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What Sonic The Hedgehog Shows Us About Evil

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As I've mentioned elsewhere, I am making a YouTube video about Sonic The Hedgehog and why the character remains so popular, despite decades of declining game sales. I tie this in to the Objectivist conception of good vs. evil, and how that is such a powerful idea conveyed by Sonic and how he acts within the world of his games. Most Sonic fans understand this conception at a subconscious level, as this conception resonates deeply with them, but it has never been stated outright on the internet in these terms. My script for the video is available below; please provide any feedback that you think might make it better.


Why Is Sonic the Hedgehog Such a Popular Character?

Sonic the Hedgehog has always been one of my favorite fictional characters, and I’m not alone. Sonic has maintained a persistent popularity among internet fans, especially compared to long-time rival Mario.

Look at the number of fanfics that have been written about Sonic the Hedgehog on Fanfiction.net. Absolutely dwarfs Mario, with 38k Sonic fanfics compared to 9k for Mario. The number of Sonic deviations is over 2 and 1/2 times as many as Mario deviations on DeviantArt. Sonic AMVs on YouTube are 1.5 million strong, almost neck and neck with Mario AMVs, which number 1.51 million.

This is despite decades of declining game sales. No Sonic game has sold more than five million copies since 1994. Compare this to Mario, Sonic’s longtime rival, during the same time period. Mario games still sell like hotcakes, with New Super Mario Bros. Wii selling 30 million copies in 2009, one of the best-selling games of all time. And he’s still going strong to this day.

Despite declining game sales, Sonic fans still love him as a character. Something about Sonic as a character is so appealing that his fans are inspired to create thousands and thousands of works of the mind that Mario fans simply don't make. Something about Sonic strikes his fans at a much deeper level than Mario strikes his fans.

Maybe it's Sonic's coolness. Sonic is fast, he’s got attitude, he’s like a living sports car. That makes Sonic cool, right? Well, to answer that question, we must first establish what “coolness” is. Coolness is an admiration that people have for a person or object, based upon certain traits which they celebrate as superior to other traits. Cool is relative, and can only exist in a certain context. Smoking used to be cool back in the 1950’s. It was sleek, glamorous, and cigarettes tasted smooth. Society saw models and actors who smoked as better than ones who didn’t. But then the health consequences of smoking were discovered, and over the next few decades, smoking’s perception among the public changed. Smoking went from being a cool, sexy, and badass habit to a nasty, stinky, and dirty habit. I still smoke, though. Sorry Sonic, I know you told me not to.

In the same way as cigarettes were once seen as cool, Sonic might have been seen by the gaming public as cool back in the 1990’s. But cool doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and the declining game quality in Sonic is legendary. In this decade? He’s unfortunately gone from being cool, to being an internet joke.

Fans of Sonic don’t seem to care, though. Despite Sonic and his fandom being ridiculed online, they continue to produce creative works praising their beloved mascot. He might not be cool to the internet or to most gamers anymore, but he’s still cool to the fandom. Why? Does the answer lie in-universe? Is Sonic cool within the context of his own games, comics, and shows? Admittedly I haven’t seen every piece of Sonic media, or played every Sonic games, and I’ll leave the deeper nuances for YouTube commenters who might know a little more to answer this question than I do. Even if I did know more, Sonic is often portrayed differently depending on the games, the plots of which often are incomprehensible even to diehard Sonic fans. Nevertheless, I believe I have enough of a basis to answer the cool-in-universe question…. let’s begin.

Cool is relative, so we must judge Sonic’s coolness in his own universe by comparing him to other characters in universe. Sonic is always the fastest character in the games, enabling him to enhance his powers with rings and chaos emeralds. His self-proclaimed “girlfriend” Amy is attracted to his power and speed. Sonic is orders more powerful than the defenseless woodland creatures or clueless humans that he saves from destruction in the games. Sonic also has attitude, but never in a condescending way like his friend Knuckles often has. His attitude arises from his confidence in himself, his abilities, and his smarts... compare that to the insecure Tails who looks up to Sonic. Sonic isn’t a genius like Tails, but he’s certainly on the smart end, and I would say has more common sense than most of his friends, who look to him in a leadership role. The Sonic games all reward inquisitiveness and exploration, and many of them reward the ability to solve puzzles… or just the ability to try out “self-evident” solutions. Most importantly, though, Sonic is a good guy. He pursues his own ends and goals as a good guy should, never using underhanded methods to get them like Dr. Eggman does. Sonic is also friendly, and inspires loyalty among his friends because they all have each others’ backs. Sonic always rescues his friends when they’re in a bind, and they come to his aid when he needs them. Sonic’s friendships, from his point of view, are based on mutual exchange of value. I won’t get into all of Sonic’s friends, but suffice it to say that Sonic is a confident and capable ring leader. Heh. For all of these reasons, I think it’s safe to say that Sonic is cool within universe.

