Feminism is not an excuse for your racism, Pat Condell »« You’re going to make me work again, aren’t you?

Villainy made interesting

Tauriq Moosa is writing about villains in computer games. It was weird, it started out reminding me of me.

Stereotype dictates he be male, control a horde of minions, and have a fortress somewhere lit by flashes of thunder. His plans are some unfathomably weird concoction of revenge and pure malice, directed at something unachievable and vague – like “world domination” – and born from some dark deed or horrid wrong done to him or a loved one. He probably is talented at creating weird gadgets and weapons which, without fail, will fail.

Except for that last sentence. My plans never fail! NEVER! Mwuahahahaha!

Moosa’s point, though, is that that kind of fictional villain is boring — there’s no depth, no motivation, he’s just there — and describes a couple of video games where the bad guys are more complex.

I thought of a transitional form: Dr Horrible. It’s done for humor, but the pieces of the stereotype are all there. The villain is just a villain for villainy’s sake at the start, and he’s also got all the toys of the stereotypical mad scientist, but then it slowly becomes clear that he’s really craving the prestige of being recognized by bigger villains, and it gets all messy and complicated with the introduction of a hero who is a manipulative stuffed shirt, and The Girl…who complete tangles up The Villain’s motivations. And then there’s the inevitable Tragedy.

What makes it interesting is that it’s all told from the villain’s perspective, and he goes from moral simpleton to…moral simpleton who’s aware of the magnitude of his mistakes. That’s what makes the story interesting, is that the character changes and grows a little bit, in this case just enough to realize what a screw-up he is.

Isn’t that really what we expect from a good story? That people change in interesting ways over its course?

Comments

  1. johnwoodford says

    There’s also, along the same lines, “Soon I Will Be Invincible,” by Austin Grossman; we get to see the villain’s POV, and from the inside he’s a far more interesting character.

  2. birgerjohansson says

    Johnwoodford, Yes, I read that book.

    Here is another:

    “Incognito” by Ed Brubaker http://www.amazon.com/Incognito-Ed-Brubaker/dp/0785139796/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1379941043&sr=1-1&keywords=brubaker+incognito
    “What if you were an ex-super villain hiding out in Witness Protection… but all you could think about were the days when the rules didn’t apply to you? Could you stand the toil of an average life after years of leaving destruction in your wake? And what if you couldn’t stand it? What would you do then?”

  3. birgerjohansson says

    …And “The Boys” has a whole swarm of shallow villains (corporate shills masquerading as heroes) but the real “heroes” are so dark they are more like anti-heros, too.

  4. ravenred says

    We’re looking for illumination on the characters. If the characters themselves share in that illumination, all well and good, but if they don’t, there are (narrative) ways around that.

    Iain Pears book “An Instance of the Fingerpost” does this recursively, where each section is one character being illuminated on the character of the previous section. Only the last character actually has any sort of self-realisation during the course of the book, wheras most of the others remain morally stagnant (and in their own ways, repulsive).

    Bioshock (and sequel) was a bit of a failure in that regard. The main character was deliberately pretty amorphous, and the villains pretty much remained unchanged throughout the story (yeah, final villanous breakdown occasionally, but no real change). Spec Ops: The Line, OTOH, gets kudos from me for deliberately targetting the player’s own moral compass (no spoilers, as it’s really worth playing unspoiled) with some well-motivated… villains isn’t quite the right word.. whose external perception and internal orientation vary during the course of the narrative.

  5. birgerjohansson says

    Also by Garth Ennis: “Hitman” is a killer and anti-hero, but set in a spoof of superhero stories.
    “Kev” is a killer, formerly of the SAS now working for wossname, the ones that send out James Bond to kill people. Set in the “Authority” narrative universe.
    — — — — — — — — — —
    Trevor Goodchild in “Aeon Flux” is more complex, some times I had more sympathy for him than for the heroine.

  6. Larry says

    Hardly just a computer game meme. Its been used in, oh, just about every James Bond movie ever including the quintessential evil genius, Dr. No.

  7. says

    As far as villainy itself goes…. Real villains are not villains for the sake of villainy, they are villains because they belief they can do better. The “mad” scientist is pursuing knowledge for the sake of knowledge, without the encumbrance of ethics. The military strategist working for world domination is often seeking to eliminate the chaos and bloodshed of war by uniting humanity under a single, unified banner. The best villains are those whose motives are pure and who are completely unaware of (or perhaps are genuinely worried about) the suffering they cause.

