Video games are amazing, because you can be anyone or anything in the universe: a blue hedgehog! A ghost! A unicorn with rocket launchers! About 80% of the time, though, you get to be a brooding white guy. There are so many of them that it’s hard to keep track. And they all seem to have dead wives.
As a fan of Brooding White Guys since I first started watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer at age 12 (Angel was my first love—I am an especial fan of the subgenre Brooding White Guy With A Tortured Past), I thought I would put together this definitive ranking. From worst to best:
10. Desmond Miles
Desmond is absolutely the worst. He is a whiny, incredibly boring dude who isn’t even hot, and isn’t anywhere near as interesting as any of his ancestors. He has literally nothing to brood over and yet he complains all the damn time. Fuck off, Desmond.
Wife status: Desmond is so lame that he does not even have a wife to fridge.
9. Max Payne
Payne is your classic Tortured Cop Who Breaks All The Rules, a very important subgenre, but he’s such a massive cliche that even within the realm of brooding white guys, he is boring: he’s an orphan, his daddy was mean to him, he’s an alcoholic, etc etc. Visually I’m more of a fan of Rockstar’s Max Payne, personally.
Wife status: Dead. Bonus points: his daughter is also dead. He’s very sad about it. That’s why he drinks and abuses painkillers and does violence.
8. Marcus Fenix
He tried to rescue his father, but he just didn’t make it in time, and he never forgave himself, hence the permanent scowl. Marcus ticks many of the brooding white guy boxes: he’s huge, he’s military, he’s apparently in love with someone to whom he shows absolutely no affection.
Wife status: Plot twist: no dead wife for Marcus. He does witness his buddy mercy-killing his wife, though.
7. Alan Wake
Alan Wake talks a lot about how much he loves his wife, but really it pales in comparison to how much he obviously loves himself, and how sad he is that he can’t seem to do his damn job and write another novel.
Wife status: Mysteriously disappears from the rubbish town he drags her to so he can finish his stupid book.
6. Booker DeWitt
An excellent example of the Brooding White Male With a Troubled Past: a drinker, a gambler, a violent man, Booker has done just terrible things, but hey, he’s going to make up for it by rescuing a young woman from a racist dystopia. Though it turns out he has selfish reasons for wanting to do that. DeWitt’s ranking is severely affected by the fact you can’t actually look at his sullen, handsome face during the game.
Wife status: Died in childbirth.
5. James Sunderland
Silent Hill 2's protagonist is a seemingly normal blonde guy with a HIDDEN DARK SIDE. But he’s got a heck of a lot more depth than lots of other characters, so he’s comfortably mid-table.
Wife status: Dead. OR IS SHE?
4. Sam Fisher
A hardened military man with love in his heart for only... yes, his daughter. These brooding dudes are all about their daughters. Bonus points for the fact that most of his games are really good, and for his various excellent costumes.
Wife status: Estranged, then dead. Daughter not so lucky.
Shadow of Mordor’s protagonist is VERY SAD and VERY ANGRY about his dead family, and being unable to join them in the afterlife, so he embarks upon a lengthy and bloody revenge mission. Classic brooding male antihero material. Also, I love the hair.
Wife status: Tragically, and surprisingly, she is dead.
Joel comes very near the top of the list because not only is he bearded, he is the perfect age for the projection of daddy issues. Initially hardened and emotionally inaccessible, he slowly opens up to daughter-figure Ellie, making you feel like maybe he is capable of loving again. This is a crucial component of the Brooding White Male appeal.
Wife status: Estranged, officially, but probably very dead. In fact, almost everyone he has ever known is dead.
Snake is just some A+ brooding white male material. He has: a scar, a troubled past, an amazing voice (thank you, David Hayter and, to a far lesser extent, Kiefer Sutherland), he wears skintight pants, he’s mysterious, he looks good in an eyepatch. He even smokes. There was at one point, however, a complex fan theory that posits that he has no penis, which would be a significant downside.
Wife status: I’m... pretty sure the only person Snake ever had the hots for married someone else, so he swore off romance? Or was that a different Snake? For god’s sake don’t make me look up the Metal Gear Solid storylines, we’ll be here all night.