The guy next door
The list of everyman gaming heroes is vast, but we’ve paired it down to pay homage to our personal favorites, beginning with one particularly average adventurer who’s lived an extraordinary life. Well, half of one…
Half Life II: Episode 2 (opens in new tab)
It’s hard to imagine the legendary Gordon Freeman as anything but a crowbar-wielding savior of humanity, but lest we forget this HEV suited powerhouse started his journey as a mild-mannered Black Mesa nerd who stumbled into the wrong Anti-Mass Spectrometer at the wrong time. All it took was one accidental resonance cascade to change Freeman’s life from that of boring experiments and tram rides to close encounters with Vortigaunts, Combine, and shady interdimensional G-Men.
Freeman deserves top billing on our homage to the everyman because, minus an above average brain, he’s the prime example of a normal guy forced to deal with an extremely abnormal situation. In this case, Freeman rose to the occasion in fine style, evolving from a guy who just wants to get the hell out of the alien-infested lab to a badass who may very well be earth’s only hope. Only time (and a great degree of hassling Valve to make Half Life 3) will tell if this everyman’s adventure has a happy ending.
The Walking Dead (opens in new tab)
Let’s be honest: We all secretly fantasize about kicking butt in a zombie apocalypse, but deep down in our juicy hearts we know we’d be reduced to rotting piles of street-meat moments after the outbreak. Lee, on the other hand, is an everyday ex-convict who not only got the chance to live out the average-Joe-becomes-zombie-killer dream, but made a pretty decent go of it to boot–assuming you made the right calls on his behalf, mind you. You did leave those abandoned supplies alone, right? Right?!
Lee’s Walking Dead adventure kicked off innocently enough with a violent car crash en route to the police station. Faster than you can mumble Braiiaiins, he became a guardian to the young Clementine and the reluctant leader of a pack of morally grey survivors. Not only was Lee forced to learn the basics of zombie killing in hurry, but he was saddled with brokering a never-ending series of bleak social challenges and life-or-death decisions. Again, we’d all like to believe we’d be like Lee in an undead apocalypse; and thanks to role models like him, it makes us think we just might have a chance.
Chrono Trigger (opens in new tab)
There was a time in the 1990s when nearly every RPG started with getting out of bed. But while many of those late sleepers wound up being princes, gods, and psychic children, Crono from Chrono Trigger was just a regular kid who really, really wanted to sleep in. It took an rip in the fabric of time to mold this spiky-haired everyboy into something greater, but after it happened at the local Millennial Fair, it wasn’t long before Crono was recruiting chivalrous frogs, wooing future brides, and saving space and time from an ancient evil.
To be fair, Crono quickly adopted magic powers to aid him on his quest, giving him a not-so-average advantage. This doesn’t take away from the fact that he assumed his heroic duties when he was just an average kid. And to be honest, we’re not sure he would have made it past his first Blue Imp without a little help.
Prey (opens in new tab)
We’ve all been there. One minute you’re sitting down to a well-deserved drink at the local watering hole, and the next you’re fighting for your insignificant human existence aboard a living alien ship. Such was the predicament that Cherokee member Domasi Tawodi (aka Tommy) faced when he saddled up for a pint at his girlfriend’s bar and soon wound up hunting down The Mother aboard a gravity-defying spacecraft known as The Sphere.
In Prey, it didn’t take long before Tommy became a pro at running on ceilings and wielding alien guns and ancient powers. Still, the current Tommy that saved Earth from an alien invasion (sorry, spoilers) is a far cry from the listless reservation mechanic we encountered in the beginning. Thankfully, Tommy was a quick learner when it came to handling alien technology and spirit powers or else we’d be alien meat.
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (opens in new tab)
Silent Hill is a horrible vacation spot for superheroes, let alone thirty-something writers and single dads. That didn’t deter Harry Mason from traveling through hell and back to save his daughter from the clutches of a Silent Hill cult after visiting the quaint town in search of quiet getaway. Technically, the daughter he brought to Silent Hill and the newborn he left with were different beings. Still, Harry deserves a pat on the back for making it out of the otherwordly town sane and with his head firmly connected to his body. Not a bad accomplishment for a meek writer who’s only prior run-ins with evil consisted of tight deadlines and demanding publishers.
The survival horror genre is a breeding ground for everyman heroes. As the original star of the Silent Hill franchise, Harry represents one of the many average men, women, and children who have fallen into horrific situations with little or no combat skills. Granted, the protagonists of Silent Hill don’t always survive their personal hells in a traditional sense, but they manage to demonstrate acts of heroism nonetheless.
New Super Mario Bros. Wii U (opens in new tab)
Of course Mario is on this list. Please, you didn’t think we’d make a feature on gaming’s greatest normal guys without the legendary Joe Schmoe plumber himself? If you consider 1993’s Super Mario Movie cannon (which you should, without question), then you know Mario was a blue-collar plumber who spied on the evil Scapelli Construction Company only to be accidentally transported to a Mushroom Kingdom ruled by Dennis Hopper. Even if you’d rather forget the movie (which you shouldn’t), the Super Mario games have always portrayed Mario as a regular dude who, on rare occasions, uses a special suit or flower to help him rescue the Princess for the 100,098,099th time.
Still, despite all the capes, power-ups, and flutes, Mario is always one ill-timed jump or koopa shell away from death. Heck, he’s not even in that great of shape. He’s as everyman as any man can get, and he just so happens to be the most revered hero of all. Take that Kratos and Master Chief . Or don’t. Totally your call.
