So, anyone hear the news? Carson is down in Florida with his mother and has failed to repair his computer. While Jesse’s computer is functioning and I’m still getting orders from the top, Carson’s absence leaves me as the prime contributor for SWG. I will not be uploading letsplays. Whereas Carson feels Letsplays are the purest form of review, I firmly acknowledge the etymological root of the word ‘letsplay’ coming from the Latin term meaning “lazy critic”.
I hope you enjoyed my really long essay on how to kill WoW. That essay was pre-written a month ago along with the trolling essay and I would like to pop back to the alignment grid. This week is all about lawful good. If you root for Uther Lightbringer, if you love Link, if Vergil gives you butterflies or if you have ever chosen the ‘needs of the many’ ending to Fable 2 then this essay is just for you.
So, this week we have a lot to talk about. I spent the last essay in this series defining my terms so let us dive straight in. Lawful good is one of those alignments that needs no explanation. I’m not saying that because LG is simple or easy to make as a quality, well built lawful good characters that don’t come off completely campy are incredibly hard to build. I say it requires no explanation because almost every one of us has dreamed of being Lawful Good. In fact, history has been shaped almost primarily by people who want (but often fail at) being lawful good. Keep in mind, I’m not saying that history has been shaped -by- lawful good, merely that those whom have shaped history usually do so in an -attempt- at being (or appearing) such. It almost goes without saying that the mere participation in the Game of Thrones (I, of course, refer to participation in the backroom politicking required to make it to any real level of power and not the Song of Ice and Fire) often leads even the most dedicated and well-intended individuals far away from the light of good.
Enough of my rambling and bumbling. Lets get to the ways in which LG is often expressed. Keep in mind, well-designed characters very rarely fall into any one of these archetypes (or even basic alignment) throughout their entire career (see Carson’s tirade on Mario, also, stay tuned next week for TTB LoZ). So, what is Lawful Good? I plan on spending the next few pages describing the various archetypes often used in the expression of Lawful Good including the paladin, the Quixotic, the Knight in Gleaming Armor and the Justicar.
I can not stress this enough. Well written characters often start in these archetypes but none of these are definitions. To quote The Doctor, “We become many things all throughout our lives”. These archetypes are -great- springboards from which to draw a rough draft of a character but should be abandoned the second they stop expanding your character. The second you think “well that totally feels like a connection Valinthe would make, but it’s not really a thing that a gleaming knight would do” is the second you need to discard the gleaming knight archetype. On the other hand, if you decide that Valinthe is still a gleaming knight despite an instant of indecision or a moment of temptation then you can pick it right back up. On the other hand, if that moment of temptation rattles Valinthe’s faith in order sufficiently, he can jump (temporarily or permenantly) into any of the other archetypes I will provide over the next few weeks and that will be perfectly valid storytelling. You could have Gleaming Knight Valinthe work his way down to chaotic evil, over to lawful evil, and end his story in chaotic good and your character would be just as unbelievable as any human being in existence.
Take for example Arthas Menethil. This guy literally started lawful good (as a paladin, using the archetypes listed below) and worked his way down to chaotic evil. On the other hand, lets take Annakin Skywalker. Annakin started chaotic good and worked his way down to lawful evil before finally surfacing for air at lawful good in his last minutes of life. If there’s anything to take from all of this, you should take that these archetypes serve purely as a lens through which to observe your character and should never be considered as a box or tunnel through which to cram your character.
So, what is a paladin? When imagining paladins most people immediately jump to folks like Uther. You know the type, she stands on the side of good and peace, her actions can never be questioned or debated because in the world she lives in all good intentions lead to good results. She stands on the side of Gwynevre, lady of Sunlight. He protects Hylia’s gift, the Triforce, from the hands of the greedy and the cruel.
Unfortunately, my paladin is not that guy. The term paladin comes from the Italian word Palazzo (as in Kefka, if Carson is going to use me to talk about how royally screwed Link is then I’m going to discuss this guy…. someday) Palazzo means palace/temple guard and the organization of Palazzo was brought together by Charlemagne as an attempt to indicate to friend and foe alike that he was such a great dude that God himself blessed his personal guard with the Righteous power of Heaven.
