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Forget Master Chief and Marcus Fenix: Here Are Five Real Heroes of Video Gaming

We already know that a whole bunch of games characters are colossal dickheads. But these ones, not so much.

by Mike Diver
17 March 2016, 1:00pm

Dr Chakwas from Mass Effect – an inspiration to all who serve with her

The other week, VICE ran a compact guide to video gaming's biggest dickheads. Now, we get slammed in some corners of the internet for being "down" on video games, and it's easy to see why if you only ever read the stuff that's being critical – even when, as in the case of the dickheads piece, we've got our tongue stuffed so far into our cheek that its practicality tickling an ear lobe.

Truth is, the vast majority of VICE Gaming articles are celebratory, full of hope for the entertainment industry's fastest-moving medium, something that we should all be involved with, whether that's through high-spec PC rigs or by spending ten minutes with a match-three puzzler on our smartphones while riding the bus to work. We wouldn't be doing all this – there are now over 800 articles in the VICE Gaming section – if we simply wanted to take the piss. That wouldn't get us anywhere.

So, welcome to another positive piece – a flipside, if you will, to the dickheads list. Just as we ran a "things we love about video games" article alongside another explaining what we hate about them last year, here we're highlighting five characters that are the absolute opposite of complete and utter bellends. (I say "we", it's just me doing it. IMO, and all that.) These are the real heroes of video games – the good guys and gals, the helpful NPCs who'll do anything to help you get ahead. Bless them, for while they are merely AI drones for the most part, each has found a special place in the hearts of gamers worldwide.

Tenzin helps Nathan recover (screencap via YouTube)

TENZIN (from Uncharted 2: Among Thieves)

The Uncharted series' leading man, Nathan Drake, made the dickheads list, primarily because while he's rarely short of a wise crack, and some people love that half-tuck, he doesn't half run about the world royally fucking over ancient ruins and dismantling the remains of forgotten societies. In Uncharted 2, though, he looks like he's bought it: gravely injured and lost in the snowy Himalayas, Drake lies down to die. Except! He doesn't! Obviously! And the reason why is Tenzin. Sweet, kind-hearted, sturdy, gentle-mannered, nobody-will-ever-understand-you-like-I-do Tenzin.

This Tibetan explorer, who doesn't speak a word of English and whose vocal contributions to the game aren't even translated in subtitles – it simply reads, "speaking Tibetan" whenever he opens his mouth – pulls Nathan up and drags his dying ass to a his home village. What follows is one of the game's most memorable sequences, where a recovering Drake mixes with the residents as he follows Tenzin through a wonderfully alive settlement, kids laughing at him and older villagers politely acknowledging his presence, all set against stunning mountain scenery. No guns, no violence – just an American in an alien environment, but one that the player wishes they could spend a little more time in.

Tenzin stays by Drake's side as his adventure continues, eventually taking out mercenaries who lay waste to his home, in pursuit of the series' leading treasure hunter. The two share a bond that transcends language, and Tenzin's strange faithfulness to this out-of-his-depth foreigner is amongst the most affecting elements of Naughty Dog's continuing action franchise.

THE POSTMAN (from the Zelda series)

It's not uncommon to get a little lost in the Zelda games, from time to time – especially if you've put the game in question down for a little while. In some Zeldas, though, the Hero of Time has a little assistance in the form of this postman. In the newly HD'ed Twilight Princess, for example, this none-more-dedicated mailman pops up regularly to deliver letters to Link, spelling out where to head next. He can be found all around Hyrule, always posting, always dashing, always on time. This guy, he's a carrier extraordinaire. And he can even see through the outward appearance of who he's delivering to, recognising Link when he's in his wolf form.

The Zelda postman – his real name, we may never know it – appears in a raft of franchise entries, dating back to 2000's Majora's Mask. But his most memorable contributions definitely occur during Twilight Princess, as he finds his way to incredible, should-be-impossible locations, like the Cave of Ordeals, simply in order to hand over a letter. Honourable and dependable, truly as diligent and efficient as they come, the postman is one of Hyrule's greatest assets, and an inspiration to us all.

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VIVI ORTINIER (from Final Fantasy IX)

Diminutive magic-man Vivi, a black mage, is introduced as a timid playable character, someone who doesn't actively want to tag along with Zidane et al. But after a little gentle persuasion, he joins the FFIX gang and ultimately proves himself a more-than-capable magician in battle, casting enemy-engulfing flames and his exclusive black magic abilities.

Raised by an adoptive grandfather, Quan, but essentially orphaned before we meet him, Vivi's story in FFIX is one of amazing, and saddening, self-discovery. He realises that he is, in fact, one of many – a clone, who isn't expected to live beyond a year or so. He gets over his natural depression at this situation, and continues to travel with Zidane's party, a more than useful ally to have around, especially when paired with Steiner for collaborative attacks.

After the game's end boss has been vanquished, players see a sequence depicting the hero characters assembling to watch a play, but one key member of the cast is absent. It appears that time caught up with Vivi. "My memories will be part of the sky," reads the narrator, Vivi himself.

EVERY ONE OF THE ELITE BEAT AGENTS (from Elite Beat Agents)

Okay, this is a bit of a cheat – but since you're sort of the Agent, as you play, I guess the hero in Elite Beat Agents is you. This rhythm-action game for the Nintendo DS is just the single greatest use of the system's stylus, a tap-and-drag-along adventure in which the titular squad of life-bettering (and, eventually, world-saving) operatives defeat distress and devastation by... singing and dancing, basically.

I don't know of any other video game where successfully hitting cues in time to a cover of Earth, Wind & Fire's "September" leads to a mother chasing away rain clouds in order to take her son on a picnic. Or where nailing the beats in a pretty-close-to-the-real-deal take on Jamiroquai's "Canned Heat" saves a family-run motor company courtesy of some sweet ninja moves. And the "YMCA" stage – help a gnarly sea captain find the sunken treasure of his dreams – is just one of the most sublimely, subversively brilliant creations in video gaming history.

Some gaming characters save the world with guns. The Elite Beat Agents achieved it with The Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash". I know who the real winners are, here.

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DR KARIN CHAKWAS (from the Mass Effect series)

Did you let her die at the end of Mass Effect 2? For shame, because Karin Chakwas is the most selfless member of the Normandy's crew, and an almighty asset in the battle against the Reaper menace. Her natural altruism enables the fighters amongst the ranks to go about their business with the best possible support – she could have stayed at the Citadel, or even gone to Earth, to establish her own practice; but instead, she travels the stars as Commander Shepard's most essential confidant. She reveals in the second game that she's not in this for the Cerberus paramilitary group that brought Shepard back from the dead only to send him into more danger; she's doing this to fight the evils in the universe, regardless of the cost to her own life.

Dr Chakwas enjoys a drink, and Shepard can knock back a brandy in her company, if he or she so wishes. She is very much a professional of few distractions – a little courtesy here and there will usually suffice. When she does reveal her vulnerabilities, she apologises for them, unnecessarily but endearingly. In ME3, she can re-join the crew, if you decide to allow it, and you should – you get to drink to your adventures again, in a moment of calm between Chakwas continually patching up the walking wounded.

In the same way that "Bones" McCoy was – and remains – such a pivotal part of the Star Trek universe, so Dr Chakwas' contributions to Mass Effect strike right to the heart of the series' overarching story (so far). She's usually all steel on the outside, unbreakable, committed to her responsibilities; and yet even though we, the players, hardly see her compared to the likes of the attack-squad-available Miranda and Liara, she's one of the most believably three-dimensional characters on show, resistant to cliché and relatably stiff of upper lip. Don't let her die, you savages.

@mikediver

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