Written by Jeremy Morgan, tabletop games editor, gamer, and software developer.
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Protagonists and Morality

17 July 2014

I recently started watching House of Cards on Netflix. I’m three episodes in, and it made me think about a topic that influences what media I consume. Most of the time I don’t even realize I’m making a decision based on this preference, but it’s easy enough for me to elucidate.

I have to have someone to root for.

In most cases, the protagonist is the hero, the one we’re supposed to identify with. They’re the protag because theirs is the story we care about. For me, the protag has to function according to some kind of morality. There’s a trend in media to have every character and every decision merely reflect a “everything is shades of gray; there is no good or evil” mentality. I really don’t like this. It’s one of the reasons I’ve chosen not to watch Breaking Bad, except for the first episode, which I didn’t finish. My wife and I even stopped watching a season of Hell’s Kitchen because we just couldn’t stand any of the contestants.

Some might argue that I’m wanting things to be simple. Far from it! I like flawed characters. I can appreciate situations that are messy and don’t appear to have a good moral solution to them. I just require that there be some kind of underlying morality, even if it doesn’t match mine. Even if it doesn’t present itself as an epic good-and-evil struggle.

Scene from Kingdom Come

I’ve been a bit negative, so let me share something cool that does it right, in my opinion. Kingdom Come is a graphic novel from DC (I know, I know) from several years ago. In it, we find ourselves in a future where anti-heroes and vigilantes are warring in the streets without any regard for the safety of non-supers. The iconic DC heroes we know are absent, but as the story progresses, they return, led by everyone’s favorite paragon, Superman.

It’s got moral ambiguity, but it deals with good and evil, tough choices, and the nature of heroism.

Am I the only one that has trouble with this? Tell me on Twitter about a story, a movie, a TV show, that you love that has morality and complexity.


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