This is the guy I want to talk about. The paladin I am using as an archetype serves no particular god or church. This guy serves the light of creation. His power is often provided by a patron but can just as easily draw his awesome might from a concept or belief. In D&D there are paladins that serve nothing else but the concept of life or love, drawing their swords not to guard a temple or a palace but only to protect the love of a dedicated family, the concept of valor or chivalry. These guys can be used subversively because they serve only a concept. A paladin will never be ruled by a king or noble because the concept is more important than it’s champion. Take for example Yoda. Star Wars does have a concept of divine beings (see Darth Nihilus for the Sith and the Jedi Outcast for the Jedi) but Yoda never once drives initiates to serve them. Yoda’s awesome power comes directly from the concepts of justice and universal truth. So does the paladin draw her power from the the concept of good and the word of law.
Let us talk about another paladin. You guys know me by now so lets just get it out of the way. My second paladin is Link. Link serves not the crown or the king, he doesn’t even really serve the royal line of Zelda. He serves Hylia, her avatars, and draws his power straight from the Triforce of Courage. Link, like any paladin, is often confused with any other servant of the realm because his beliefs are often harmonious with whatever faction he is allied with. This often leads to authority misunderstanding his allegiances. Notice the Link to the Past/Link between Worlds periods. Legend of Zelda is always framed from the perspective of Hylia and her chosen heroes, so the fact that Link to the Past/Link between Worlds takes place during a bloody civil war gets glossed over in service of the narrative of Link. Notice that in both games Link finds himself in direct and violent opposition of the crown of Hyrule. I mean. At the end of Act 1 of both games you are literally massacring the royal guard of King Johannes Hyrule on the way to kill the King’s chief adviser.
Fast forward to Wind Waker. I wont go into boring details concerning the expanded story of Wind Waker (as I still find myself confused over how Ganon could be both sealed away and actively working his evil upon the high seas. I know Wind Waker is one of the most popular entries in the series but some moments simply break the logic through which the rest of the universe works) but I would like to fast forward to the final battle. Keep in mind that Hyrule is named such because it is the sacred land given unto humanity by Hylia. By this logic Link should be doing everything in his power to save it. Yet, the final scene depicts Link destroying Hyrule in order to serve the intent of his quest (that is to say, protecting humanity from demonkind).
Let us move onto the Knight in Gleaming Armor. This lady is beautiful and radiant. She literally gleams with the power of good. She is the unswervingly righteous cop, the radiant angel and, at all times, grossly incandescent. In high fantasy the Gleaming Knight is often depicted as the warrior (I have no idea -why- it’s always a warrior, as the Gleaming Knight could just as easily be a wizard, Ref. Gandalf) that spearheads the band of heroes. I’m not going to go on about how awesome Gandalf is (and how he would annihilate Dumbledore) because it’s gravely important that we gamers establish our own mythos and pantheons. Just like how cinema has John Wayne and John McClane. Just as literature has Romeo, Gandalf, Dumbledore and Jane Austin. So must video games have our own pantheon of transcendent heroes and our own common language. So lets move onto the characters.
Let us look to Jaina (pre-Pandaria). Jaina is truly an upstanding character and well deserving of the title of Gleaming Knight. She is a survivor of all 3 invasions. The Horde and it’s contemporaries took her home, her fiance and pretty much every chance she had at a normal life. Yet, she has, with the exception of her relentless spite towards Garrosh, managed to resist falling to hatred. Hell, after her hometown was nuked by the Horde she still kept enough composure to ally with the splinter Horde (lead by Vol’jin) on peaceful terms in order to lay siege to Orgrimmar. Jaina is above the fighting, she is above the hate, she dreams of a united Azeroth and, to this day, stands as the one thing keeping Lo’gosh from going whole-hog against everything that isn’t human. Wherever there’s someone preaching xenophobia, wherever there’s someone petitioning to close all the gates and siege up, Jaina is just behind telling everyone else to calm down and hold the nukes.
For my second example of the gleaming knight I direct you to the Right and Honorable Good King Mickey from Kingdom Hearts. I chose Mickey Mouse because the gleaming knight is known, above else, for the strength of his heart and, well, what example is better than the wielder of a weapon that literally serves as the key to the Heart of Worlds? The knight in gleaming armor is, above all else, an optimist, fiercely loyal and true to the core. If a paladin serves a concept then the knight serves only the people.