  8. remyporter says

    I think there’s an issue of medium here. Video games are one of the most audience-focused media possible. Unlike a traditional format, where creators communicate a vision to an audience, games exist with the assumption that the audience has some control over the message. Even in games like TellTale’s The Walking Dead, where the narrative is very-much “on-rails”, the player is given a lot of control over the emotional weight that those narrative elements have.

    The game aspect of video-games relies on repetitive action and player skill advancement. It’s in the DNA of the medium- from Pong to Space Invaders, we’ve established that one of the core elements of the game is repetition and player skill. Fighting games are entirely built on that mechanic. By the time the early FPSes started appearing, that repetitive nature took the form of endless minions of ever-increasing menace, coupled with ever-more-powerful weapons for the player (creating a sort of zero-sum non-advancement as the game progresses).

    Games like this are not good forms for conveying story. An overly complex villain would distract from the mechanical nature of play. A narrative more complex than, “The bad guys are doing bad things, here’s a gun, go stop them,” stretches the boundaries of the mechanical experience (even fan-favorite Half-Life 2, oft praised for the quality of its story doesn’t stretch narrative mechanics much beyond this).

    I think there remains an important place for this sort of mechanical gaming. Human beings enjoy that sort of play. There’s a reason why so many of these mechanical games have only the thinnest of single-player, narrative experiences, and instead focus on multiplayer modes.

    And when you break out of those mechanics, there’s a lot of space for narrative complexity. Villains can become more interesting, because you’re not shackled to the endless waves of minions. Portal is the text-book example for this- the villain, not the player, is the star of the story.

    Looking at my own personal gaming habits, I notice that few of the games I like are a) competitive in nature, b) have a traditional villain/minion structure. That doesn’t mean they have much by way of narrative, either- like the L4D series. Power-fantasy survivors fight their way through endless hordes of zombies. Or the Civilization series. Brutal Legend is probably the most “traditional” game I’ve played recently, in that you do have endless supplies of minions and a few, mostly male bosses (but hey, it’s got Tim Curry more-or-less reprising his role from Legend).

  9. doublereed says

    I think there is definitely something to said about the senseless evil side of things. Like GLaDOS or Cthulu.

    Evil doesn’t necessary have to have grander intrigue and character development to be interesting and fun.

  10. ledasmom says

    Except for that last sentence. My plans never fail! NEVER! Mwuahahahaha!

    I admit that I may occasionally have thought of you lurking in the Cephalolair declaiming “Send up the Squid-Signal! Pharyngulites assemble!”, and roaming the ocean in the Squidmobile, which obviously would have great camouflage as well as tentacles. And ink.
    I always thought that was just me, though.

  11. remyporter says

    GLaDOS wasn’t really a case of senseless evil, though. Even within the confines of the first game, GLaDOS is insane, but internally consistent. GLaDOS isn’t simply evil for the sake of being evil, but because within GLaDOS’s own twisted programming, the actions the computer takes makes sense. That’s part of what made GLaDOS such an enjoyable villain.

    Cthulhu is also a little different. Once again, the evil Cthulhu represents makes no sense to us, but that’s because Cthulhu is to humanity what humanity is to ants. When we lay out ant traps and poisons for ants, we don’t think of ourselves as evil. Ants can’t possibly understand the poisons we’re exposing them to- their brains don’t understand poison. Cthulhu, and the other Lovecraftian horrors are meant to be menacing, not because they are evil or malicious, but because they are indifferent to human affairs. The existential horror Lovecraft was motivated by was a xenophobic one- he feared “the other”, and more than that, he feared “the other” was truly superior to himself.

    When someone talks about “senseless evil”, they’re truly talking about someone who is a villain simply because that’s their role in the script. Your traditional action-movie villain falls into this category. At most, we know they’re bad because we see them do one bad thing, like kill a dog, and then the rest of the plot just assumes that they’re irredeemably evil.

  12. Ingdigo Jump says

    Well even senseless villianry can make a good villain. And sadly many cases are probably modeled after real people.

    I’m thinking Iago whose entire motivation is spite and sadism.

  13. doublereed says

    @13 remyporter

    I’m not interested in word games of the word “senseless.” What makes it fun is that us humans have to deal with these other crazy people, not that the crazy people have some intriguing backstory or changing character.

