I love video games. Now that I'm old and pseudo-responsible I don't get nearly as much time to play games as I'd like, but I'm an old school gamer back to the days of the old Commodore 64, and there's little in the world I enjoy more than wading into a horde of faceless digital foes and mulching them all into a fine paste with a wide array of deadly instruments of manslaughter-riffic goodness. So, given this background, you can probably understand why I was a little surprised when it was recently brought to my attention that I've never actually featured a video game character as a Badass of the Week. I suppose this is partly because I'm partial to real-life heroes as opposed to fictional ones (and, as it has been correctly pointed out, there are more than enough historical badasses out there that I could run this site from now until the end of time), and partly because the gaming community is such a niche market, but I'd hope that even the most hardcore history buff would be willing to grant me one week out of six and a half years where I can indulge my inner nerd and geek out on a badass video game.
So I put a query out there to the Facebook and Twitter crowds earlier this week asking for readers' suggestions on their favorite badass video game heroes, and while I got some very excellent suggestions (I was particularly impressed by the guy who suggested Bo Jackson from Tecmo Super Bowl), but ultimately I decided to go with my gut and write about the insanely over-the-top Spartan warrior Kratos –hero of the incredibly ultra-brutal God of War series of games, and, as it turns out, a character who began as an equally-as-awesome mythological god who can be just as easily appreciated by those people who wouldn't know the difference between a Sixaxis and a DualShock if you hit them in the head with a pair of PlayStation controllers.
Kratos chokes a Cyclops to death with it's own hand while also pulling out its eye and humiliating it by riding it like a donkey.
"Overkill" is not a word that factors into his vocabulary.
A lot of die-hard gamers out there might not realize that the much-beloved Kratos is actually based on a real (and utterly terrifying) character from Greek mythology (in so much as any character from Greek mythology can be described as "real"), but this is definitely the case. In fact, kratos is really just the ancient Greek word for "strength" or "power", a detail that wasn't lost on the dudes responsible for creating awesome myths and then convincing the ancient Greeks that they should sacrifice goats in the name of the aforementioned awesome shit. In the Greek Pantheon, the god Kratos was the son of Styx – yes, as in the river – and was the personification of brute force, raw strength, and the uncontrollable destruction of everything. His siblings were Force, Zeal, and the goddess Nike, who we all know was the Goddess of Victory and the patron saint LeBron James, and when these four destruct-o-matic deities got there murder-rage on, there really wasn't a whole lot anybody in the time-space continuum could do to stop them. As soon as he was old enough to decapitate Titans with his bare hands, the God Kratos took an oath to Zeus, swearing allegiance on the waters of the River Styx (the huge river of death that encircles the Underworld) to serve the King of the Gods faithfully and unquestioningly, no matter how ridiculous or gruesome his request may be. From that point on the Big Z would just dispatch Kratos to fly in (he had wings, and not just the ones he pried from the lifeless corpse of Kid Icarus like in the video game) and beat the asses of Olympus' enemies whenever Zeus Himself was too bored or lazy or overly distracted by giant piles of sweaty naked goddesses to do so.
(On a completely unrelated note, I tried every possible method of working a "Mr. Roboto" or "Come Sail Away" joke into the previous paragraph while discussing the River Styx, but was utterly unable to make it work in any meaningful capacity. Please accept my most sincere apologies.)
Kratos leaps off a flaming black Pegasus in the middle of a thunderstorm
to kill a dude mid-air with a fire-covered pair of serrated swords.
Now a good example of Kratos being the personal enforcer of the King of the Gods is found in Aeschylus' tragic tale of the idiotic Titan Prometheus. Prometheus was some immortal dumbass who decided that it would be really hilarious to steal flame from the gods and show the poor clueless humans of the world that they could make fire by banging a couple rocks together like morons for a while, and Zeus went into a roid rage and started yelling about how he wasn't really down with a bunch of puny mortals being able to cook meat whenever the fuck they wanted. Prometheus had some serious balls to fuck with Zeus in such a blatant manner, and Big Z knew that gory, ultraviolent retribution was in order. He sent his boy Kratos to fly down there, beat the shit out of Prometheus with a tire iron made out of a bunch of human spinal columns zip-tied together, tie the P-man up, and drag him out to some peak high in the Caucasus mountains. There, Kratos threw Prometheus down before the god Hephaestus, the deity in charge of fire and forging, and ordered Hephaestus to bind Prometheus to a huge rock by shackling the dude's arms down and then driving a couple huge fucking spikes through his chest. When Hephaestus got all whiny and complainy about not wanting to ram a dozen sharpened steel pipes through the torso of a fellow immortal, Kratos ruthlessly berated the God of Fire for being a "fucking pussy" and threatened to kick his ass just like he'd done to Prometheus. Urged on by Kratos' R. Lee Ermey-quality verbal ass-reaming, Hephaestus drilled Prometheus to the rock, hammered him into place, and then Zeus sent a bunch giant eagles to disembowel him once a day every day from that point on until infinity. Interestingly, in God of War II, the video game Kratos actually frees Prometheus his eternal torment, rather than sentencing him to a couple lifetimes of agonizing torment.&nbps; Of course, by "frees Prometheus" I mean to say that he "drops Prometheus into some lava, melting him into magma and putting him out of his misery forever", which is far more Kratos' style than anything that might resemble mercy or decency.
