Determinators – Power Fantasy, Wish Fulfillment, from Fiction to League of Legends.

Determinators are something I love, and knowing that I love it had allowed me to understand why I love some of the media, some of the stories, some of the characters that I do.
Let us begin with the definition of determinator as it appears on TV Tropes:

A character — good or evil, male or female, young or old — who never gives up. Ever. No matter what.

And let me tell you, if you’ve ever played a Dungeons and Dragons game (or specifically came across D&D related fiction), read a bildungsroman novel, watched anime or read manga, or uttered the term “Mary Sue” with regards to a male character, it’s like you’ve come across determinators, and plenty of them.

The hero that gets beaten but then rises once more, or who gets beaten, trains and then comes back, the hero who will not abandon their friends, the hero is a hero. Note, should a villain display these traits, and it’s actually quite common, we’ll call him persistent or a pest, which is also often about time-frame or due to the fact that this isn’t shown on-screen. Take for instance Ash Ketchum, the protagonist of Poke’Mon. In episode 5 his electric Pikachu is beatenby Brock’s rock/ground Poke’Mon, so he trains overnight and comes back in the morning with his dynamo-trained electric rodent to beat Brock. More commonly though, we think of determinators as those who do not give up within the scene, who get beaten but rise up once more.

Now, look at villains in most superhero stories, they try, and try, and try again. The whole cast of the Batman escape from Arkham only to fight with Batman once more, in general, recurring villains in comics never say die – but we don’t see them growing, or not giving up within a scene, so we are less likely to call them determinators. Heck, they “retreat” in order to recuperate before trying again. The most common theme of determinators isn’t “not losing hope” or “unwilling to admit defeat” which would include coming back another day – but the more ridiculous “Stand up after you’ve been beaten up. Stand up, even if your legs had been cut from under you. Stand up.” – this is a powerful fantasy, but it’s also quite ridiculous – when in anime, for instance, a determinator retreats – it’s often his allies taking them away after they’ve lost consciousness, or being “considerate” of their likely beaten-up allies – they’re only retreating because their friends need to retreat!

I’ve always liked determinators, and realizing I have had helped me realize why I’ve liked some of the stories I’ve liked, even if they were “badly written”, shonen anime in general (Naruto, Bleach, Fairy Tail), The Gunslinger by Stephen King, at least in the beginning, Drizzt Do’Urden by R.A. Salvatore, plenty of movies, plenty of books, so many comic books as to beggar the mind.

In general, there are several categories of determinators you come across regularly:
1. Never Say Die – Not in combat, but these characters will do what needs to be done, without stopping, but they do not bust out the kung-fu moves. Often this occurs in the climax of a story, as the non-combatant characters are showing us what they are truly worth before accomplishing the goal, and about half the time they die for it.

2. Berserker Rage – This is one of two main combat sub-types. This sort of character flies into berserk rage when the battle is joined, and as such they don’t have the option of retreating – they fight until one side falls off. Plot-armour is quite noticeable here, and the added strength and ferocity the berserker rage lends to the character sees them through, killing or scaring off their opponents. Often the characters feel shame or are otherwise extra-sensitive aside from their berserker rage, as to make them “cooler” and still relatable. Some examples include Regnak Wanderer (main character of David Gemmell‘s Legend) or FitzChivalry in Robin Hobb‘s Farseer trilogies.

3. The calm fighter, who grits his teeth and keeps going. Often this is the character you’d dub as “Too cool for school”, the dark hero, the one whose past no one knows, the anti-hero, blah blah. Drizzt, Guts from Berserk, Alucard from Hellsing. The list here is practically endless. This is where most determinators are, where they are cool, where they are the characters, the people, we wish we were.

And I won’t lie, it’s my favourite power fantasy, and in case you think it’s limited to combat alone, that #3, then it’s not – you have characters such as these as detectives, as chess players (I hope all of you who like Science Fiction are familiar with the marvelous The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks, who died a couple of months ago), someone who strives to be a singer or a writer and the world tells them they won’t make it – but they never give up. They’re less obvious determinators, it’s true, but they’re still determinators – and they’re everywhere.

So, it’s actually interesting how I realized how much I like determinators – Morello (Ryan Scott, lead designer of League of Legends) kept talking about the fantasies characters fulfill and must fulfill when discussing the design of new champions, or asking “What’s the fantasy of this character? How does this change benefit them?” when designing reworking the kits of existing champions. This, along with trying to decide who my favourite champions are, after I’ve played the game for a couple of years made me realize my favourite characters are “determinators”.

Irelia is one of my favourite characters, and her whole kit is designed around sticking to someone, who can’t shake her off – she has a dash, a way to slow/stun her opponents, and the more opponents around her, the less you can use crowd-control abilities on her. Darius had been designed as an “executioner”, once he has his kit working on you, you know he’s going to execute you – he does well when he survives till the end of the battle, and then literally executes the remaining opponents.
Both of them have “True Damage”, a source of damage that doesn’t scale (not exactly, but still), so they can build more defensive items, become tankier, and yet do their job, fulfilling their roles as “determinators”, characters who cannot be stopped.

There’s one more such character, supposedly, Olaf, who has true damage and ways to stick on you and deal sick damage to you for short periods of time, but I like the “Berserker Rage” category less, and I also enjoy his play patterns less, so I don’t really play much of Olaf.

Interestingly, when I’ve began playing League my favourite champions had been Kassadin, Katarina and Fizz – what these three share in common is how mobile they are, and we’ve all watched Spiderman with envy, envy born of the desire to fly, so it’s not surprising.

So, what are your power fantasies, what are your fantasies which fuel your media consumption, and inform the things you enjoy?

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