In a video game like World of Warcraft and particularly in Cataclysm, it becomes more and more evident as you move on and up in the world of leveling that you are a hero. By the time you get to Wrath of the Lich King, people begin to notice your heroic deeds; many an NPC in Dalaran will thank you for your service if you're exalted with the Kirin Tor. The same applies to other reputations. Every quest you do, every mission you complete is yet another notch in the belt for your character's heroic deeds.
Everyone wants to be the hero -- the shining star known throughout Azeroth for saving lives and generally making the world a better place. Why? Because heroes are generally loved by all, meaning that your character won't have any problems interacting with other people, theoretically. I say "theoretically" because those very same characters who are the shining stars, beloved by all, can sometimes be the most irritating characters roleplayers meet, falling squarely into Mary Sue territory.
So how, exactly, do you avoid the Mary Sue and still have the ability to play the hero of your dreams?
You are not the hero
First, there's one simple thing you have to keep in mind when you are developing and roleplaying your character: He is not "the hero" of World of Warcraft. The hero of World of Warcraft -- or rather, heroes -- are those big-name NPCs, the characters that books, comics, and other random stories are written about, the characters whose names are instantly recognizable by anyone of their faction (and in most cases, by the other faction as well). Thrall, Varian, Jaina, Sylvanas, Malfurion, Tirion; these are some of the heroes of World of Warcraft. Not your character.
Your character is, however, a hero -- one of many who roam the world, helping those less fortunate or otherwise in need of assistance. While the big names are busy making plans and being big, your character is the hero who is carrying out those plans. Your character may command a unit of troops, but no matter how heroic he is, he all answers inevitably to the heroes of World of Warcraft, in one way or another.
Your character is in essence a "red shirt" in Star Trek terms -- a background extra sent in to die. The difference between the red shirts of Star Trek and your character, however, is that your character gets to live, over and over -- it's part of what makes him heroic. But all those great deeds out there in lore? They are deliberately left unassigned or assigned to one of the main heroes.
Take a look at Varian Wrynn, for example. While we have been killing Onyxia for years, it was Varian in World of Warcraft lore who actually dealt the final blow. Did he have help? Oh, you bet he did. A band of troops accompanied him -- that's where a roleplay character could theoretically fit into that story.
Does this mean your character is any less heroic than those big names of World of Warcraft? Not really -- your character is still heroic. What you have to keep in mind, however, is that your character's name isn't going to be known by everyone around. Your character is a "nameless" hero whose deeds and actions are of the unsung variety. What this means is when dealing with other characters in roleplay, you cannot expect them to automatically "remember" who your character is or assume that your character's reputation precedes him. Having your character get huffy because someone doesn't happen to know who he is generates the kind of irritation synonymous with Mary Sues.
Heroic by action, not reputation
It may seem a little disheartening to realize your character isn't going to get credit for all those Onyxia kills, defeating the Lich King, or anything else along those lines. So how do you develop a heroic character without the reputation of one of World of Warcraft's big guns? Here's the secret -- it's not about the reputation at all. It's about how your character acts on a day-to-day basis, how he carries himself.
A true hero never expects recognition for his deeds; he simply carries them out because they are the right thing to do. A true hero acts with selfless abandon, placing himself in harm's way when the time calls for it. A true hero never expects a thank-you -- but when he receives one, he accepts it with appropriately humble gratitude. A true hero can come under fire but has the willpower to stand up against whatever adverse situation he happens to be in and keep fighting. The difference between the big guns and your character is in actuality relatively small; just because your character is never referenced in lore by name doesn't mean he isn't important or heroic.
When playing a heroic character, keep those attributes of selflessness in mind. Help out other characters with whatever problems they happen to stumble upon. Offer advice if asked. Never play your character as someone who has let his deeds go to his head; humility is key. Treat every person your character encounters with respect and kindness. Let your character's actions and the way he speaks and acts define his role in the world.
