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Uncharted’s Nathan Drake Is a Video Gaming Monster

Naughty Dog's wisecracking character is no hero – he's a harbinger of death and destruction who should probably be stopped.

by Sean Cleaver
07 January 2016, 11:25am

Nathan Drake as he appears in ‘Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End’

$10,000,000,000: the estimated value of The Secret City of Paititi, the real City of Gold which Uncharted: Drake's Fortune's El Dorado is based on.

The Goonies, Indiana Jones, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Muppet Treasure Island. Searches for lost riches in ancient places as told through fable are almost a part of the human condition, and these modern interpretations give us three things: heroism, adventure and aspiration. Some people might say that death and destruction are also parts of the human condition, and they're probably right.

Throughout the eons of entertainment, the two have gone hand in hand. Wherever treasure lies, so does the trail of death. That's not just fictional or mythical either. Sir Francis Drake, the greatest of seafarers according to the English and the most despised pirate according to the Spanish, sailed towards the Americas in search of loot and with an eye on colonisation. His 150-strong crew returned from only the second global circumnavigation in 1580, delivering riches to Good Queen Bess, reduced to a third of its original size. He then went on to be a military commander in the battle against the Spanish Armada in 1588.

Was he a psychotic arsehole? Not by most accounts we've seen in (British-focused) history, but there's plenty to dislike about his documented character. He was certainly a proud man, based on his own self-chosen motto, Sic Parvis Magna – "Thus great things from small things (come)". Drake was a self-made man who took great pleasure in plundering the Spanish and living a life of freedom on the seas in command of several hundred souls who were usually nothing but numbers to him. He earned immeasurable wealth before becoming a (let's be honest, Armada crushing aside, fairly average) military commander, and ultimately shat himself to death with dysentery.

$393,900,000: the estimated annual wages spent on private military forces in the Uncharted games, based on the minimum estimated average salary of $150,000 for an experienced mercenary.

The greatest fictional treasure hunter of our time, Professor Henry "Indiana" Jones, went out in search of and found the Ark of the Covenant, a golden chest that is said to hold two stones of the Ten Commandments. Later in his career, he helped liberate an Indian village from some local tribal nutters who had decided to operate a mine in the style of a Victorian workhouse, and he stopped the Nazis trying to make off with the Holy Grail. He also did some shit stuff with a skull, aliens and Shia LaBeouf, but I won't hold that against him.

What Jones did very little of was actual treasure hunting – saving others from harm was something of a distraction for the man. And sometimes that meant deadly results for those who stood in his way. According to the website Bodycounters, 134 people died across the original three Indiana Jones movies, with Indy only accountable for around six or seven of them in self defence, usually using his revolver (although his level of responsibility in the propeller death of Raiders of the Lost Ark is debatable).

The Tomb Raider games (discounting the 2013 reboot and its sequel) rarely have anything to do with human death, although it's hard to accurately verify who dies and who doesn't without playing every single game again and, seriously, have you tried playing those old games recently? Nightmare. But more often than not, if memory serves, you were shooting animals and environmental targets, not your fellow grave robbers. This has changed with the reboots, the most recent of which, Rise of the Tomb Raider, has an almighty body count – but the great video game explorer has been more into jumping and acrobatics than blasting people in their faces.

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$25,000,000: the estimated value in today's money of the silver coins that Sir Francis Drake looted from the Spanish in South America for Queen Elizabeth I in 1573.

You can see where this is going. Compared to the characters that have quite obviously inspired him, Uncharted's Nathan Drake is a thief, not a treasure hunter or a historian or a professor or a crown-commissioned expedition leader. More accurately, you could argue that the Ancient Greeks might have called him Thánatos, the Ancient Romans Mors, and that visions of him regularly appear in history in the form of a raven, or a banshee. Basically, Nathan Drake is a harbinger of death.

He probably doesn't even know it, which makes it worse, but for the three main (PS3) adventures we've gone on with Nathan Drake so far – 2007's Drake's Fortune, 2009's Among Thieves and 2011's Drake's Deception – everything he's touched has become tarred with death and destruction. In some cases his actions have genuinely saved the world; but you could argue that if he didn't look for these treasures in the first place, all those power-obsessed villains wouldn't have found them either.

His quest to find his assumed forefather's coffin – not that Sir Francis Drake's actual coffin has never been found – led to the golden statue of El Dorado, which turns people into mutants. By the end of the first Uncharted, Drake has destroyed two ships and a plane that weren't his and massacred a mercenary force the size of the Tongan Army. He's also lost the footage of a documentary, potentially harming a journalist's career. (And you know it's hard to make a living with this stuff.)

Related, on Motherboard: Nathan Drake's Superpower? White Privilege

Come Among Thieves, Drake is duped in to finding the lost city of Shambhala (or Shangri-La, if you prefer), stealthily murdering innocent museum guards in Turkey, leading a private army to Nepal in order to sack a city, gets the same journalist's cameraman killed (again ruining a documentary) as well as an old friend, destroys a railway, discovers a ex-Nazi and almost wipes out a small Tibetan town with his very presence. The icing on this particularly bloody cake is his destruction of an entire ancient city, and almost getting his soon-to-be-wife killed. Oh, and that was also while taking out a small despotic force around the size of the Barbadian Army.

Finally, in Drake's Deception, he smashes up a London pub, almost completely collapses an ancient Syrian castle, and his turning up at a French manor leads to it being gutted by flames. He get his friend's leg broken, crashes a massive cargo plane and, finally, uncovers another ancient city in the desert, before wrecking the place, all the while mercilessly killing a number of enemies somewhere between the previous two games' totals.

'Uncharted 4: A Thief's End', E3 2015 gameplay footage

2,626: the number of people I personally killed while playing as Nathan Drake through his three adventures, either through self-defence, shameless murder, rescuing my friends or chasing treasure. I did this with nary a shred of guilt, remorse or any greater thought beyond that of the loot at my quest's end.

As a thief, Drake has next to nothing in terms of shiny treasure to show for his efforts – the PSX trailer for the imminent Uncharted 4: A Thief's End reveals that any trinkets retrieved have gone on paying off his house and a car. He's neither truly materially nor educationally richer, then – his name less synonymous with discovery as it is devastation. But then, when you pause for a moment to really think about this, I am Nathan Drake. I am the character during these events, hitting headshot, after headshot, after headshot, and earning trophies because of it. Who's really the monster here? A virtual avatar with some smashing hair and a half-tuck, a few guns and a penchant for a cracking wise? Or me, the man giving him his orders via a glowing DualShock?

And yet, with Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, I'm apparently supposed to feel sorry for this guy? Empathetic? Sad that this journey is reaching its climax? If I were to do that, I'd be asking the same question as the song in the game's "man behind the treasure" trailer: where is my mind? I'm fairly sure it's not on actually bringing home anything that belongs in a museum.

$0: the amount of money that we know has been paid to Nathan Drake by any institution or foundation concerned with the preservation of ancient artefacts. As for all we've been told, that cash for his house could have come from the highest bidder, whatever their motivations. The monster.

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End is released on April 26th, exclusive to PlayStation 4.

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