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Mega Man (or machine)

2009 April 15
by Problem Sleuth

Awhile back this semester I encountered a really interesting group who go by the name “The Protomen” (official website, MySpace). The Protomen released an album of the same name that serves as a retelling of the story of the Mega Man games. For those unfamiliar, the bare-bones story of Mega Man is set in a dystopic future ruled by an army of robots under the command of the evil Dr. Wily. Upset by the state of the world, Wily’s counterpart (and in some versions of the story, former colleague) Dr. Light builds robots to try to stop Wily. The last of these is Mega Man. Mega Man sets off to do battle with Wily’s eight Robot Masters and eventually Wily himself.

The Protomen’s retelling begins by relating the story of how Mega Man’s predecessor, Protoman, was dispatched by Light to fight Dr. Wily, but was bested in combat and killed while the hapless humans he was fighting to save looked on. Dr. Light tells this story to his new robot Mega Man – built as a son, rather than a fighter – and implores Mega Man not to go fight, saying that the humans cannot be saved by one person alone. Mega Man, outraged by Light’s pessimism and thirsty for vengeance, leaves to fight the robots. He comes at last to Wily’s second in command, revealed to be none other than Protoman. Protoman insists that the humans, who would not save themselves, are not worth saving. Mega Man, amidst a crowd imploring him to fight, kills his brother, then abandons the humans disgustedly, unwilling to fight their battle for them. As he leaves, he hears them lamenting their fate as they are torn apart by the remnants of Wily’s army.

I have been listening to this a lot in the past few days, and there are a few things that seem really relevant to this class. The first is the notion that humans are too dependant on their machines. Protoman in his confrontation with Mega Man says:

I’ve been here before, I’ve stood where you stand,
They’ve called me a hero, the hero of man,
But why should we save them when they stand for nothing
If they deserve life let them stand for themselves

We’ve given everything we can; there are no heroes left in man
They’ll watch you die to save their lives
They will not stand here by your side

Protoman says that the humans “don’t want a hero, they just want a martyr.” They want to be saved, not to save themselves. Dr. Light’s words that “they can’t be saved by just one man” don’t mean that Mega Man can’t destroy Wily; rather, that the humans’ true oppressor is their own inaction. We’ve talked about this a bit in class: the idea that people become so dependent upon technology that they cannot act without it. Twice the humans support a hero who will do all the work for them, and twice they refuse to take action when that hero fails them.

Another theme that’s really interesting is the blending of human and machine. Protoman and Mega Man are both referred to as “brothers,” and Dr. Light’s “sons.” In the opening, the narrator says of Light:

He’d set his skillful hands to the task of creating a device to bring about a change, to create a machine to bring freedom, to create a man to save the world.
Twelve years Light worked and on a cold night in the year 200X, Protoman was born.
A perfet man, an unbeatable machine, hell-bent on destroying every evil standing between man and freedom . . .

Here more than anywhere we see the ambiguity surrounding Protoman and Mega Man. Protoman is a “device,” a “machine,” and is “created,” but he is also a “man,” and is “born.” It seems odd, then, that the two are so removed from the humans in their desire to stand and fight against their oppressors.

and then there’s the whole thing where The Protomen (the group) keep using “man” to refer to “humans.” It’s definitely an interesting choice when we’re looking at it in the context of this class; very male-oriented, and doesn’t contribute to the idea that women are well-represented in video games. (Though my friend, a student of Old English, tells me that the word “man” was actually used to refer to all humans for a long time before it ever ment specifically “males.” Hmm.)

Basically, look them up if you’ve got any interest in Mega Man, or in a story of this type. I think it’s a pretty interesting story and execution.

One Response
  1. Alexandra Funk permalink
    April 15, 2009

    Haha this is fantastic! One of the boys I worked with over the summer loves Mega Man. He had me reading and playing all sorts of things. I’ll have to tell him about this, he’ll think it’s awesome (assuming of course he doesn’t already know).

    Definitely relevant (and interesting!). “don’t want a hero, they just want a martyr.” Makes me think of Watchmen.

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