Friday, June 19, 2009

Jim Raynor Vs. The Lernaean Hydra

by C.T. Hutt

To many gamers out there, the name Jim Raynor is immediately associated with the game Starcraft. To those of you who don’t recognize the moniker or have been living as a hermit for the last decade of games, let me give you a little back story. In 1998 Blizzard Entertainment released a real-time strategy title with an interesting little sci-fi setting. The game was very popular in its first year, selling a record-breaking number of copies. This early success was dwarfed in later years as Starcraft grew to become one of the most popular online games in history. It was so popular in South Korea that it became a national sport, complete with televised competitions and corporate sponsorship for popular players. To this day it remains one of the most widely played online video games in the world. Starcraft has been on the shelves for eleven years in an industry that has a collective attention span of about two months. Only a select few books, songs, and movies produced in our lifetimes have enjoyed such longevity. That puts Starcraft in a very elite club amidst modern entertainment media, and it’s practically alone in the video game section.

Because gamers have such notoriously fickle hearts, dynasties in the gaming world have been kept alive by sequels. The iconic Mario, for example, has been in more than seventy titles since his inception in 1981. Starcraft sits aloft as one of the most bizarre phenomena in gaming’s short history, having been popular for such a long time as a stand-alone game. I would submit that it was the unique feel of three playable races and continuous balancing for competitive play that pushed this game into its double platinum status. The superior voice acting and detailed back story couldn’t have hurt either.

Blizzard, flush with cash from their success with World of Warcraft and merger with software megalith Activision, is now poised to launch a sequel to its flagship title. Starcraft II is on its way and I find myself wondering if it will have what it takes to outshine its lofty predecessor. If it does, I wonder what that will mean for the medium. Further, I wonder what that will mean for history.

Let’s take a little step back and talk about a fellow from ancient Greece called Hercules. The original superman, Hercules was the central figure in many a folktale, religious group, play, and scroll found in the fantasy section of Barnex and Nobelponte. People liked Hercules so much he appeared on all sorts of B.C. merch like pillars, vases, and coins. I don’t need to tell you his stories, I’m sure you’ve heard a few already. That’s how popular this guy was, thousands of years later people are still talking about him. The best part about him is that he never really existed. He is a myth, a fiction, a loose collaboration of tales cobbled together over the centuries and passed on to each new generation.

This is what I am getting at: our stories outlast us. In two thousand years no one will be talking about Barack Obama’s election or Angelina Jolie’s latest adoption, but maybe, just maybe, something of this generation will continue on. All we have to pin our hopes on is stories and it is the stories that touch more of us that have the best chances of lasting the longest. Starcraft has been translated into dozens of languages and spawned multiple novels based on the game’s back story. It has the potential to go down as one of the most popular video games in history. I truly believe that video games are going to be the defining artistic medium of this generation; even still, it’s going to take a true aberration to stand the test of time. Will Starcraft II have what it takes? No pressure, Blizzard.


  1. I think that Starcraft's wild popularity is more akin to the Olympic games than the legend of Hercules. If it has a lasting legacy, I think it will be more for the competitions popular in places like South Korea, where it's more sport than game. Maybe historians will look at the records of the great Starcraft champions and see that they were revered as heroes to many, but I imagine Jim Raynor himself will be forgotten.

    That's kind of the cool thing about video games, though: if historians learn anything about our society from Starcraft, it will be that the individual playing the game was more important than the individuals portrayed in the game itself. In other words: You and I are Hercules when we play a game. Jim Raynor is just some guy.

  2. Don't get me wrong, some games have incredibly memorable characters. I was referring mostly to multiplayer-focused games.


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