    There’s a variety of ways to do villains. I don’t think they necessarily have to be that deep. Honestly, Well-Intentioned Extremists and Freudian Excuses can get old just like anything can.

  14. remyporter says

    I’m not debating that, doublereed- the worst part of Portal 2 was learning about GLaDOS’s origins. Villains do not need to be dynamic or even realistic characters. But from a narrative standpoint, villains need to have more meat on their bones than “I’m evil because the script calls for it.”

    Both GLaDOS and Cthulhu have more going on than simply being evil because the script calls for it. Regardless of the semantics of “senseless”, they are both complex and nuanced villains with a lot of details and unique, colorful elements to make them memorable.

  15. anuran says

    Not a video game, but still great, Patrick E. McLean’s Edwin Windsor, starting with How to Succeed in Evil. Edwin runs a consultancy advising villains and evil geniuses how to be efficient and effective. He’s rational, calculating , efficient, orderly and HATES living in a world where there are things like super-powered people. He also makes money hand-over-fist even though his clients don’t take his advice.

  16. Esteleth, statistically significant to p ≤ 0.001 says

    For me, the villain who is evil because they’re evil *sinister laugh* is boring.

    I’d rather the well-intentioned extremist – they’re at least interesting. Hell, what TVTropes calls “Orange and Blue morality” (not linking, sorry) can be fascinating if it is done properly!

    This refers to a person/society that does have clear-cut moral rules that are internally consistent – it is just that they’re oriented along a different set of axes than ours. So to an outsider, the conduct can look baffling, amoral, etc.

  17. chrislawson says

    I also think that an informed reader could point out some decent counter-examples. I don’t play a lot of different games, but Loghain from Dragon Age: Origins was one hell of a compelling, complex villain whose motivation was the opposite of “evil and wants to rule the world” yet still managed to be detestable. I’m sure there are other examples out there.

  18. Alex says

    Typical example: JB Zorg in my favourite, The Fifth Element. Why would he side with Absolute Evil (TM) to destroy all life in the universe? Well, Gary Oldman’s character is so cool, he’ll have his reasons, so stop asking.

  19. remyporter says

    Actually, Zorg has a pretty great character arc in that film, Alex. Yes, his motivations are, well, meaningless. He starts the film as the all-controlling corporate overlord, but as his plan spirals further and further out of control, we see how gracelessly he collapses under the pressure. And Oldman hams his way through it so delightfully that we love watching Zorg fall apart at the seams.

    I’d love to watch an edit of that film without Chris Tucker in it, though.

  20. says

    Anyone remember the old Starflight game from the 1980s? Where the nova inducing machine turned out to have built by the “minerals” you used as fuel in your starship?

  21. Alex says

    remyporter,

    Yes you are right, coming to think of it. Ultimately, it doesn’t make economic sense for him as a corporate overlord to destroy the world, but he gives this great Nietzsche-on-cocaine speech about the creative power of destruction, so his weird collaboration with Evil to destroy the world has a pretty deep philosophical foundation that you almost think he honestly espouses.

    So he’s like the Republican Party with more conceptual depth?

    And well, Ruby …erm.. has a character arc as well. He goes from hopelessly over the top to hopelessly over the top and panicking. While that is not as impressive, he’s for me a necessary component of the film to demonstrate how pop culture will have “evolved” in the few hundred years inbetween.

  22. remyporter says

    With all the moving parts in the film, I think the commentary on pop-culture and celebrity was unnecessary kruft. There is enough going on in the film that you could excise or at least downplay Ruby Rod. He’s so obviously an authorial pet- a character that the author loved so much that he just had to give him stuff to do.

    There are already enough bumbling incompetents in the film- the mugger, the priests, the orc-alien guys, and even Zorg himself. It’s hard to carry an entire movie with idiots, and Ruby Rod was just one loud idiot too many for the story.

  23. says

    Your plans never fail? So we’re just going to pretend that the whole incident with the squids and the lasers didn’t happen, are we?

  24. dianne says

    So we’re just going to pretend that the whole incident with the squids and the lasers didn’t happen, are we?

    It’s part of a deeper plot. When the squids were thwarted, PZ sat in his underwater lair chuckling and saying, “Perfect. My plans are going well…” Because the squid were always meant to fail. (Of course, there was a backup evil plan in case they managed to succeed too…)

  25. dianne says

    Actually, I tend to find the villain’s point of view extremely boring. At least, if he or she is the traditional psychopathic villain or completely self-centered villain. The well intentioned extremist who might be the hero in a different story, now that can be interesting.