Alan Wake (opens in new tab)
The reluctant-writer-turns-hero is one of the most overused tropes in literary fiction, but in Alan Wake it was repurposed to introduce one of the most relatable and memorable everyman heroes in gaming. After all, everyone battles with their own fears and anxieties at one point or another; but in Remedy’s dark actioneer, Alan got the rare opportunity to go mano-a-mano with his personal demons (even though it almost drove him insane in the process).
It’s not entirely clear if Alan Wake’s adventure was the product of eating Thai food before bed, or if it was a supernatural event conjured by an overactive author’s imagination. Even if it was all a bad dream, there was always sense that Alan might not wake up if he failed to live through his ordeals in Bright Falls. Thankfully, Wake assumed his heroic duties like a champ, narrowly escaping the Dark Presence and its shadowy minions with only his wits, flashlight, and the occasional pick axe.
Dead Space 2 (opens in new tab)
It’s common video game knowledge that anyone assigned to investigating a derelict space ship is in for a bad time. In Isaac Clarke’s case, hopping aboard the Ishimura put this everyday engineer in the direct path of an alien invasion. No doubt, up until 2414 the most exciting and dangerous thing Isaac probably did was tweak a few valves on the odd mining vessel. Shortly into Dead Space (opens in new tab), however, he’s forced to cobble together the tools to defend himself against a race of infected Necromorphs and uncover a devious corporate cover-up. Then there’s the whole matter of losing his mind due to the presence of an ancient alien artifact. All told, you can bet Mr. Clarke wrote a strongly worded email to his union boss.
Isaac is a solid example of an everyman who found himself in a nightmarish scenario with no other way to go but forward. Beginning Dead Space with little more than a wrench and engineering skills, he applied his everyday trade to building the armor and weapons necessary to survive his hellish environment and save both the girl and the world. Ok, maybe just the world. And then, from what we see in Dead Space 3 (opens in new tab), even that job isn’t exactly finished.
Ethan Mars / Madison Paige
Heavy Rain (opens in new tab)
A loving father, skilled architect, and master backyard swordsman, Ethan Mars was an unlikely hero at the beginning of Heavy Rain. For the first hour of the game, his biggest challenges were setting a table and learning how to open a fridge door. This all changed after he lost his son Jason at the local shopping mall and became embroiled in a conspiracy involving a sadistic serial killer, virtual reality, and awkward puppet sex.
And then there’s Madison Paige, the everywoman photojournalist who got swept up in Ethan’s chase and found herself targeted by the same people and forces that wanted Ethan dead. Together, these two average rogues left their sanitized home lives in the dust and use put themselves into increasingly dangerous situations in order to save Jason and see the Origami Killer brought to justice. With no powers, little help, and zero superpowers, Ethan and Madison proved that normal people can come through in the end… provided you press the right buttons.
Dead Rising 2: Case West (opens in new tab)
Unless you count superhuman photography skills as a power, Frank West is about as everyman as it gets. In Dead Rising, one minute he was covering a fluff outbreak piece in a Colorado mall and the next he’s using lawnmowers and shopping carts to survive a full-on zombie outbreak. Frank isn’t a trained policeman. He isn’t a ninja master. Heck, he isn’t even a genetically altered spy. Instead, Frank was just a guy who was desperate to stay alive, and thus motivated to use anything he could grab to survive his shopping trip through zombie hell (also known as Black Friday in the US).
As is typical with everyday heroes, Frank’s success against extreme odds becomes a magnet for other, less independent (read: mind-numbingly stupid) survivors. As such, Frank is an example of the everyman who must not only rise above his own expectations, but convince his followers to do the same. That, or just do all the heavy work while they whine their way through an escort mission.
Everyone in Left 4 Dead
Left 4 Dead (opens in new tab)
Left 4 Dead 2 (opens in new tab)
Bill. Francis. Zoey. Louis. Coach. Nick. Rochelle. Ellis. Remember these names, because in the event of a global undead pandemic, you’re going to want to join forces with these Left 4 Dead series survivors. These are ordinary people who were forced to take up arms and fashion themselves into fearless zombie death squads. They are high school coaches, mechanics, students, and IT nerds who woke up to a hellish new reality and chose to make a solid run for it rather than hide away in some girly treehouse (we’re looking at you, Clementine).
It’s no coincidence this list features several zombie franchises. After all, there are few other video game situations that offer the chance for everymen and everywomen to escape their ho-hums lives and take a stab at becoming a hero. For players, it’s easier to connect with a hapless survivor than it is to bond with a space marine or demon slayer, as it gives gamers the chance to live out a zombie apocalypse in the shoes of someone just like them. Which, we’ll say again, is not as easy as it sounds.
Speaking of Joes Schmos who stumble into terrifying situations, we’d be remiss to leave Maniac Mansion’s Dave off our list. As plain and unremarkable as they get, this denim-clad lad braved the house of Dr. Fred Edison to save his girlfriend, Sandy the Cheerleader, from getting her brains plucked out of her pretty, 8-bit head. Speaking of brains, Dave relied on his puzzle-solving smarts to thwart Dr. Edison’s plans; combining everyday household objects and lateral thinking to unlock the mansion’s secrets and outwit its many tentacled dangers.
Dave wasn’t alone, either. Like many everyday heroes, Dave had the power of friendship to help him out of a few tight spots. This included Michael Stoppe, a budding photographer; Bernard Bernoulli, the staple 80s nerd; Razor, a punk rocker; Syd, a new wave musician; and Wendy Wells, a resourceful friend whom we’re sure was secretly waiting for Sandy to be cut out of the picture. Together, Dave’s crew of misfit adventurers pointed and clicked their way to victory over Dr. Fred and his evil Tentacle empire, thus proving you don’t need to have super powers to defeat great evil. Although, a reliable online walkthrough helps.