Is being cool and having a large cast of friends enough to inspire such loyalty amongst Sonic fans? Not by itself, no. Sonic is not just cool, he’s also a heroic character. Sonic is fast, smart, and has a can-do attitude. Compare that to his evil nemesis, the slow, lumbering, incompetent Eggman, or Robotnik as he was once known. While Sonic inspires loyalty and friendship, Dr. Eggman can inspire nothing. His goal of “roboticizing” everything by force and bringing about “Eggtopia” are laughable. Thus, Eggman must resort to enslaving small woodland creatures to fight for him. Eggman’s own creations like Metal Sonic often rebel against him and his bizarre goals, as do many of his former partners including Knuckles and the Deadly Six. For these reasons, Eggman has come to hate Sonic over the years… solely because he’s the good guy, and Eggman’s obsession over destroying Sonic often leads to his own defeat. Sonic, though, has no similar hate towards Eggman. If anything, he views him as a minor nuisance.  As the good guy, Sonic realizes how competent and excellent he is, and how weak and pathetic Eggman is. Defeating Eggman is still challenging for him (and the player), but it’s a challenge that he always knows that he can win, and his confidence and indomitable spirit takes him and you, the player, to eventual victory. Sonic knows that, if he’s ever in a bind, he can count on his friends like Tails and Knuckles—to name just a few. In the original trilogy at least, Sonic fights Eggman not to rescue some princess like Mario. Not blindly guided by prophecy like Link. Not for unearned gain like the evil GTA “protagonists.” Sonic feels no cumbersome duty to fight Eggman… he fights Eggman because it’s fun for him!

Sonic is such a powerful figure because he teaches us something about life in a way that other video games simply don’t. This giant contrast in the Sonic games between good’s competence and evil’s impotence strikes the hearts of fans more than anything else. Most fans might only grasp this at a subconscious level, and a lot of Sonic fans don't even know why they like Sonic. But the contrast resonates with them because it’s true to life. Sonic’s can-do attitude demonstrates that no matter what evil you observe in your surroundings, you must never accept it as normal or permanent. You’ve got to fight against whatever evil you find in your life. We don’t have super speed like Sonic. We can’t turn invincible and fly. What we do have is the internet, which enables us to spread our good ideas at lightspeed around the world. Your mind matters. Your reason matters. Your ideas matter. Your words matter. Many governments and religious fanatics around the world have a vested interest in suppressing your speech. Corrupt, evil politicians hide their theft and graft in the darkest of corners; they hide their evil plans to trample, enslave, and replace their own people, to terrorize them. They jail, tax, and even kill those who speak out against them. Standing up to them is not, and will not be easy. But just like Sonic, our ideas are true, our motives are pure, and we will win. All Sonic needs is one ring to survive, and so long as he keeps picking it up, he’s invincible. All freedom needs is one person who refuses to accept evil’s dominance, and he can spread his ideas far faster than censorship or oppression can contain him. We need Sonic as a culture, because he condenses this long speech I just gave into a simple idea. A powerful good guy against a bad guy who at first seems intimidating, but in the end is revealed for the paper tiger he always was… that all evil men are. Once you know that, fighting evil can become as fun for you as it is for Sonic and the players of the Sonic games.

I leave you all with one of my favorite songs in the world… the song “Sonic Boom” by Pastiche and Spenser Nielsen. These four didn’t care or know about Sonic before being commissioned by Sega to write this song. They were probably just told to write a song expressing the triumph of good over evil, how fighting evil is fun once good guys realize their own power. In that, they succeeded.


So, what does Objectivism Online think? Have I clearly enough tied the concept of the impotence of evil, and its subconscious adoption by Sonic fans, to his disproportionately large popularity as a character? Does this strike you as a reasonable explanation, or have I missed something? Eager to hear everybody's thoughts.

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A related FYI, in case you were unaware of it, at the height of Harry Potter's popularity, an Objectivist wrote a book titled "Values of Harry Potter: lessons for Muggles". I realize that's very different from what you're considering, but thought I'd mention it anyway.

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  • 2 months later...