  26. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Shakespeare knew well that a good villain enriches the plot–Richard III, Iago in Othello, etc. You even see it in classical mythology–the Hindu Mahabharata, The Illiad.

  27. Akira MacKenzie says

    PZ:

    Dr Horrible. It’s done for humor, but the pieces of the stereotype are all there. The villain is just a villain for villainy’s sake at the start…

    I think your assessment of that character is flawed. As I recall, Dr. Horrible wasn’t into super villainy for the fun of it. He felt that the world was corrupt, out of control, and that the powers- that-be could not be counted on to fix the worlds problems by legal means.

  28. marcoli says

    @29: OK, I am reading it. This is just in time, as I was looking for more ways to waste time on my computer.

    I am recovering from years of addiction to the Halo game series. There, the evil ‘Covenant’ aliens were motivated by a fanatical religion based on their misinterpretation of relics of from an ancient war. There was an unusual amount of depth there in that plot thread.

    Slightly off the video game subject, but the Get Smart movie was better than I expected exactly b/c the villain and his main henchman had some history and sympathetic depth to them.

  29. tbtabby says

    I think Deus from Asura’s Wrath was a good example of “end justifies the means” villainy. Like many villains in both fiction and reality, he believes that his cause (defeating Vlitra, a monster in the core of the planet who sends out an army of beasts called Gohma to ravage the land and kill humans) is so just that anything done to further it, no matter how much harm is causes, is justified.. This includes killing his own emperor, framing the hero for the crime, killing the hero’s wife, abducting the hero’s daughter to forcibly use her Mantra-manipulation powers to fuel a Vlitra-killing superweapon. But most of all, the motivator for his actions is his own pride and arrogance. Even after Asura has defeated him and is heading off to confront Vlitra himself, Deus insists with his dying breath that only he is capable of defeating Vlitra.

  30. Ariaflame, BSc, BF, PhD says

    Manservant Neville, wanted to fix the world, got frustrated with people being people.
    But yes usually it’s pride, arrogance, and the conviction that anything they do must be the good thing because they’re doing it. Most of us are the heroes of our own stories.

    “My plan is sheer elegance in its simplicity”.

  31. says

    While conforming to most of the stereotypes, the villain in Borderlands 2 has something that I really liked: he considered himself to be the good guy and us (the player and people helping him) to be the villains… To be sure, he kept killing people and such but had phrases like “Why do [the rebellion] continue? Don’t they know that at the end, the good guy always wins?”.

  32. says

    Vonnegut wrote somewhere (and I think it’s fair enough to say) that he never wrote a story with a villain in it. Because it was something he learned in college, was the explanation, as I recall. Essentially the point being, as I understand it anyway: conflict doesn’t arise because of some abstract external thing called ‘evil’; it arises for frequently maddeningly entangled reasons. And people rather rarely think they’re really being ‘evil’. Antagonists in any story are far more likely to think 1) they’re really doing the right thing, 2) they’re doing what they have to, 3) the bastard on the other side would just do worse to me if I don’t do it first, and that cheeky bastard might even call it justice, but as if. And I’m not sure this list really covers it all, but anyway…

    I actually find Vonnegut extremely painful to read, sometimes. And I think it’s largely for this reason. It’s very painful watching people inflict such misery upon each other and even themselves, and never really being able to pin it entirely on anyone in particular. There’s this sense of inevitability about it all, too, it’s always seemed to me..

    And then, worst of all, there’s the sense that, really, he’s pretty much right about this. In fairness, mind, I’m not sure it’s more him saying that or more me reading that, because that’s pretty much how I think anyway.

    This has been your morning smile. If it’s morning where you are. Otherwise, save it for tomorrow morning, I guess.

    … somewhat less depressingly, fiction that illuminates the antagonist’s motivation, and even treats it with some sympathy, is, in my opinion, generally better, even when it does damn the devil just enough to approach satisfying more classic/schematic narrative good/evil structuring, I think. Moustache-twirlers can be good for laughs, and sometimes if you make them a nice metaphor for a real world challenge you can still tell a story I’ll watch or read, but it decays to a sort of moralizing pornography when the writers just make them pure evil ichor in order that we cheer harder when the hero finally beats them to a pulp.

