly even get you lunch.
Notable traits: Narcissistic. Arrogant. Self-dramatizing. Awesome.
Not the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle – no licensed characters, remember – but the rakish fencer from the Soul Calibur series who started out as one of the “baddies” but appears to have softened in recent outings. This is the one I’ve really been looking forward to, as I’ve basically considered the diabolical Raphael to be my ideal role model since he first dandyishly kicked ass in Soul Calibur 2. Dude dresses like Guybrush Threepwood in Monkey Island 2 and gets to say things like “Impudent dog! Have you no manners?” while lunging forward like Errol freakin’ Flynn.
Flouncing around performing clumsy versions of the Cantarella Needle while looking down my nose at everyone turns out to be loads of fun, but I can’t quite master Raphael’s effortless sense of entitlement. It’s also a little awkward to try and make smalltalk with friends when everything that comes out of your mouth is combative, boorish or laceratingly sarcastic. “How boring!” “Pathetic!” “I’m in a very foul mood.” “What a joke!”
After one particularly ambitious Assalto Montante Crescendo results in an uncalculated vase breakage, I get in touch with my local fencing club. A very helpful lady listens as I explain my backstory, which takes a remarkably long time thanks to Soul Calibur‘s labyrinthine continuity. After she has been suitably welcomed to the new stage of history, I ask her if it would be deemed acceptable in competitive fencing to mercilessly taunt your opponent before, during and after the bout. “Um, no,” she says politely. Bad Raphael!
Good role model? Nope. (Won’t stop me playing as him, though.)
3. Lara Croft
Notable traits: Acrobatic. Well-educated. Stacked.
Gaming’s preeminent, polygonal pin-up has an enviable profile in the public consciousness, due in no small part to Angelina Jolie’s brace of noisy yet pedestrian action movies. But what is the essence of Lara? I ponder that thought while trying to clamber acrobatically around my apartment without touching the floor, which is fun but not really that Tomb Raider-y. How else can I get into character? By shooting a tiger?
In the end, I call my friend Kirsten, co-founder of U.K. games site Ready Up, who once told me Tomb Raider 2 was her favorite game of all time. Does she think Lara is a good female role model? “Lara’s a great role model, period, for any person,” says Kirsten. “She’s intelligent, highly knowledgeable, independently wealthy, strong-willed, brave and has seen every corner of the world.”
What are her best qualities? “I think her obdurate nature is amazing. It’s not often you see such a hard-boiled female character – they’re usually either emotionally charged goodies or sex siren baddies. Lara has shot people in cold blood because they were basically in her way.”
I’m not doing very well at pretending to be Lara in real life, partly because of the tricky-to-negotiate gender reversal. How does it feel, as a female gamer, to so often be playing as a big macho guy? “I do think that it’s harder to take on a male role and feel invested in the character if you’re a female gamer,” says Kirsten. “Gamers embody the character while playing so you have to feel some connection to them, and I’m just not a Marcus Fenix kind of gal. It’s quite frustrating online if there’s a choice of characters to play but they are all male.”
As a male videogame journalist, I contractually have to say something about Lara’s chest. Any thoughts? “Just like with real women, she’s often dismissed as just being a dolly bird because of her blouse-cakes. But all the female staff at Ready Up worship her, so she’s got to be doing something right.”
Good role model? Definitely. Although those cakes are a lie.
Notable traits: Maraca-shaking. Dancing. Grinning.
The perpetually-beaming monkey from Samba de Amigo has been on my mind since an intense week-long session with the Wii reimagining of the old arcade and Dreamcast rhythm flailer. Of all the videogame characters I can think of, Amigo is the one that seems to be having the best time, all the time. No kidnapped princesses. No hellish science-gone-wrong experiments. No overwhelming alien invasions.
Everywhere Amigo goes instantly turns into a life-affirming carnival, a jamboree of blazing colors and irresistible, throbbing beats. No wonder he only has one facial expression – he’s constantly in samba paradise.
So I start with that infectious grin, despite not being a habitual smiler. This sudden, leering display of teeth has the knock-on effect of creating cartoonish apple cheeks on my face in a way that’s slightly reminiscent of Yoshi, or the tricycling marionette from the Saw movies. It actually starts to ache after a few minutes. This isn’t working. I allow my visage to relax back into neutral, but it goes all the way to frown.
Can one truly say they are channelling the spirit of Amigo without having an enormous grin unceasingly plastered on their face? Of course not. Don’t be ridiculous! Although you can try to adopt different roles, it seems that if there’s no sympathetic resonance with your immutable nature, they won’t take. And apparently there’s just no carefree samba in my desiccated soul. I solemnly place my sombrero back in the wardrobe and close the door. I’m in a very foul mood.
Good role model? Not for everyone, it seems.
Graeme Virtue is a freelance writer based in Scotland. He recently managed to get Aquaman to open up about being excluded from Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe.