Articles & Editorials: Kane – Tragic Hero or Murderous Conqueror?

  • Date: 08/06/2005 | Author: Mr Lee

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to consider the Command and Conquer Tiberian series of games as well as the original Red Alert and put it into a different context. This new context will be of Command and Conquer as a story, and not a gaming series as such. This is being done to evaluate a claim someone made to me a few weeks ago while playing online on C&C Generals. This claim was that Kane was another person who could have been a Shakespearean tragic hero, and this is what draws us as gamers to the brilliance of the leader of Nod.

As any student of literature will know, a ‘tragic hero’ is plagued by a ‘tragic flaw’ that will plague them throughout their time in the story and it will affect them right up until their death. The most common examples of this are the Shakespearean tragedies – Othello, Hamlet and Macbeth. Each of these men was flawed and it was reflected in their character in some way. Each unfolds in a subtle manner and it eventually leads to their demise. Othello’s flaw was his jealousy, Hamlets flaw was irresolution and Macbeth shared what some would see as the flaw of Kane; ambition. Kane wanted, like any other villain, to bring about some form of centralised power around him, as you all well know. However, we find Kane different to other stereotypical cat stroking villains in that his motives for World Domination are actually to unite it under a need for a better future.

When everyone played through the original Red Alert game, I think initially they were perplexed to see a bald advisor with a black moustache who looked remarkably similar to someone they’d see from a previous game, a game that was set in the future of the C&C world even though, chronologically, it was released later than Tiberian Dawn. The events of the great soviet war played out, and the Russians winning opened up a huge new means of spreading the word of his personality cult. This was an obvious move by a power hungry man and he wasn’t going to make any quarrels about who was in charge, or, as the game developed, the allies won the war, and Kane went into hiding. Either way though, Kane’s fatal flaw got him to the places he wanted to be – In power. This power festers and radiates into the Nod that we see in the beginning of Tiberian Dawn, with Kane’s master plan being set out and his ambition grows with it. Kane, in essence, creates the perfect cult in the way that he sets up the Brotherhood of Nod, and ingame he says this.

“The Brotherhood had its beginnings with the first downtrodden who looked for a better way.”
– Kane

“The Brotherhood exists wherever there is need.”
– Kane

There is something remarkable in Kane’s thinking in that somehow, he has managed to appeal to everyone in the world because they know their place is under this type of rule and their place is going to be decided and life will be easier under this strange cultist. Kane has used his fatal ambition and his loquacious nature to form a perfect following that would gladly die for him. The Nod will die for Kane, their god.

Another interesting note at this point is that there is normally a catalyst for the tragic flaw of the hero to become apparent. Macbeth had the witches, Othello had Iago and Hamlets fathers’ death is all examples of the catalysts. Kane’s catalyst comes in a much more subtle form. Kane’s catalyst is one of his own making, unlike the previous examples, it is Tiberium. The concept of the Tiberium as a catalyst comes from the fact that Kane wants to mould a future using something that is as irrational and unknown as Tiberium. The unwavering faith in this substance is going to fill Kane with a sense of invincibility because he believes he has found something that can boost the world’s economy in Kane’s favour (Tiberian Dawn) or, in the extremist of circumstances, mutate the world into something he can control (Tiberian Sun).

The Nod invasion of Africa in Tiberian Dawn was something that nobody would have really thought to be a wise move for any budding dictator of the world, and certainly, it appears to be a foolish move in every respect by Kane, however, upon further examination, Kane has revealed his flawed nature by showing that he sees the people of Africa as something of a series of sheep. True to what his thoughts, the people of Africa fall to Kane’s lust for power and eventually, the Nod push northwards, into Europe. It is at this point in the entirety of Command and Conquer that we see Kane’s personality get in the way of his judgement. He even begins to make it noticeable in the ingame FMV sequences and the speeches to the people of Europe. However, the motto of his ‘Black Hand’ elite is the most noticeable sign of Kane’s power thirst.

“When we are crushing the black hearts of our oppressors, we will find our hands blackened. We cannot cultivate our garden without digging in the dirt.”

This attitude gives the impression that Kane is a ruthless conqueror, and the Black Hand of Nod believes this too. Militant extremists believe their god is right in every way and this sort of thinking is what makes people state the obvious that Kane is another Hitler or Stalin figure. Reading deeper into this though, the people realise that Kane is actually only doing what is necessary to maintain order in the provinces which he is trying to rule over. The end justifies the means and Kane is only doing the right thing for his people. Like so much in gaming though – there are two sides to the story and there is the obvious problem of trying to make it seem like the GDI actually believes Kane is doing wrong. This is where we see the GDI portraying Kane and his Tiberian vision as some sort of perverted means of trying to mutate and culminate the world into a Tiberium nightmare. Sure enough, to try and make this vision even more real, we introduce perhaps the biggest tool of slurring Kane – the mutants.

Now, the mutants are worth their own rant about how they stand out as the downtrodden member of every society that we each grow to love because we can relate to them – but isn’t that exactly the reason we relate to Kane and NOD in the first place? Kane’s ambition created the mutants and the Tiberian nightmare, so really, by the mutants helping the GDI; we are essentially seeing Kane’s tragic flaw begin to kill him. The Tiberium sun vision of a planet that Kane controls through the wondrous Tiberium is perhaps the reason for the greatest mistake that Kane makes – the missile. The Missile that would turn the planet into Kane’s kingdom is something that is not really going to work unless we have a kingdom of mutants.

An interesting note here is something that no tragic hero in the past has had – their flaw continue after they die. Cabal is what creates this continuation of the flaw because essentially, Cabal is the flawed nature of Kane in one computer. Cabal reduces Kane’s ruthless nature and takes away his human nature and replaces it with even more drive and this mutates the flaw into striving for mechanical perfection rather than striving for a united world. Cabal or Kane at the end of TS opens up the next act in this long and tragic story, and I can only hope that we find Kane becoming something more of a comic hero than a tragic hero.

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