Moving on. Let us talk about the justicar. If the Paladin serves the concept and the Knight serves the people, then the justicar serves only the law. The justicar is the perfect peace keeper. Any body who has ever played a game of cops and robbers has roleplayed a justicar. While all of the examples above are undeniably lawful and undeniably good, the justicar is a bit more lawful than good. In the never ending spectrum of character types the justicar and the paladin may appear at first glance to be as closely related as the yellow and gold chocobo (in that they look so similar as to be almost indistinguishable). However, in reality, the paladin and justicar are about as distant as– well– a yellow and golden chocobo (in the sense that the two are opposite ends of a spectrum of things that look similar but share no common uses). Where a paladin is more likely to bash you for doing something evil, a justicar is more likely to bash you for doing something illegal. Before my aunt starts singing Edel Weiss lets get on to the examples.
In the Diablo Universe there are 12 gods, 5 good, 7 evil. The good dieties are members of the Angris Council and are, along with their associates, called Angels. The angel I refer to is Malthiel, archangel of wisdom and (later) death, currently associated with the concepts of endings and finality.
“But Malthiel is the bad guy. He wants to bring an end to the world of man!”. Villain, certainly. Bad, no. Malthiel serves, above all else, the Angris Council. He seeks a solid and indisputable end to the Eternal Conflict. While the details are glossed over in service of delivering thrills per minute (why AAA games suck and how to save them, essay seed) the expanded universe of Diablo goes to great pains to explain that Malthiel was never tempted by evil. You see, the Eternal Conflict is the war between good and evil that has served as the primary event for all of creation. Everything that has ever happened and will ever happen is a direct result of a victory, defeat or truce made in the Eternal Conflict (Seriously, this thing is crazy, the angels, demons and linear time as we know it are all accidental byproducts of a particularly gnarly battle that took place a few thousand years after this war popped off. It would be another 2 or 3 thousand years before the physical world would be created).
Anyway, very recently in the scope of the war (so we’re talking about 2 thousand years ago) Malthiel uncovered the existence of humanity. He immediately noticed an extremely dangerous element present only in the souls of human beings. This element would one day be labeled “freedom”. Now, this concept was mind-bending, even to Malthiel, the angel of Wisdom. Malthiel knew that there were 12 gods that each embodied a philosophical element: Valor, Justice, Wisdom, Destiny, Hope, Hate, Destruction, Terror, Sin, Lust, Deceit, and Pain. There was no divine patron of Freedom, this meant that when the aspect of Freedom came along that he/she would be able to choose which side of the conflict to stand on. The ability to choose one’s path through life was completely new in the history of all creation. In fact, the last creature to be presented with a choice between good and evil struggled so hard with the choice that he split into the Heavenly Host and Burning Hells, hence starting the Eternal Conflict. In Malthiel’s mind there was no debate to be had. Malthiel had seen firsthand the consequences of being allowed to choose, and humanity represented literally trillions of opportunities for the same choice that birthed demonkind. Malthiel was a good guy, he stood firmly on the side of Heaven, but his dedication to order over good turned him into one of the greatest threats humankind ever faced.
So, why did I choose to write a book on Malthiel instead of giving you the standard 2 examples followed by a transition? There is a very important lesson to learn here. “Good” and “nice” are -not- synonyms. Not all branches of good are on the same side. In fact, even amongst the same branch of good there are differences of opinion great enough to start wars (ref. The Crusades). This conflict is crucial to good storytelling.
Maybe its because our medium is young. I was born in 1987 and I consider myself part of the first gaming generation. Yes, there were gamers before me. Hell, there were video game fanatics before me, but my generation was the first to acknowledge video gaming as a mainstream entertainment. Maybe that is the reason, maybe I’m completely off the mark and it has nothing to do with maturity. All I know is that our writers have (for the most part) failed thus far to realize that good vs. evil is not the only (or even the best) story to tell. Yes, many games state that there is more to it than cops and robbers, but usually this boils down to something like Assassin’s Creed where, despite the Templar-Assassin war being a matter of order vs chaos, all of the fights ultimately boil down to “Those templars are trying to steal our rights and restrict our liberties!”. I’m not saying that Assassin’s Creed is bad. I mean, I personally don’t like Assassin’s creed. I got halfway through the first game, realized that all of the missions were carbon copies of each other and haven’t played since, but as far as story goes Assassin’s Creed tries hard and gets a B+ for at least putting in the effort.
