First, though, allow me to back up a little. There’s two characters in the aforementioned image. One is, naturally, Lara, budding adventurer extraordinaire --- and kick-ass strong female protagonist, BTW. The other is Conrad Roth (kind of a Dr. Smoulder Bravestone sort of name, if you get the reference, which I modestly think is pretty apt). Roth is a ruggedly handsome older man --- his backstory reveals he’s an ex-Royal Marine --- so he provides the perfect mentor trope for a young Lara fresh out of university. She’s blissfully unaware of the extreme crisis situation her research is about to thrust her entire group of adventurers into: shipwrecked on a remote, unknown island in the Pacific, unable to leave because a vengeful entity destroying all ships or planes trying to do so, surrounded by a bunch of Crazed Cultist Castaways (CCC) bent on sacrificing Lara’s BFF to said entity while messily murdering Lara and her other compatriots. In other words, just a Sunday afternoon stroll in the park. Much of the game revolves around Lara attempting three things: (a) staying one step ahead of the CCC; (b) keeping her friends alive --- probably not much of a spoiler to say she’s largely unsuccessful on this goal; and (c) unraveling the mystery of the island so she and her surviving friends can get the hell off it and return to civilization.
Now, late in the game, remorseless fate finally catches up to Roth --- a character whom players have erroneously assumed to this point to be well-nigh indestructible. Fleeing with Lara from their latest cataclysmic engagement with the CCC (complete with plenty of pyrotechnics), no less a personage than the CCC’s doubly crazy leader, a psychopath by the name of Matthias, pursues and catches up to them. A wounded Roth uses up the last of his ammunition vainly attempting to save him and Lara, and then… Matthias throws a hatchet. At close range. Too close (I guess) to dodge. And so, Roth…
…without hesitation, instantly turns to shield Lara…
…and, in so doing, takes the full force of the hatchet in his back… thereby saving Lara’s life but, as you might imagine, rather spoiling his entire day.
(Yeah, he dies heroically a few minutes later, after providing a devastated Lara with some pithy encouragement. Cue the violin section.)
And this (finally) is where the writing question comes in:
What extraordinary things are going through a character’s mind in such an instant that they know, with complete, icy clarity, that they must and will sacrifice their life --- their life! --- for someone else?
You know… the realization that This. Is. It. That we’re about to voluntarily take a one-way trip through that old portal to, as Will refers to it, “the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.” Wow. A deep, metaphysical moment, don’t you think? I mean, dying is a moment we intellectually know we must all come to, but one which, emotionally, we delude ourselves into thinking never will. And the Roth example involves an act of free will in approaching that portal.
His action isn’t about sitting down in peace and quiet with a cup of tea and rationally weighing pros and cons for an hour or a day, either. It’s at once. It must be an incredible moment, full of love, loyalty, commitment, pathos, regret, despair, wonder, and about a thousand other emotions, all rolled into one split-second. A moment which simultaneously lasts an eternity and as much time as blowing out a candle. Like I said, a moment I’m sure every last one of us fervently hopes never happens to us… because, well… you know… they say the survival instinct is the paramount imperative built into just about every living organism. To consciously, deliberately decide to override that imperative --- again, within the space of a nanosecond --- man, what an awful decision to have to make. And yet humans do it, all the same. It’s a deeply sentient, sacrificial moment.
It’s also a moment of extraordinary clarity I think few of us ever come to… and I’m not sure whether or not that’s a good thing. It is, I think, undoubtedly a great moment for a writer, watching from the Olympian summit of his/her author’s perch/perspective: all the things one could cram into such a moment in time!
In reality? Not so much.