The outside world can be a rough wasteland of despair. It can choke the life from even the most hardened of individuals, making MMA fighters phone home to their mothers, and causing Dwayne Johnson to question whether he really deserves the moniker of “The Rock.” But there are a number of gentlemen out there, a select few of veteran tough guys, that can withstand the calamity of existence with strength, sweat and beards. They are the gravelly-voiced ones. They are the men of extreme punishment and toil. They are the most grizzled video game protagonists of our time.
Naked Snake learned the skills of warfare and survival from his former mentor, The Boss. He became a rugged master of espionage, Close Quarters Combat and various international languages. As a result, not only could Snake fight his way out of a dense combat zone with only his greased-up fists and a cardboard box, but could also charm a few ladies into giving him a massage after the fodder had subsided with a flick of his bi-lingual tongue. His brief skirmish with the sultry but dangerous EVA could attest to his wily charms. War and romance played symbiotic roles in the hardened soldier’s life.
Even though he had a love for all things female, that didn’t stop The Boss from putting him an intensive care unit by throwing him into a ravine; a date that surely differed from his exploits with Paz several years later. He healed quickly after this ordeal, returning to the field just a few days later for his next mission: Operation Snake Eater.
Befitting the name of his adventure perfectly, Snake’s healthy appetite for vermin was well established, as he headed into Tselinoyarsk, Russia’s estranged tropical region. He would tear into any creature within his vicinity, chewing down on frogs, birds and small rodents. Even cannibalising a serpent or two. Poison did little to deter the jungle treat connoisseur, as if nausea was brought on by a particularly nasty toad, he would simply spin around a few times to instigate motion sickness, vomit, and then continue to feast like a rich Roman banker.
He may have eaten like an ancient, but his fashion sense was far from that of a garish toga. Snake’s only comfort was a scratchy camouflage uniform, hiding himself amongst the spongy moss and rotten foliage of the Russian rainforest. His dress sense, along with his recreational habits, showed that he was never afraid to get down and dirty with uncomfortable situations. Itchy lice populated his attire, and although smoking could kill, he was rarely seen without a cigar poking out from between his snarled lips.
How else would he keep up that gruff voice without a smoke?
He wouldn’t, and would be all the worse for it.
Geralt of Rivia
The mighty Geralt of Rivia was a Witcher: a man crafted through genetic experimentation to breed a ruthless monster-killing entity. Branded heartless by some, and mutant by most, Geralt travelled on a bloody path across the Northern Kingdoms and the Nilfgaardian Empire with his steel and silver swords, battling creatures big and small for copious amounts of loot and coin. He may have got the job done with the efficiency and strength of one thousand men, but his efforts did not come cheaply. Helping the poor and illiterate peasants along his way gratis would have been the most ethical method of service, but if Geralt were to keep himself well-equipped with blade polish and ponytail scrunchies, then a necessary fee had to be charged.
In 1274, Geralt ventured on an expedition to find his adoptive daughter, Ciri. This took him to the region of Velen: a swampy mash of bogs, disheveled towns and creepy forests galore. Its hostile and frankly disgusting landscape was a brutish place for our hero to rove, testing his fortitude against a number of adversaries that were fearsome and chaotic to say the least. Strange fish men called drowners populated muddy patches and sprung up to attack villagers amongst boggy plant matter; griffins and cockatrices roamed the skies, screeching high above the earth and pinching livestock and humans alike for their feed; a triplet of ugly hags, known as the Ladies of the Wood, threatened Geralt with dismemberment and vivisection.
Despite Velen being a place of horror and madness, Geralt managed to find some well-earned relaxation in between the bouts of carnage. His smoky voice, well-groomed facial hair and deadpan sarcasm made for a delicious treat where women were concerned. His charms and dangerous cat-like eyes, were irresistible to many, resulting in nights of endless passion for the Witcher. The fabled legend, Geralt of Rivia, may have hidden his playful side beneath a tough outer shell of armour and monster blood, but this fighter was very much a lover at heart.
Before the end of the world, Joel had a life. He was a construction worker, raising his daughter alone, playing and collecting music on the side. His brother and child were close to him. His home was furnished with an array of items, including a treadmill and photos of happy memories from the times before the end. This life of mundane pleasures was taken away, and in its place grew a tormented existence. Joel became a violent soul of shaggy complexion and aged eyes.
Across the span of twenty apocalyptic years, Joel scavenged amongst the fallen ruins of Boston as a smuggler of drugs and weaponry. A dangerous career to say the least, Joel’s path led him down a bloody hole of destruction that bordered on the lines of morality. His ambiguous virtuosity was brought on by a will to survive; if he did not use his strength and might to strangle, bludgeon and shiv, then his corpse would have joined the rest of humanity in their decomposing multitudes. A dried up husk slathered in gore. A green flannel shirt draped over a broken skeleton.
Relationships bloomed like awful roses for Joel within the rotten world. His time with Bill crafted a begrudging friendship between the bitter smugglers; he and Tess were joined at the hip through their ruthlessness and loyalty. But it was with Ellie that Joel’s harsh persona reverted back to that of the caring father that had been lost long ago. She gave him something to live for. She showed him how to love again.
John Marston – Red Dead Redemption
John Marston was a man crafted within the hellish underbelly of the American West. His scars ran deep and left his face disfigured, ravaged; his hair fell lank over his damaged, weathered skin; his unkempt beard twisted from the movement of his gnarled mouth; his tough, leathery clothing was covered in the dirt and sweat and blood of the savage lands in which he was interred. His life was one of murder, robbery, ransoms and deceit.
Left wounded and alone, Marston retired from crime, settling down on a ranch with his family for a period of silence. Guns and bullets were traded for hoes and livestock. But as the olden days subsided, and the banditos of the archaic past shuffled back into their hovels, three familiar terrors remained throughout the land: Bill Williamson, Dutch van der Linde and Javier Escuella. Coerced into hunting them down by federal agents, the quiet farmer returned to a world of bloodshed once more to end his old friends’ unchallenged and strangling hold upon the people of the west.
Although the turn of the nineteenth century had brought with it sprawling train lines, bricked homes, telephone operators, electricity and automobiles, Marston preferred to use the raw and untamed methods of survival from his defunct upbringing. An unflinching specimen of violence, he would ravage countless outlaws with a combination of accurate revolver rounds, sprayed shell shots and ugly cuts from a wide-bladed hunting knife.
With a life that was steeped in tinges of red, its end met a fitting conclusion: heavy breaths, a barn door opening, a dozen shots fired, deep bullet holes and a collapse onto the dust as dirt soaked up the remaining blood from his body. A poignant finale for a bygone criminal.
These grizzled video game protagonists epitomise the hostile landscapes in which they have been placed, and represent a brutal existence within a world that bites and claws at humanity endlessly. Some live, and some die, but all share in one universal trait: the ability to grow outstanding beards.