Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Protoss of Starcraft: a Leadership Allegory -- Aldaris

Hey y'all.  So now we come to one of the most hated characters in Starcraft, the ever arrogant but oh so delightfully brazen Judicator Aldaris.  It's no secret I find him highly entertaining, but this blog is not about what I think of him, but rather how he has been portrayed in Starcraft, with both his strengths and weaknesses.

The trouble with analyzing Aldaris' leadership type is that, like Zeratul, he made lots of bad choices.  Unlike Zer, he didn't show his good side.  This is due in part to Aldaris' narrative purpose.  Aldaris actually serves as sort of a wall; the other personalities bounce off of him so well, and much of my analysis of the other characters comes from how they react to Aldaris, the wild card of the Protoss.  Seriously, the dude's nigh on unpredictable.  However, he does get enough time in the plot to show his personality, so he's not impervious to analysis.

Aldaris was not a good leader.  Like many of the more obvious leaders in Starcraft (Mengsk, Raszagal, the Overmind, DuGalle), he represents one aspect of how a leader can go wrong: not being open to others.  While we get a sense of what Raszagal would be without her particular failure, it's not exactly obvious where Aldaris belongs in an ideal Protoss society.

However, let's get one thing clear: Aldaris' problem was not in being over-promoted.  He's actually at the right level of authority: the middle.  Higher authority is more or less out of the question: higher leaders need to be the sort who are more intuitive, and have a better idea of seeing what the future could be.  Lower authority?  Not that either.  He risks being overbearing, and in close quarters with pressure he can get easily flustered.

Aldaris is an Administrator.  His function in society is to take the vision and strategy of other leaders and really make it happen.  He's like the parallel to the Operative; while the Operative gets things done through very specific missions, the Administrator gets things done on a somewhat larger scale.  Like the Operative, however, it's usually not his vision.  Aldaris spends much of the first game just being a zombie on behalf of the Conclave, and then reacting too strong to Kerrigan's machinations because he has no replacement vision for the Conclave's.  My favorite Aldaris moment is right in between, when he's being humble and respectful to Zer and Raszagal.  It was the one chance Aldaris had to contribute to good...and it ended quickly.

The trouble with Aldaris is that he's not really sure of himself.  He depended so much on the Conclave's ideals that he never really bothered coming up with his own.  This is a potential fault with all leaders, but a bigger risk for an Administrator, because their purpose is so driven in bringing the vision of others to life.  An Administrator has the potential to bring an unknown into great glory, but also the weakness of underdeveloped personal ideas.  They get so caught up in other people's vision that they fail to see the downsides at times.

Administrators have eyes for detail, in that they tend to notice all the things that Visionaries don't think of or haven't taken entirely seriously.  Visionaries by their nature are not detail oriented, and Administrators are one type that picks up the slack.  They can be incredibly detail oriented, even more so than Strategists.  The Visionary creates the vision, the Strategist put actions behind this vision, and the Administrator puts it in place and make sure it keeps running.  It's a hard job.

In a way, the Administrator is a sucky position of leadership.  It entails tons of detail-slogging work, with none of the glory.  Administrators are rarely remembered for accomplishing great things, and more often seen pushing papers, shipping supplies, or giving orders to the lower ranks to accomplish ideas the Administrator did not come up with.  In our present culture, Administrators have negative connotations, as they are reputed to be hard-liners that are unreasonable and want nothing more than to boss people around, just for the sake of getting to be in charge.  This is not the case.  Administrators are simply task-oriented, and if one has an attitude, that's a vulnerability, not a characteristic.

In truth, we need people like this.  We need people whose gratification comes from doing good rather than getting recognition, and who can put up with tedious work and crap from both higher and lower in the authority spectrum.  The trouble with Aldaris is that his work is poisoned by his false beliefs that he gets from the Conclave: the Dark Templar were rightfully exiled, and humans are losers for not being 'Toss.  Also, his character, in a literary sense, is never explored, and he is used to reveal things about other characters rather than have much depth or a backstory of his own.  This means we never see him at his best, and we have to find a positive example of an Administrator to get the right idea about what sort of leader Aldaris should have been in the first place.