Kratos, as I mentioned, is also the Ancient Greek word for "power", which is pretty awesome in and of itself, but becomes even more bitchin' when you discover that the ancient phrase "holding the kratos" was the way of describing that a certain military commander was in charge of a certain situation.&nbps; It's kind of like what the Greeks used for "he wears the pants around here", because as we all know the Greeks didn't actually wear pants. So like for instance Agamemnon was the commander of the Greek forces during the Trojan War, so because he "held the kratos" it meant he could tell Ajax to get fucked and then go bang Achilles' girlfriend. This is pretty cool. Nowadays the anti-terrorist branch of the London Metropolitan Police remember the God of Strength by appropriating his name as part of their somewhat-controversial "Operation Kratos" policy for dealing with potential suicide attacks. Since suicide bombers can potentially be wearing remotely-triggered explosive vests, Operation Kratos dictates that security officers just shoot these particular terrorists in the head without warning. The United Nations is kind of against this, as you might expect, but the side-effect of this is that I can now list the United Nations Convention Against Torture book as a reference in my sources for an article on Kratos, which is kind of fitting considering some of the shit this guy puts his enemies through in the video games.
Kratos fights a dude on the back of a giant eagle thing while a tornado destroys the sky behind him.
In game terms, Kratos is a little different than his mythological counterpart in the sense that he's strong, sure, but if anything he's less like the God of Strength and more like the God of Making Other Gods His Bitch. A Spartan warrior who made a pact with Ares in exchange for further powers of asskicking awesomeness, Kratos got a pair of huge fucking blades grafted onto his arms with giant chains, and is somehow incredibly adept at swinging them around him at high speeds without accidently decapitating himself or snapping his spine in half with a super-heavy, fast-moving set of mega-long iron manacles.
Equipped with these demonic flying blades and enough pent-up anger to choke the Incredible Hulk to death, Kratos decided to start running around murdering everything in sight, including his own family. He got so pissed about accidentally killing his own wife and kid that his now-dead family then spontaneously combusted, and the ashes were then glued to Kratos' body, turning him completely white except for a bunch of red paint that apparently wasn't sticky enough for the ash to adhere to. From then on, the Ghost of Sparta lost his fucking mind even more. He decided to avenge his family's violent death by becoming even more violent, opening Pandora's Box, climbing Mount Olympus, killing Ares in a duel, and becoming the God of War himself. When this wasn't enough to satiate his unquenchable blood lust, he then destroyed the Colossus of Sardia, got himself killed, climbed out of hell, killed all the gods, their friends, the Titans, all the Greek heroes, a ton of monsters, himself, and anything else retarded enough to come into the wheelhouse of his giant whirling blades of death. He ran around murdering or humping his way through the entirety of Greek mythology in the sort of way that would make most respected Classicists start dry-heaving blood onto their favorite antiquities, and anyone lucky enough to witness this quest found themselves with a complete desensitization to video game violence and a new appreciation for the term "badass". I mean, seriously, when you look at the Wikipedia List of God of War Characters, pretty much every single on ends with either the phrase "Killed by Kratos" or "Sex Mini-Game", and while I don't necessarily consider Wikipedia a reliable source for damn near anything, you really can't fuck with it when it comes to video game trivia. That's the one place where it's rock-solid, every single time.
Kratos explodes a guy's head without moving his body,
then prepares to slaughter an entire army by himself.
As one of the most badass video game heroes to ever turn a person from a large mass of pixels to one giant blood-colored digital explosion, when Kratos isn't ripping the Cyclops' eye out of its head with his fists or punching Hercules in the face, he's showing absolutely no mercy or pity or sanity in any capacity whatsoever. Ultimately he gets his revenge (by killing everything), achieves ultimate redemption (by killing more people), and celebrates by killing anything on Earth not already lying face-down in a pool of whatever it uses for blood. Nowadays he has a Slurpee named after him, which is admirable, and the guy who did the voice-work for him now does Samuel L. Jackson impressions for Star Wars TV shows and video games, presumably because anything less would have been an unacceptable step down in badassitude after having dealt with Kratos.
"If all those on Olympus would deny me my vengeance, then all of Olympus will die."
Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus (full text)
Theoi Greek Mythology
Aeschylus. The Collected Works of Aeschylus. BiblioBazaar, 2002.
Allen, Danielle S. The World of Prometheus. Princeton Univ. Press, 2002.
Oliver, James H. Demokratia. Ayer, 1979.
The UN Convention Against Torture. United Nations Stationery Office, 2006.