This week I finished playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Like many games with RPG elements, the game has the possibility for several different endings, each one with a different moral spin.
Here's the thing. I like it when my heroes do the right thing in the end. Typically, multiple endings are lost on me because I'll always try to figure out the one that simply offers the most honest and just ending for all involved. The ending I'd want to see if the game were a movie or a book. As much as I love seeing heroes go through hardship, suffering loss and setbacks, seeing loved ones die and facing almost unbearable defeat at the hands of the villains, in the end I want to see good prevail.
Because the best villains don't see themselves as evil, sometimes you can see an ending, especially in video games, where the hero sides with the villain's cause, if not their methods, and chooses to complete a (hopefully) less immoral version of their plans. This often rings a little hollow for me, because it suggests that, but for a few mistakes here and there, the villain's plan, the very thing the hero has spent all this time fighting against, was actually the right thing to do. Since the involvement of the hero inevitably causes the violence of the situation to escalate, how many lives could have been spared if he just hadn't gotten involved? In these cases, is the hero really any better than the villain?
Examining what a hero must become in order to defeat the villain is an important aspect of storytelling. It's a difficult balance to master. Push the hero too little, and there is no internal conflict, no struggle to find the right choice. Push the hero too far, and you risk the audience wondering what was the goal of the story.
What do you think? If a hero only succeeds because they become like the villain, or have lost so much of themself, and gained so little in return, that they're truly broken, have they really won? If you allow your enemy to change you just so you can overcome them, can you truly call yourself strong? Or has the villain just found another way to make you weak?