Cole MacGrath

Written by. Jacob Baggett

Sucker Punch Productions released Infamous[1] in May 2009. The game features protagonist Cole MacGrath, a bike messenger, who develops electricity based powers due to an explosion that demolishes half of the fictional Empire City. Cole’s powers are similarly destructive as the gamer’s experiences in this antihero’s journey.

The game’s design allows for an open environment that allows the player to fully explore the environment and become the hero, or villain, of the city. This distinction occurs because of a karma system built into the game that classifies Cole as “Good” or “Evil” based on actions the player takes. For example killing citizens gives Cole bad karma and healing citizens gives Cole good karma. This karma system also makes aesthetic changes to Cole such as the change of his lightning from blue to red as well as the use of black corrupted skin as he becomes more evil.

Outside of the appearance changes to the game, the artificial intelligence in the game reacts differently to Cole depending on the karma he has at any given point in time. As a hero, citizens gather around Cole cheering him on and praising, and the police force is willing to overlook Cole as he passes. As a villain, citizens flee from Cole, and the police have a shoot on site policy against Cole because of his actions. The plot of the story makes use of this system forcing the player to make decisions at key points in the story that develop Cole’s karma in either direction depending on the choice. This creates two parallel plots in the game for players to experience, a “good” plot and an “evil” plot. Cole, in his villainous plot, is an antihero because he does what he wants because it suits his purposes even if it means other people are going to suffer. For example, at the beginning of the game Cole is faced with sharing a supply of food with the people of the city or taking it all for himself. However, Cole in his heroic story is considered an antihero as well because he is forced to kill members of a gang, The Reapers, that threaten the city on a regular basis. The story revolves around Cole protecting the city from various groups as they try and take the city for their own purposes.

Both the hero and the villain story follow this same basic path; however, the story forces a heroic Cole to tread carefully around citizens or risk gaining negative karma, as it is fairly easy to accidentally kill citizens. A villainous Cole is encouraged to use the lives of citizens for his own purposes, specifically so he can drain them of life in order to heal himself when he is under attack. Cole’s moral conflict arises from the decisions he has to make in the game. Depending on the karma status the player intends to play through, Cole will react differently to the situation. If Cole is evil then he does not seem to care when he does anything morally wrong because in this negative karma status he is only concern is his own needs. However, this conflict is difficult to see at times because Cole is decisive and sticks with his decisions even if there is a moral conflict. One scene in the game that offers an example of moral conflict is when Cole is forced to choose to save the love of his life, Trish, or five doctors who could help the city’s sick. Trish dies as the result of either decision which leaves Cole upset and hurt because of the loss. The moral quandary specific to the antihero exists in the negative karma decisions. If he chooses to save Trish, Cole’s action will hurt the city, but Trish will survive. However, Trish dies as a result of either choice.

Cole’s turning point also happens to be Trish’s death. Before her death, he is fighting against the various enemy factions of the city because he wants to, and he does not like what they are doing with his home. However, after Trish’s death, he is encouraged to use his powers to directly fight against the man who caused her death. He had to fight before this moment because it was necessary, but now he felt the need to fight because he had lost the woman he loved to the man who was threatening to destroy the city.

Infamous allows the player to enjoy either a villainous or a heroic character, but either one is classified as an antihero in this case. The aesthetic changes offer either a more righteous Cole or a Cole who is a bastard. The dark nature of the “evil” Cole is more likely to scare people, but he is still an antihero because he is fighting for the good of the city even if that means hurting innocent people as well. A “good” Cole has to do his best to protect the city without hurting people, though this is still likely to happen because his lighting abilities are highly destructive.

[1] Infamous (PS3), Sucker Punch Productions (Sony Computer Entertainment, 2009)