Finally over the cold... bleah. Here's some thoughts on heroes in games.
I was reading this article. Although it's based on a deeply flawed theory, Clive Thompson (the author) seems to pull the truth out of the mire.
The question it asks is: when watching a slasher film, why do people seem to side with evil, then switch over at the end to rooting for good? Carol Clover's theory argues it has to do with sexuality and blah blah blah. She is, of course, entirely wrong.
Rooting for the "final woman" - the last girl standing in a horror movie - has nothing to do with sexuality.
It has everything to do with the underdog.
We root for the underdog. You have to make the underdog really nasty to get us to dislike him or her. The more hopeless the situation, the more we empathize.
In the beginning of the movie, the killer is the underdog. One man fighting against normalcy, shaking things up. This is probably also the reason the vast majority of slasher victims are incredibly irritating. At the end of the movie, the killer is the dominant force and the girl is the underdog. This is half obvious, and half camera tricks - we slide from portraying them as "the norm" to portraying them as "the underdog".
The last survivor is often a stereotypical woman because a stereotypical woman's "starting point" in our mind is pretty low when it comes to physical danger. A giant jock against a killer, not so much tension. A little cheerleader? Lots of tension. She's much more of an underdog.
Now, sexuality does come into play, of course. It makes us like her before we know her plight. It makes us pay closer attention to her. And, yes, it may make us feel a little protective. But the vast majority of these feelings are due to her being an underdog.
Don't believe me? Let's look at some examples from the world of video games.
Yorda, from Ico, is a girl, but not in any way a sexually attractive one. She's essentially a little blip of a waif. Yet we feel very protective of her. Because she corners the market on being weak and timid.
From the same line of games, Bob (okay, I don't really know his name...) from Shadow of the Colossus is a man. Not only that, he's a powerful one. He's got an awesome horse, a killer sword, and a grip that was never matched by gravity. He can take a hundred foot long stone pillar to the head and not die.
But we're rooting for him more than we ever rooted for Duke Nukem. Why? Because he's not fighting some little thing. He's not on the streets, beating up punks. He's fighting titanic monsters that are half level, half boss. The experience is very intense, and arguably even more so for the people just watching.
In Terminator 1, we root for the girl. As expected. But in Terminator 2 and 3, we root for the kickass robot. Why? because the kickass robot is the underdog in those movies!
It's a pretty clear pattern. The more of an underdog someone is, the more you want to protect them. The more you root for them.
This is a useful thing to remember, because it is one of the few things that holds true for the vast majority of humans. You can't count on everyone thinking someone is attractive. You can't count on everyone thinking someone is funny.
But you can count on everyone thinking someone is about to get their ass kicked. It's kind of a universal constant.