Heroism in roleplay
This is where it gets a little more fun. Playing a flat-out good guy can be entertaining for a while, but constantly being the good guy can also create a character that treads closer and closer to being two-dimensional. The big names of World of Warcraft, despite being heroes, are constantly dealing with inner conflicts and struggles with the horrors of the world around them. They certainly aren't happy all the time, and they certainly don't come out on top 100% of the time either -- so why should your character?
Take a look at what your character is doing and how he interacts with the world around him. A hero, a good guy, more often than not has an idealistic view of how the world "should be" -- but that "should be" very rarely actually is. How does your hero cope with that? For example, let's look at Thrall and Jaina, two heroes with a very noble cause, uniting the Alliance and Horde and creating a world where all can live in peace. But this cause they are so passionately behind has yet to come to fruition.
In the case of Jaina, she eventually had to come to terms with her ideals and the reality of the situation around her. In the novel The Shattering, she has to wrestle with the fact that trying to ride the line of neutrality between Horde and Alliance is harder than it looks, and she has to decide where, ultimately, her loyalties lie. This is the kind of situation that would cause any hero anguish -- being forced to take a side that, while right, goes against his or her ideal "should be" of the world.
In the case of Thrall, it's even more complicated than that. Rather than simply choose a side, Thrall has to take a good, long look at himself and decide whether he needs to remain the Horde's hero, the Warchief, or whether there are more important things to consider -- the world. More importantly, in The Shattering, Thrall begins to question whether or not he is a hero at all and tries to come to terms with the fact that he has spent so long selflessly helping others that he really has no idea who he is as a person at all.
These are some of the kinds of situations heroes can work with in roleplay -- the conflicts between their ideals and the horrors of every day. A hero doesn't have to be nice all the time, and a hero who is dealing with inner conflict or turmoil can be far more interesting to play than your standard "good guy." Be careful not to overdo the angst factor, and be aware that a trip too far into the darkness could take your hero to places that aren't terribly heroic at all.
On the other side of the equation, we've got a different type of hero -- the antihero. An antihero is a hero, but he's a hero who lacks the traits typically seen in a heroic figure. Generally speaking, he lacks the noble attitude of the typical hero archetype or the selflessness that traditional heroes carry. He may have a dark and troubled past that led him down the path he's currently traveling. He may be surly or rude -- but when his ideal world is on the line, he will do everything in his power to defend it.
Batman is an excellent example of an antihero. He isn't gentle and he isn't kind. He simply goes in and gets the job done because he realizes the world is a dark and horrible place. Not only does he realize it, but he embraces the dark and the horrible and he uses the dark and the horrible to fight the dark and the horrible -- hence the "bat" persona. Rough to the point of being brusque, he's not the sort to ask for a thank-you, and if he gets it, it's barely acknowledged. He doesn't need the thank-you; he is simply doing his job.
In World of Warcraft, Sylvanas Windrunner could be considered an antihero, although she's treading dangerously close to the line of villain these days. A tragic incident made her into what she is today, and her ideals clearly revolve around the Forsaken, rather than the rest of the world. However, she will do anything to further the cause of her people and defend them to the death. Her ideals may not mesh with the rest of the world, but she will do whatever necessary to defend them.
Antiheroes aren't typically the type of characters that other characters will get along with. Mysterious, dark, surly, loner -- all of these words describe an antihero. Doesn't really sound like someone who would exactly be a social butterfly, does it? That's the danger of playing an antihero and what you have to keep in mind if you are thinking about playing one. As an antihero, opportunities for roleplay may be limited, because some characters just may not be the type who would interact with you.
When trying to play a hero, roleplayers should be careful not to box themselves into a two-dimensional role. The key to playing a hero successfully lies in giving yourself ample opportunity to be three-dimensional. It's not just about saving the world; it's about what your hero thinks about the world around him -- how the events of the world affect him, and whether he shrinks back into obscurity or takes a stand and makes things right. Almost everyone wants to be a hero. And in a sense, everyone is -- whether the rest of Azeroth recognizes their heroic deeds or not.
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