Now, if you’ve been paying attention so far you will have noticed a pattern. While all 3 of these alignments are both lawful and good they each starkly contrast one another. Most, including myself, when thinking about the alignment grid, see Lawful Good and simply assume that the entire lot consists of happy pixies with nothing better to do than wax poetic about Truth, Justice, and the American Way. In fact, I had a lot of trouble writing this essay because I had no idea how to pump out 10 pages on Lightbringer Uther. I had forgotten that the concept of “simplest terms” is a fallacy.
Oh, but I’m still not done. Just as the triforce has 3 positive elements and 1 negative, so does Lawful Good. Remember Murphy’s Law: whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. Not all good characters exist as paragons of truth. In fact, some amongst lawful good exist purely to indicate what happens to those with a binary ethical structure.
Here I draw your attention to the quixotic hero. Out of all of the archetypes I plan on putting forward in my series on character development, this is the one that I’m willing to bet you’ve never heard of. You’ve all seen it, you’ve all laughed at it, but you’ve never actually had it named. So, what is a quixotic hero? Have you ever watched a movie or read a story featuring a character that wants to be a paladin or a justicar but always manages to duff it up royally? This guy is a quixotic hero. Named for Senor Don Quixote de la Mancha, the quixotic hero exists almost purely as a warning to those who would attempt to emulate lawful good in the real world. Keep in mind, the quixotic hero is never a bad guy and never does explicitly bad things. He’s simply naive.
Let me speak directly from experience here. Everybody out there has met a quixotic person in the real world. You probably didn’t realize it when you knew her because she was such a pain in the ass to be around. Rarely you run into someone who sees the good underneath but most of the time any good intention gets caught up in how much of a political mess up she is. You know the guy, in middle school a guy will be joking around with his buddies and— okay, Ill admit it. I was talking about myself. I was constantly butting into other people’s business just to realize there wasn’t actually a problem and that guy was just joking around with his girlfriend. Hell, one time I took my horse and chased down a dragon. Got all the way up it’s neck before my best friend, Sancho Panza let me know it was a windm— oh wait– that was the actual Don Quixote. Life is confusing I guess.
Another example of the quixotic hero would be Liquid Snake. You know, the pissant that wants to be Solid Snake but only managed to kill the president? That guy. Liquid Snake was created purely as a means for Kojima to mock and berate the fans of snake. Lets go back in my own history for a moment. I used to have a friend named– uh… just realized I shouldn’t be naming people here, especially in this context. Could get sued. Lets call him Dalek Medios. This guy genuinely believed that since he had played MGS3 over a dozen times he could train anyone in “military CQC”. He even went so far as to claim that he would whoop Dax in prison. Liquid Snake is like Dalek Medios and was literally created to mock a generation of armchair generals that genuinely believed that their experiences through Snake gave them any level of proficiency in military action. I mean, the guy literally kills the president of the United States in order to prove the fact that his VR training (shorthand for video games) and action flicks gave him the edge he needed to contend with a “real hero” like Solid Snake. The irony behind this is further expanded upon by the fact that Solid Snake loudly refusing to be called a hero. In fact, Snake and Big Boss both indicate in multiple situations that the word “tool” or “instrument” is a better description than “hero”.
So why did I just go on and on about paladins and justicars? As I said before, when you are building a character for your game it often helps to start with a high concept. I have a long and storied history with various tabletop games like D&D and Shadowrun and I can tell you that making a good, believable character without a very basic high concept is unbelievably hard. I mean, there are some real wizards out there like John Green or George Orwell (I so want to make a video game about 1984. Video games are the novels of the future, essay seed) most of us mere mortals need to start from somewhere basic and things like the alignment grid and the Meyers-Briggs personality test are perfect for this purpose.
So there’s my bit on lawful good. Thanks for sticking with me for the next few weeks. Next week I will be going on to discuss The Truth Behind LoZ and after that Ill be back to talk about this slightly more tangental subject of character design. After that I will be back to subjects more core to our medium. I know, this blog is supposed to be all about game design but unless you are aiming to make Flappy Bird, Angry Bird and Bejeweled clones you’re going to need to be filled in on how to make these things. Sorry, guys, but we are no longer in an era where you can drop solid mechanics on an abstract backdrop and call it done. If we are ever going to be taken seriously then we need to consider each element (including storytelling) as a holistic part of the experience rather than a mere justification to collect pellets and fruits. I really hope this series helps you think more critically about what you want to make of your narrative. Thanks for reading, see you next week.