Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Snowflake's Chance in Hell

Martyrdom is an idea that seems burned into the human soul. We love martyrs almost on instinct, as they reflect our highest ideals, they are what we're supposed to be. The 20th century gave us a host of them, figures that still loom large over American culture, rightly venerated. And in our pop culture, we particularly lionize them, telling their stories over and over. At times, we almost obligate their demises. Earlier this year, as Spartacus reached its final episodes, some fans started speculating that the creators would pull a fast one, and let their historical hero skirt his destined martyrdom and escape into the Italian mountains. After all, we don't really know how Spartacus died. Appealing though a happy ending for long suffering Spartacus was, creator Steven DeKnight, however, quite rightly pointed out how troubling it would be for the man to let hundreds of thousands die for his cause, then walk away. DeKnight was right, of course. But martyrdom is a hefty burden and not all martyrs get such clear moral stakes. In the last act of Dragon Age II, the mage-guarding Templars are ordered to kill their charges, fed by the fear that the mages will soon become demonically possessed. For the mages, there are two options—die a horrible stabby death, or let a willing demon take over their body so they can fight. Each mage picks the latter. Many players didn't accept that the mages would make the choice that, in effect, proves the Templars right. But to me, it was a simple recognition of this truth: the moral high ground is hard to appreciate when you're dead.
            I've been thinking of this ever since I beat The Last of Us.