The Garou as a Tragic Hero

Where did this note come from? A discussion of the lack of traditional characters on GarouMUSH, dominated mostly by other players who were and are as opinionated as I am and tend to be louder about it. Usually, I ignored them, but this time I felt like I could contribute something. It took quite a while to write this, and I'm relatively proud of it.

I began to respond to Lysander's essay with a simple nitpick: that he had used the term "anti-hero" incorrectly. I was preparing to simply provide the definition I had at hand when I realized that the niggling at the back of my mind awakened by his post was not simply a misdefined concept; it was an entire point of view that is, perhaps, my answer to his ultimate question: "Why is roleplay on GarouMUSH so much more like a comic book than like the World of Darkness from our source material?"

Werewolf: the Tragedy

Roleplaying is an art form. I cannot think of many roleplayers who are interested in the depth, development, and realistic emotional responses of their characters who can deny this. On GarouMUSH, perhaps because of our much-touted elitism and high standards, as well as because of the medium of interaction, roleplaying takes on the role of literature as well as the form of improvisational drama it has become. The White Wolf Storyteller games, however much we disagree on their quality of prose and maturity of concept, were created with the traditional standards of literature and drama in mind.

In light of this, I think we can safely apply the standards of literature and drama to GarouMUSH.

The concept that is the Garou -- their culture, history, doctrines, and practices -- is a clearly laid background of woe: one error after another, one defeat after another, one loss after another. This powerful, inherent web of flaws turns every member of the race into a part of the grand tragedy that it is to be Garou.

But what is tragedy? A simplistic view would suggest that tragedy is the narrative that follows a flawed character's inevitable tumble to despair and death. That tragedy is the examination of the unstoppable boulder of fate chasing a character who is not, in fact, Indiana Jones, down a tunnel with a dead end or, worse, a bottomless pit. That there is no hope of escape and no hope of redemption.

This is falling short of the mark. The tragedy is an examination not just of doom, but of the nobility and grandeur of the human spirit, the courage and honor of facing one's own flaws and attempting to conquer them.

Yes, I said human. It doesn't matter whether one is playing a Garou, a vampire, or a Vulcan; the fact is that the player is only human. Playing a Garou is not an exploration of an alien spirituality and mindset but of the *human* spirit, the *human* mind, the oh-so-human Western culture that created Werewolf.

The concept of a Garou is nothing more than selection and exaggeration of human emotions. The ideas of Rage and Frenzy are nothing more than projections of fears deeply ingrained in our Westernized, sanitized, sanity-crazed culture. This is similar to the way that the rampant sexualization of the vampire is part of our culture's fear of blood-borne, sexually-transmitted diseases like HIV, and the concomitant, though ancient, association of blood, sex, and death. The cultish, mindless hierarchy of the Garou derives straight from World War II, the Third Reich, and the frightening realization that humans do find such hierarchies comforting despite the horrendous depredations such organizations inflict upon their chosen "Other." In fact, the Garou culture neatly provides several black-and-white Others for such things to be carried out upon, not the least of which are the metis.

Which leads us back to elements of tragedy. Tragedies are rife with sensationalistic themes. "Unnatural crimes" such as adultery, incest, and infanticide riddle classical tragedy. Heroes and heroines die by the handful because of the retributions they invite upon themselves by daring the taboos of their culture. The taboos are spelled out more clearly to the Garou. Incest is particularly highlighted by an apparently nonsensical inability for the warriors of Gaia to love one another in a physical way. (Here I will refrain from delving into speculation about the minds of the creators of the game, as such are both unproductive and unnecessary.) Cub-killing, a common enough problem on GarouMUSH, is certainly a form of infanticide. Adultery? One could argue that adultery among the Garou is a normal state of existence; they cannot share their bodies with the people they share the rest of their lives with, so they must seek out an Other (one of the many Others in the Garou universe) with whom to reproduce and indulge in physical pleasure.

Against this general background lies the nearer, more specific wherewithal of tragedy: the archetypes. Tribal and auspice stereotypes spread themselves as cliches across the backdrop of the World of Darkness. These traditional tribemates -- alcoholic Fianna, crazed Fangs, enigmatic Striders, white-hating Wendigos -- and conventional moons -- Raggies full of black humor, Ahrouns tearing things to shreds at the drop of a hat -- are the meat and potatoes of the Garou. They are the shadows of inherited madness, misjudgment, and Darwinian unfitness that loom over and behind the player characters; the stock characters, if you will, that people every literary work, such as the Madman, the Whore, the Virgin, the King, the Mother, and the Fool. They are the narrow, shallow standards to which all others must hold themselves, the scenery, the active elements which define the tragic aura of the environment.

Our player characters are the tragic heroes and heroines who people our rather sizeable stage. The fatal flaws are built into every Garou on this stage. So what makes the tragic heroes and heroines different?

   " qualify as a tragic protagonist, the hero or heroine...
   must be a person of high character and must face his or her
   destiny with courage and nobility of spirit." (1)

The Garou player characters are the bright lights of the drama that is GarouMUSH. They are, by definition of the tragic protagonist, larger than life. After all, no one wants to play the background; there is no excitement in being the lamppost.

(Foil characters, like the Kin and the Mages, are a different kind of background; by their very name, they are defined as something bright and shiny which, sitting a little behind the main characters, reflects and highlights the tragic heroes.)

Tragic heroes strive to be better than the common herd. They share many elements with the archetypes, but they are higher, more powerful personalities, fated for a fall greater than any normal human being can conceive of because they are creatures of extremes. At the same time, they possess greater depth of emotions, capacity for understanding, and cognition of the inevitability of destiny than those stock characters that drift about nearby. They know that if *only* they could get that one break from the gods, they *could* make a difference. And the difference between a hero and a tragic hero is that the break comes for the former.

The difference doesn't mean that the tragic hero won't be just as noble, or try as hard as -- or harder than -- the hero. It doesn't mean that he or she is any less glowing on the stage. Compare Arthur to Aragorn: they both have painfully idealistic notions, they both have that same glow of kingly destiny, and they both have spectacular adventures. They both want the best for their people and risk their lives for Good. But, in the end, Arthur's fatal flaw catches up with him -- Mordred kills him and the kingdom falls apart after only a few short years of glory -- while Aragorn gets a break from the gods and pulls together one of the greatest kingdoms in the history of his world.

In conclusion, my point is simply this: the World of Darkness, as it is presented in the books, is nothing more than background. The player characters, to be good tragic heroes and heroines, *must* be different than the stereotypes introduced. They must strive, one way or another, to be different from the flawed heroes that have gone before. They must change and develop. *They must have more color.*

And if that translates to some as being somewhat "four-color," then so be it. But it all comes down to a simple fact: it is more fun to play the rebel, the color, the standout, the different one.

(1) _A Handbook to Literature_ by C. Hugh Holman. 4th ed. Bobbs-Merrill Educational Publishing, Indianapolis, IN. Copyright 1980. p. 446