Nathan Drake: Hero or Mass-Murderer?

Nathan Drake may pretend to be a good guy, but the psychologists might disagree. Treasure hunting charmer or homicidal psychopath? It’s time to study the evidence.

If you asked Nathan Drake for his job title, he would likely give it as “Treasure Hunter”. After all, he has so far hunted down the gold of El Dorado, discovered Shangri-La, and uncovered the secrets of the lost city Iram of the Pillars. On the trail of these, he has done battle with pirates, mercenaries, a Russian warlord, mutant zombie Nazis, and a lot of British people. It all sounds and seems wonderfully adventurous – until you realise how many people he has slaughtered.It is both possible and likely that players won’t notice when first introduced to the world of Uncharted. In the first game, Drake’s Fortune, Nate is on the hunt for El Dorado and so, unfortunately, are a whole host of rather nasty men. As he traverses the jungles and ruins of an unspecified island in the South Pacific, the aforementioned nasties try to kill him, and he naturally fights back. After all, it’s kill or be killed.And as they fall – to bullets, brutal melee combos, and explosions – the first question that comes to mind is: “Where are they all coming from?” It’s difficult not to notice the numerical superiority of Drake’s enemies. They have a tendency to swarm at him, dozens at a time, no matter how many have gone before them or what fate befell their compatriots. This dedication to their employers is remarkable, but not so remarkable as Nate’s primary skill: killing. Here is a man who can devastate an army, equipped with nothing more than an AK-47 and a couple of hand-grenades.Do not underestimate how much damage he can do with a handgun.Once you realise this fact, the events of Drake’s Fortune start to raise a few eyebrows (dubious realism aside, of course). Nate is a likeable person, always ready with a quip or charming smile – but he never shows a single shred of remorse for the things he does. He guns his way through countless foes, and at the end of it all he’s still got a grin on his face. He is a man who sleeps well at night and is not haunted by the things he has done.And when you start to look at him with this in mind, you can’t help wondering if he’s not afflicted with mental problems. Psychopathy is commonly associated with a lack of empathy, extreme self-confidence, and destructive behaviour – all of which seem to be exhibited by Nathan Drake. The evidence that he should be indicted builds at a worrying pace.But wait – it’s already been mentioned that it’s all self-defence! Nate is a treasure hunter and, if his rivals want him dead, he has the right to protect himself. Not to mention the fact that he prevents some very nasty people from controlling some very powerful, and potentially world-changing, artefacts. Zoran Lazarević, main villain of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, is a homicidal warlord wanted for multiple crimes against humanity, and he could have wreaked havoc with the secrets of Shambhala had he not been stopped. So it’s all okay, isn’t it?Perhaps, perhaps not. It’s time to provide a definitive answer to the question: “Nathan Drake, hero or mass-murderer?”Let’s study the claim that Nate is acting in self-defence. For a man who calls himself a treasure hunter, it’s peculiar just how skilled he is in the arts of death. After all, although a proficiency with firearms would no doubt be useful for someone in his line of work, he shows an uncanny knack for whatever weapon he picks up; there seems to be no gun he isn’t familiar with. That alone is a disturbing fact. When you take into account how incompetent he actually is as a treasure hunter – he ignores, and frequently destroys, caches of invaluable antiques in his single-minded quest for a single artefact – you can’t help wondering if he isn’t just there for the fight.Having watched him slaughter his way across three continents, Elena falls for Nate’s roguish charm and quiet psychopathy.That being said, it’s impossible to guess his exact motives – so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt on that front. There’s no doubt, after all, that most of the time he is not the aggressor, and is forced to fight for his life. He may cut swathes through his foes with brutal efficiency, but only because he has no other choice. When someone comes at you with a gun, it is unequivocally self-defence if you kill them.But if Nate was hoping that would be the end of his trial – a quick resolution – he will be disappointed. Unfortunately for him, there are times in his games when his actions seem less clear-cut. Consider the stealth systems implemented in Uncharted 2, in which he can sneak up behind enemies and viciously snap their necks, strangle them, or bludgeon them to death. Much of the time when he does this, he is simply trying to navigate his way from Point A to Point B and is not under attack. Certainly, these men will kill him if they see him, but his brutality and his unwillingness to find an alternate route raise plenty of questions about his behaviour.It’s also important to note that, at times, he goes on the offensive himself. Consider the opening of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, in which he infiltrates the headquarters of a secret British society. In a case like this, he has deliberately placed himself in harm’s way and assaulted the guards. Although this same secret society has only recently tried to kill him, he makes a deliberate decision to take them on himself in pursuit of the mystical Iram of the Pillars. While this could be considered a heroic choice, his personal involvement in the issue makes it seem more like a vigilante’s vendetta than the selfless deeds of someone trying to do the right thing. It is in these kinds of situations that the evidence really starts to build against him.Of course, whether he’s a mass murderer or not, there’s no doubt that Nate is guilty of numerous other crimes, most of which he shrugs off with a smile and a witty joke. Drake’s Fortune opens with an attack by pirates, and when it’s suggested that he call the authorities, he reveals that he doesn’t have a permit to be where he is. He may have a license for a handgun back in the USA, but licences are rarely given out for RPG launchers, which he uses repeatedly. Breaking and entering is not uncommon for him, nor is theft, nor the destruction of historical sites and artefacts.Another casual bit of destruction. Helicopters, tanks, boats, planes… There’s nothing he can’t wreck.No matter what else, though, Nate is also guilty of at least one cold-blooded murder. In Among Thieves, during an attempt to rob a museum in Turkey, he refuses to use guns because the guards are, by his own admission, innocent people. The fact that he understands this fact – that there is no doubt in his mind about it – makes it all the worse when he kills one of them. Hanging from a cliff face with a guard on the ledge above, the game requires you to perform a takedown before you can progress. Upon pressing the requisite button, you’ll watch as Nate reaches up, grabs the guard by his belt, and callously pulls him over the edge of the cliff. The last shot you’ll see of this helpless man is as he disappears into the abyss below.So there it is: Nathan Drake is arguably a mass-murderer, and certainly a murderer. Along with his many other crimes, this should be sufficient to see him put away for a very long time. When Sully frees him from the Turkish prison in Among Thieves, it seems like the right thing to do – but look closer, and you’ll realise that that’s where he deserved to be. At the very least, his lack of empathy and love of danger reveal a quiet psychopathy that he really should receive psychiatric help for. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End was teased at E3 2014 and got fans wondering what adventures he’ll be up to this time around, but maybe that’s the wrong question. Maybe we should be asking: what further crimes will this madman commit in the future?

Edward Smith

Updated: Jul 13, 2014

Get involved
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum
Nathan Drake: Hero or Mass-Murderer? | The Digital Fix