I think there's something to your thesis, but the bit about smoking is misguided. Using smoking as the example of being cool detracts from your overall point and puts coolness in a negative context from the get-go. Besides, coolness isn't really about being sleek, glamorous, and smooth. You were closer to the mark when you described Sonic as being fast and having attitude, like a sports car. I think you should expand on that idea instead of talking about smoking. You could mention how muscle cars are cool because they are powerful and stylish. The coolness factor also has to do with people not caring what other people think, which is a selfish thing. You kind of admire the classic hot-rodder or rock icon because they were doing their own thing when society was telling them to act straight and conform. Hell, wearing your hair long was cool for awhile back when it was rebellious. It sounds like Sonic is cool primarily because he's doing his own selfish thing with attitude and doesn't care what anyone thinks he should be doing. I can see how this contrasts with characters like Mario, who's basically fulfilling a traditional savior role in rescuing the princess. So he's not the cool rebel. He's the courageous hero. The question is: is Sonic moral? Is he cool for the wrong reasons? Mario might not be as cool as Sonic, but maybe he is more morally principled, and that's why he's more popular. Having only played Sonic a few times long ago, he struck me as wild and reckless.

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I didn't really care for Sonic. I guess I would have been 13/14 when the game debuted, and I was an avid video game player, so I was right in the crosshairs as the target demographic. I think that's why I rejected him, honestly. I felt like his character (or more specifically, his characteristics) were designed to pander to me, or "kids like me," though I wouldn't have been able to put that into words at the time*. I felt this way about a lot of "rebel" characters, like Bart Simpson when the Simpsons debuted, or even Wolverine in the X-Men (especially his portrayal in various cartoon incarnations). It felt so obvious and lazy, and I resented how fabulously it worked on my contemporaries. If you made a character "rebellious," that character would be the most popular -- the bait worked; and I'm not going to pretend that this is a more sophisticated reaction, but I think I was "rebelling" against that.


* I've had some of this confirmed just recently, actually, reading Console Wars by Blake Harris. I don't know whether it ought to matter to me, but knowing that Sonic was essentially created by marketing people, his traits and appearance crafted to be "just so" for young teenage boys, remains a turn off.

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My Sonic video has had to take a backseat to other things that I am working on, but I appreciate O.O.'s continued interest in the topic. :) I will most likely release the video in early 2018.

6 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

Why is it fun for him?

I'm not sure, honestly. The character is never explored in such depth in the series as to the reasoning behind his true motivations. Anything that I could say would be a guess on my part.

6 hours ago, DonAthos said:

If you made a character "rebellious," that character would be the most popular -- the bait worked; and I'm not going to pretend that this is a more sophisticated reaction, but I think I was "rebelling" against that.

That was definitely true about the marketing. For what it's worth though, I was never really attracted to Sonic due to his rebelliousness. It was more his free spirit which appealed to me as a kid.

Edited by CartsBeforeHorses
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On 10/1/2017 at 9:49 PM, CartsBeforeHorses said:

Cool is relative, so we must judge Sonic’s coolness in his own universe by comparing him to other characters in universe.

Firstly, I wouldn't refer to it as his "coolness". It sounds like you're talking down to your audience. It doesn't sound deliberately unkind or anything but would you like being talked down to? I'd hate that. And the people who'd actually prefer to be talked down to - I don't think they'd watch your whole video, no matter how good it is. So in general it might be helpful to remember who your target audience is (people who have a brain and aren't afraid to use it). And in particular I would find a better synonym for "cool".


Secondly, although comparing and contrasting is absolutely vital to concept-formation (which in this case means comparing and contrasting these fictional characters), I'd be very careful not to imply that "coolness" itself is based on such a comparative standard.

It seems to me that one of Sonic's main virtues is not just that he's a sleek, swift, sexy sports car, but that he also knows it. And he doesn't know it in a comparative kind of way (like knuckles); he wouldn't say "I'm better than you" but just "I'm fucking great!" It's written all over his face.




So, what does Objectivism Online think? Have I clearly enough tied the concept of the impotence of evil, and its subconscious adoption by Sonic fans, to his disproportionately large popularity as a character? Does this strike you as a reasonable explanation, or have I missed something? Eager to hear everybody's thoughts.

Honestly, I think it could use a bit of work, but with a bit of work it could be really and truly great.


If you've never seen Phineas and Ferb before, it'd make excellent conceptual fodder to work with. The battles between Doctor Doofenshmirtz and Perry the Platypus illustrate exactly what you're trying to get at - there are lots of characters there worth comparing and contrasting.



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