One of the questions to ask, when looking at any fiction, is whether or not the protagonist changes over the course of events. In the classic literary model he usually is, and the story is the arc of that transformation as he learns valuable lessons and discovers new insights. This is not the case for all fiction though – some protagonists are iconic, and are basically the same at the end of the story as they are at the beginning. Examples of this abound, from Sherlock Holmes to Conan to Spider Man, to say nothing of television characters for whom this is pretty much the norm.
Both kinds of protagonists rock, but there’s definitely a tendency towards iconic heroes in the material that is most inspirational to role playing games. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that that creates a tendency towards iconic heroes in play, but I will say that it’s a robust segment.
1 – Robin Laws has written some interesting stuff about this, and is absolutely the inspiration for some of this thinking.
2 – Iconic heroes do tend to change once; over the course of their origin story where they change from whoever they were into the iconic hero they become. This is a big reason why movies about iconic heroes tend to go for the origin story first – since it has a traditional arc, it’s easier to tell.