Rarely do videogames give us characters to whom we can aspire. Coolness, of the fictional kind, should, of course, be impossible for us to attain – James Bond endures because, although he is tied to our world, he is also its inexplicable, unscrupulous controller, whose suaveness overwhelms even the most immovable rules of reality. But in games, cool means absurd. Cool means silly. Cool means big swords, robotic super-soldiers and jaded military histories. It is an infantile, cartoonish sense of cool, a boring cool, a sexless cool. Presenting characters we may never be is one thing. Presenting characters so far beyond our frame of reference that even thinking of being them is pointless is another. If we don’t care about the characters in games it’s because they are “cool” to the point of being unrecognisable.
The protagonists of Hitman and Yakuza Zero are occasionally cool, also, to the point of disinterest. Their various abilities to fight and kill, with unerring success, make them alienating. But they simultaneously enjoy a lifestyle to which we can relate and aspire, a level of cool which is perpetually, in our own lives, both in and out of reach. In short, we wish we had expensive suits, invites to high-end fashion shows and trips to sunny città, just like Agent 47 – like in his jaunts to Paris, Bangkok and Japan, we fantasise about brushing shoulders with the beautiful, the wealthy and the influential. We want to be handsome. We want to be smart. We want to be admired within our profession. We want to stand on the balcony of a luxurious hotel and exude strength. Hitman permits us this fantasy. Its cool is recognisable; it fulfills tangible, adult desires.
Yakuza Zero is more playful, but its characters still have ambitions to which we may relate. When they talk about work, they talk about longing for promotion and for status. When they sing, they daydream about being rockstars. To be cool in Yakuza Zero is to have money and be able to dance, to be recognised by one’s peers and go drinking with friends. The game’s characters want things that we want. They are in pursuit of our own dreams. To begin with, this makes them recognisable, empathetic. In time, as they, like any decent fictional hero ought, achieve things we have not, they become the embodiment of a relatable, deeply understood cool. They are attractive to us. Inhabiting them, vicariously, feels good.