Hades has helped pass more time than I could ever imagine while sheltering in place. I now need to stop myself from wasting more hours giving Ambrosia and smashing up things with the Aspect of Gilgamesh. Between the fun action and the great storytelling, I have few regrets.
This game has also made me think, not only about my harmful views of failure, but about character. The protagonist Zagreus's character has been well-received, with folks admiring his endless determination and mischievous nature. But I wondered: what fundamental traits make up this good character? What makes him not only a great lead, but also a good man?
I brooded over this as I kept playing. By escape attempt 44, I had some ideas along with a new 11 escape winning streak.
Be warned, this post contains some game spoilers!
He's Respectful By Default #
Zagreus is the prince of the Underworld, so almost everyone he meets is "below" him. But you wouldn't know that from how he talks to them. He treats everyone with kindness and respect.
At least at first.
One good example is Sisyphus, the famed prisoner doomed to forever try pushing a boulder up a hill. From the start, Zagreus address Sisyphus as "sir" and he thanks him for his aid, even though he's a prisoner. Even after learning Sisyphus's dark past, he cares more about his good character now. Zagreus can even work to free him from his eternal punishment.
But Zagreus isn't a pushover, so this respect isn't unconditional. When he first meets Theseus, famed champion of Elysium, he admires and feels honored to fight him. This changes a second later when he reveals he's a trash-talking, egotistical blowhard. That's when Zagreus drops the respect and talks to him the way I imagine most of us would.
This is hilarious as Theseus is a douche and deserves to be crushed each time. I don't know why Asterius puts up with it.
Zagreus only stops his respect for others when he knows from experience they're not worthy of it. That's different than assuming they don't deserve it based on what other people, society, or one's prejudices say about them. Unless proven otherwise, everyone deserves basic human decency and respect.
He Doesn't Feel Entitled to Others' Feelings #
Two characters Zagreus can romance are...
- Megaera, a Fury tasked with whipping liars and deceivers for eternity. Before you ask, yes, there are whipping jokes. Hell doesn't kink shame and neither should you!
- Dusa, a floating Gorgon head acting as the house's maid. It's both quirky comic relief and a lame pun.
That's a lot to process if you haven't played the game before, so I'll give you a moment...all set? Good!
When romancing Megaera, at one point he says he still has romantic feelings for her. Megaera says she doesn't know if she can return them. Zagreus's response? He's upset, but accepts her response and gives her space. His response stays that way after future gifts as well.
With Dusa, the floating Gorgon head later turns him down. Zagreus accepts her decision and is genuinely happy they can stay good friends. But if Dusa wanted to distance herself from him, for a while or for good, it looks like he'd have accepted that too.
In both cases, Zagreus doesn't try to convince or gaslight them into feeling any different. He doesn't say they owe him affection (or anything physical, whatever that'd mean in Dusa's case) in return for his gifts. He acts based on his feelings, but still accepts others' feelings as they are. There no anger or bitterness over not getting what he wanted - he's thankful for what he has with them. Whether it's friendship or romance, any close bond you have with someone still has value.
He Shows his Gratitude #
Gratitude is so important to Zagreus, it's a gameplay mechanic. Major and minor story events rely on building good relationships with characters. These thanks range from giving him powerful skills, helpful items, or being fun to be around.
For most of these gifts, you get nothing in return. Zagreus gives a gift, tells the person why, and the person/creature/God accepts it. He's not thanking him for specific times so he no longer "owes" them. He shows his gratitude for a person's presence without making it transactional. Sometimes, we're simply glad to have them in our lives and want them to know.
He Accepts all Parts of Himself #
The above sections are about Zagreus' thoughtful and caring qualities. But let's not forget how violent he is. Most of your time playing is killing spirits of sinners, monsters, and lost heroes. His killing streak amazes the God of War himself, and that man has seen it all...literally. His usual bonding activity with his Dad (and even one of his potential lovers) is fighting them to the death. All parties involved find it fun, as one does.
Instead of feeling shame for his violent nature, he finds the right place for it. That place is fighting his way out of the underworld, for his family, and later for his job. Most of all, Zagreus doesn't let it seriously damage any of his relationships. He's not going to slice anyone up for some small slight, like mocking his height or laughing at how a rodent killed him.
The point is, Zagreus accepts his physical, violent nature as part of his genuine self. But he doesn't let that side of him destroy the others. He finds a balance, takes responsibility for who he is, and focuses on the good each one can do. He can be a good man without denying who he is.
Wrapping Up #
There's no shortage of fake (or real) male characters relying on damaging qualities. These are qualities like toxic masculinity, extreme aggression, or overt entitlement. So finding one that's strong without any of those is refreshing. American culture needs a whole lot more of this.
Here's hoping that more men, in games, movies, and reality, can rise up on character qualities like these. Escaping Hell and sticking it to the King of the Underworld is nice, but not required. It's more about not being a jerk, which is much easier. Let's all give it a try if we haven't yet!