Going Rogue were fundamentally the bad guys. For all the talk that's been given about how players can choose either path, about how there isn't always good and evil... the players are smarter than that. Being on the side of the jackbooted oppressors is just plain wrong, there are no two ways about it. No matter how heavy-handed the City of Heroes team might be about it, players knew better than to take the bait.
The problem with this line of thinking is that it's wrong on one fundamental level. It's not that there's a lack of evil running through Praetoria, it's that people are seeing it on the wrong side. Loyalists aren't the shoo-ins for villains that the community seems to think they are -- they're heroes, making the world a better place. There might be the occasional misstep, but when you get right down to it, no faction on Praetoria is as well-suited to the ethos of heroism than those loyal to Emperor Cole.
Picture all of the things you would consider wrong with your life right now. More likely than not, they include one health problem or another, bills that always seem to be increasing rather than decreasing, workplace stress, and trying to fit in some time for yourself in the mix there. It's the sort of mess that would require a hero to fix, and the problem is that heroes aren't actually very good at these tasks. Superman is great at beating the snot out of alien invaders, sure, but he's not going to be able to work overtime for you or fix the leaking roof in your house.
Emperor Cole has fixed those problems. There's no need to fear homelessness or starvation, no threat that someone will try to scam you out of your hard-earned money, no assaults on your sanity in a menial and undesirable job. Praetoria looks like a paradise because, frankly, it is one. All the pain and misery that inhabits our world has been swept away.
We've been fed the phrase "Utopia at a price" for months, and we're conditioned to think that the price is inherently unfair. The price isn't personal freedom, as much as the anti-Tyrant faction would like it to be. The only price is simply behaving fairly as a member of the society. No committing crime, no supporting the resistance, no cheating or swindling. If you violate the simple set of rules laid out, then you will be dealt with harshly -- not out of malice, but to ensure that the perfect society remains perfect.
And heroes? They work for society, in the biggest ways possible. They ensure that threats too large for human beings to handle are kept under control, with extreme prejudice as necessary. In Paragon City, by contrast, heroes fight the symptoms instead of the disease. You can beat down every Hellion in Atlas Park and send every single member to jail, but that doesn't change the underprivileged portion of society that creates further Hellions in the first place. And for every bank robbery you stop, untold amounts of money are being siphoned off in white-collar crimes across the country.
The superhumans of Praetoria have harnessed their abilities for the greater good. The players belong to the police force that works actively, not reactively -- stopping threats that will emerge before they do so. It's easy to misconstrue this as an abuse of power, but it's much more straightforward than that. Mother Mayhem and the Seers aren't just guessing about where someone is having anti-social thoughts or breaking the law. They know. These aren't jackbooted oppressors stringing you up on false charges, but people dedicated to maintaining the society no matter what the cost.
Anyone caught in the crossfire is unfortunate, but it's for the greater good.
There are countless examples from comics where a hero has beaten a villain to the verge of death, and by all rights they should finish the job. Without fail, they stop just shy of actually killing, on the basis that somehow it lowers a person. But think of how many more people have had to die because Batman didn't want to "lower himself" by killing the Joker. He avoids killing a homicidal maniac because he's more willing to sacrifice the lives of untold innocents than make himself a murderer.
Shouldering that burden is for the greater good. Being a force that holds Praetoria together means shouldering the burdens of what is necessary, performing sometimes reprehensible acts -- because however many people have to pay is merely a fraction of the world's population. Sometimes, you have to break a few eggs to make breakfast, and sometimes you have to murder one person to avoid the death of thousands.
To claim that no amount of peace is worth bloodshed is naive at best and insane at worst. If you could topple warlords in impoverished nations and take control of their supplies, distributing them to needy people and families to prevent further death -- how would that not be worth it? How could you sit on your hands and refuse to lower yourself to killing?
Doing nothing is as damning as the road toward addressing the problem. That is what loyalists face, what they understand, and what drives them to continue supporting the emperor despite all of his flaws. And, in this effort, they have created a regime that has ended so many problems we have thought native to the human condition.
How many lives is a world without racism, poverty, or war worth? If you could save the lives of six and a half billion people by killing five hundred thousand, would it be a fair trade?
That is what the greater good is all about. What being a hero ought to be all about, that's gotten lost in the mix somewhere. It's what being a loyalist means. To say that they're one step away from the craven, self-aggrandizing supervillains in the Rogue Isles is so far from the truth it's almost laughable.
So think about it the next time you think one faction is on the fast track to villainous inclinations. There are more shades of gray than that.
I hope everyone liked this week's column, as it's a bit of a departure from the norm. Let me know what you think in the comments, or mail me at Eliot at Massively dot com. Next week is our usual question and answer session, after which we're going to start a riot, rage against the machine, and quite possibly aim to misbehave.
A Mild-Mannered Reporter: For the greater good
Eliot Lefebvre|June 30, 2010 1:00 PM