Is it A Power Fantasy if you Reject the Spotlight?
Video games are known for being escapist media. For many, it is the chance to live in a world that is beyond their own, using their skills to overcome challenges before them. Many games fall into the trope of a standard power fantasy—the do-no-wrong type of character that has the world revolve around them. Their skills and ego are massaged to perfection, and the world bends to accommodate their presence.
Power fantasies are intoxicating because of that sense of inflated self-worth, but what of games where the push to be the center of attention is rejected? Sometimes, failure or finding yourself in the background is just as poignant as being the star of the show. That is where Eddie Riggs, the muscle-bound, headbanging protagonist of Double Fine’s cult hit Brutal Legend, come in.
Eddie Riggs - The Peripheral Player
Eddie is a diehard metalhead and old school roadie for many metal bands over the years. The self-proclaimed “best roadie in the business,” Eddie is surprisingly humble regarding his profession. He sees himself as a peripheral character, someone who doesn’t want to take the spotlight away from the stars of the show, even if the show itself is not up to his own personal standards. Eddie is also fairly contempt in this role, however; it is his place to make sure everything runs smoothly for the band on center stage, sometimes quite literally.
While working for a horrific metalcore band called Kabbage Boy, Eddie is suddenly killed when the stage collapses on top of him, but his blood powers his ornate belt buckle given to him by his father. This transports him to the "Age of Metal," a world littered with chrome spires, bladed rocks, and mountains of skulls. Visually, the Age of Metal is a spectacle to behold for Eddie, a heavy metal playground that was artistically crafted by the team at Double Fine. It is here as he meets Ophelia, a young rocker chick who helps him escape the clutches of sadist-like demons known as the Tainted Coil.
Eddie is quickly put into the role of the organizer for a revolution against the Coil for their wayward leader Lars Halford. Once again, Eddie delegates his efforts in the background, with the first half of Brutal Legend reflecting Eddie’s adventures to boost Lars and his followers. Eddie essentially gets little credit for his adventures, but ever devoted to the cause, he keeps fighting on without such acknowledgements by the growing army. Eddie also acts as a sort of counselor for the army, giving them support and advice through his snarky comments to show even the lowliest of headbangers that they can accomplish anything.
Many of these traits fall in line with Eddie’s profession as a roadie, the organizer and cheerleader for resistance leader Lars. So, when Lars receives much of the credit for building the army, Eddie is easily content with this. Over time, it becomes clear to some characters that Eddie’s presence leads to the success of the resistance against the Coil and their allies, leading to several members, from Lars, his sister Lita, and Ophelia herself, confiding in him more and more.
One major example of this is with Ophelia. Mid-way through Brutal Legend, Ophelia reveals her history to the wayward roadie as the daughter of victims of the Sea of Black Tears, a powerful force that transforms those who touch the inky waters into sullen, emotionless beings. Ophelia, because of her past, is ostracized by some in the army, with only Lars having the power to protect her. Eddie, for his part, shows affections for her, considering his own murky past with his parents, and the two start a relationship together.
Throughout this, Eddie is just trying to do the right thing the only way he knows how. Most of this is defined by the game’s mechanics of hacking, slashing, shredding, and driving his way to victory to help and protect his newfound friends. Even growing the powers of a demon, Eddie shows great loyalty to the cause, often preferring to not be in the spotlight throughout the adventure.
The Subverted Hero's Journey in Brutal Legend
While this is somewhat one-dimensional, it is a pretty concrete bit of character development for Eddie. Like most mythical storytelling, Eddie has embarked on the hero’s journey since the beginning of the game. The ironic twist here is that Eddie doesn’t see himself as the hero; the hero is Lars. Instead, Eddie is one of the followers of the hero, helping Lars achieve his call to adventure. Brutal Legend purposefully subverts the expectations of Eddie as the hero by having Eddie himself reject the notion, despite the fact that he has the trappings to be a power fantasy for the player.
Of course, the real test for Eddie begins when the resistance movement meets the leader of the Coil, Doviculous, who murders Lars and implies that someone is a traitor to the group. Ophelia, because of her past, is accused of this treachery. While Eddie tries to comfort her, only to repel her when she lets slip that she knows about Eddie’s parents and refuses to tell him about them “for his own good.”
This is Eddie’s lowest moment in Brutal Legend, one where he decides to leave Ophelia behind. It is the only time he refuses to trust someone, and it clearly breaks his own heart to cut ties with Ophelia. Sadly, Ophelia takes the rejection to the extreme, and drowns herself in the Sea of Black Tears. Months later she returns with her own army, the Drowning Doom, to destroy Eddie for breaking her heart. The irony of this is how Eddie is not deterred by the vengeance plot. Recognizing that her transformation is his doing, Eddie hopes to free Ophelia from the Sea’s influence, setting things right and showing his devotion to her still.
All of this comes to a head in the final battle, where Eddie learns that his mother was the demon Succoria, the traitor that Doviculous alluded to previously. Explaining Eddie’s demonic powers which he displays in-game several times, Eddie was transported to the modern world by his father, a human hero named Riggnarok, for protection against the Coil so that he may one day return and lead humans from their oppression. Now faced with destiny, Eddie slays Doviculous and finally rescues Ophelia from the clutches of the Sea, showing his devotion and love for her in the process.
We Are the Road Crew
All these actions slyly acknowledge several parts of Campbell's Hero’s Journey yet are subverted because of Eddie's rejection of destiny. Eddie’s character is basically following a typical “chosen one” power fantasy, but the game humorously downplays the trope by having Eddie stay in the background of the game for most of it. It is only at the very end, when the plot of Brutal Legend acknowledges aspects such as the atonement of the father, the moment of apotheosis, or the magic flight, that Eddie momentarily embraces his destiny.
I say momentarily because in the end, Eddie gives all the credit to Lars still. While the destruction of Doviculous and the Coil was his handiwork, Eddie remains content with his ‘roadie’ status, ultimately doing what he can to make the true hero look good. It is in the end of Brutal Legend we see a small nod to what the game has danced around: Eddie gaining a small amount of credit from a few members of his roadie crew, a humble acknowledgement of his achievements in saving the Age of Metal.
Turning the tropes on its head in other ways, Eddie is not a flawed character, at least in the tragic sense. Other than his one moment of weakness in turning away Ophelia, Eddie is usually brash, sarcastic, and cocksure of his own abilities. He is confident enough to be taken seriously, and wise enough to reign in his own attitude when the time for jokes are over. Much of Brutal Legend shows how Eddie is a natural-born leader, giving lowly headbangers pep-talks that give them the confidence to continue fighting. The only weakness he shows is when he wishes to uncover information about his parents, whom he never met, but he doesn’t actively search for information obsessively.
Eddie is ultimately contradictory to common story tropes found in power fantasy narratives. One of the hardest things to convey is an all-around good guy, one who strives to do the right thing against insurmountable odds but is humble enough to step back from a leadership role. Eddie Riggs fits the bill as that character, since he sheds any baggage that would often be associated with the thematic beats of mythical storytelling. It is not a complex characterization by any means, but it is one with depth because of its subversive nature, an aspect of characterizations