And where can I find such an example?  In Lord of the Rings, of course.  The proper Administrator in LOTR is Elrond, whose wisdom and memory of the past serves to guide and bless those that pass through his houses in Rivendell.  Elrond doesn't lead any charge or carry out any missions.  His function is to use what he has to help others that will do the work, and also serve as a hub of information between distant allies.  His home serves as a meeting place for all races in Middle Earth, and Elrond has the elven power to keep his home safe.  It's pretty ironic when you think about it.  Elrond gains influence by doing the very thing that Eowyn refused to do: stay at home and prepare beds for adventurers.

While most Administrators are a little more hands-on than Elrond (think managers at work or lower-ranked officers in the army), this is still his type, as he is a bastion of wisdom, history, and geography.  Which is rather what Aldaris should have been: someone clear-eyed and ready to reference the facts of the past and the present, and ready to give advice on any of these at a moment's notice.  Every successful Administrator has a both a past and a present focus, in referencing how past patterns get repeated now, and in advising Visionaries and Strategists of how their actions can affect things based on how similar actions affected people in the past.

Like Elrond, our favorite Judicator operates best when he is distant from the actions of those under him.  Apart from battle, Aldaris is cool-headed and able to take the larger perspective.  Right in the thick of things?  Not so much.  Aldaris tended to flip out or overreact in some way when confronted with close-quarters danger.  When forced to fight the Zerg directly, he had no strategy better than to just kill them all.  When having suddenly discovered that Kerrigan was controlling Raszagal, he immediately rebelled rather than contacting Zeratul or biding his time until he had some sort of plan for controlling her or getting someone to believe him.  Aldaris was too close, and could not observe the situation with a calm, rational head.  Unlike the Strategist, Administrators work better when off the front lines, and with a sort of scientific detachment.

Administrators also work better when they are humble, willing to accept other opinions and perspectives.  See, they operate when they have the wisdom and experience to be of assistance, and understanding why other people do the things they do is a form of wisdom.  Aldaris never really considered anyone's perspective.  While this has a positive aspect of him not being able to be influenced by stupidity, it also makes him less vulnerable to intelligent opinion.  Don't get me wrong.  Stubbornness has its place, and is in fact one of today's underestimated virtues.  However, wisdom is knowing when to be stubborn.  And also making sure you know why you're being stubborn.  Aldaris never realized that his reasoning was weak, and that was why he ultimately failed.

I dunno, I never really had the heart to hate Aldaris.  He never really had the chance to show his true potential, and it's clear the writers of Starcraft had no real appreciation for him.  Aldaris was always a supporting character, and the very instant he outlived his usefulness, they killed him off.  It's tragic, really.

Key word:
Focus: Past/Present
Authority level: Middle
Operates best: With knowledge and humility.
Operates worst:  Too close to the front.
Potential weaknesses: Disregard for alternate opinions.
Ultimate vulnerabilities: Subject to the opinions and feelings of higher authorities.

While I'm at it, I just want to say that I'm not going to do a profile on Artanis.  The trouble with Artie is that we never really get to see who he is.  He's there as an over-promoted underling who rose through the ranks because of the serious loss of life among the Protoss.  We don't know what sort of leader he is.  Though I suspect he is a Strategist or an Operative, there isn't enough evidence to prove it either way.  It's entirely possible that both of those are wrong.  The writers never clearly defined him, and in fact some miscommunication made Artanis designed to look like a Dark Templar in the game, but called a High Templar in the manual.  I have my own theory about this, but the fact of the matter remains that Blizzard hasn't clarified this in-game.

For now, Artanis, you have all the potential in the world.

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