We keep finding ourselves as amnesiacs and strangers in the games we play. There are practical reasons for this, which have been frequently mentioned by other authors and by myself, in the realms of narrative and game design. The most commonly mentioned of these is that having the character come to the world of the game as a stranger makes exposition easier to create and more natural, since both the character and the player need the same information in order to make sense of the world they find themselves in.
Is that the only reason?
Over and over again, we see characters cut loose from the bonds of their former lives– ten days ago, I discussed Silent Hill 2’s exceptional and tragic treatment of one such character– and only severing those contacts allow them to recreate themselves. Bruce Wayne’s world gets destroyed, and out of the pieces of that he creates Batman. The narrator in Fight Club loses his home and all his possessions, and in doing so he is able to recreate himself as a flesh and blood human rather than a homunculus of the meaningless artifacts he has acquired. Countless inciting incidents burn down protagonists villages and massacre their families, murder their mentors, and only afterwards do they become heroes.
Why is the complete dismantling of their lives seemingly such a necessary step on the path to becoming a hero? Or, indeed, since their origins usually tend to follow in similar veins, a villain?
Sometimes our worlds start to calcify around us. Every person who knows you as you are or as you were becomes another obstacle to becoming something else; how can you change when the reflections you see in their eyes show you as you were the day before? The rooms we live in become emblematic of the events which happened to us within them, and the weight of that can be crushing. Our identity ceases to be a skin and hardens into a prison.
Loss can be liberating. Sometimes, the things we cling to are just the things which weigh us down.
The characters we inhabit are blank slates because that lets us collude with the game to create the hero. We don’t merely occupy a static protagonist who was always what he is, but accompany him as he is created anew– or, as in Silent Hill 2, perhaps he isn’t. When the flames recede, does a phoenix take flight, or is there nothing but charred bones? We are the agents of his metamorphosis, or we are the seeds of his downfall.
We are fate.