    There really is something a bit seductive, though, about the pure villain who can finally be overcome, the embodiment of evil you destroy to clean up the streets or the world or whatever. I get to thinking this is, in part, because we know too well it’s a fantasy. The thing about life, so far as I’ve noticed, is, not so much that there is no such thing entirely, as that there’s nothing really external or alien about them, nor is taking them out really going to solve that much. There’s lots of dictators out there you might think are about as close to classic black hat villains as you can get, but then you have to face that, okay, but that bastard didn’t even entirely do it on his own, either, did he? Dictators fond of running torture chambers and the whole deal are, in fact, in no way fictional… And then you find the whole pattern of collusion and disinterest and mutually intertwined interests between them and other world leaders clearly with some interest at least in the success and happiness of their own people, and you start realizing to what degree they’ve been enabled, facilitated, even encouraged. As in: sure, Saddam ran Anfal and ordered Halabja, but he sure as hell had help…

    And then I get to thinking of them as patterns and symptoms, emergent phenomena, even, from within human social groupings, and reflect on the hero worship fostered around them sometimes within their own societies, and you get to thinking: maybe there are real villains like that, but the hell of it is, is: their henchmen and allies are in the hundreds of millions. And you are, it is very likely, in part, one of them. And worse, most of the time, blowing up the secret lair in the volcano really isn’t going to do anything but create a space for the next villain to take on the same role–a villain who’ll probably do much the same damned thing…

    … which, I suppose, is some defense of Hollywood’s and the gaming industry’s attitude about sequels, anyway.

  33. karpad says

    @Ariaflame #34

    No! Creating a popular tech gadget which you then link together into a domineering hivemind of loyal slaves to begin a worldwide harvest of peneal glands from paranormally attuned sapients hidden across the world to then also attune them specifically to the hivemind to grant you reality warping powers is hardly what I’d call simple. More like draconianly complex.

  34. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    A. J. Milne,
    If you think Vonnegut is painful to read, consider Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities. Again, no villain. However, no one is likable either. They are all self-absorbed yuppie scum or otherwise the dregs of society. I understand what he was doing, but it was a painful read.

    I felt the same way about American Psycho.

  35. Rich Woods says

    The well intentioned extremist who might be the hero in a different story, now that can be interesting.

    I’d have to agree with this; complexity of character and possibility of plot makes all the difference. Admittedly I may be thinking of a specific instance, since I’ve just finished watching the penultimate episode of Breaking Bad. Walt, originally the well-intentioned good guy, is going completely off the rails yet desperate to do some good for his family, while Jesse, once the self-centered waster, has discovered he has a conscience and sees to tragic effect just how much people are being hurt by the consequences of his choices. It’s not to say the series hasn’t had its share of sociopaths, but some, like Todd, have been presented in a disarming but very chilling light.

    Sorry — can’t comment on videogames!

  36. koncorde says

    If this was a kickstarter campaign raising funds to do a series of videos entitled “Villainous Tropes in Video games” do you think it’d be controversial?

    No?

    How odd.

  37. swbarnes2 says

    I think your assessment of that character is flawed. As I recall, Dr. Horrible wasn’t into super villainy for the fun of it. He felt that the world was corrupt, out of control, and that the powers- that-be could not be counted on to fix the worlds problems by legal means.

    No, that was just his rationalization. He was presumably a smart kid who was bullied instead of respected, and he thought that that was the world’s problem that most needed to be fixed. He sings this song about how unfair it is that the girl he likes and has barely ever spoken to is dating his nemesis, totally oblivious to the homeless people warming their hands over a trashcan fire behind him. Later, Captain Hammer says he’s going to seduce Penny, and “enthusiastic consent” is not quite what he’s aiming for, and Horrible isn’t concerned for her safety, he’s pissed that Hammer is going to hurt him by sleeping with the girl he likes.

    I don’t think it’s hard to read Horrible as a privileged white guy who cares about no one and nothing but trying to get the privileges that an alpha white male gets, which he thinks he deserves. I haven’t seen Breaking Bad, but I understand Walter White falls in that category too.

  38. says

    This is why I don’t create “villains” when I run tabletop RP games. I do my best to create different factions whose purposes cross others, and I tend to just throw the PCs into the middle of it and watch who they listen to and engage with.

    I would love to see an open ended videogame a la Skyrim built on that concept.

  39. dianne says

    Nathaniel: Some of Spiderweb Software’s games have that sort of open ended effect where there are several factions, none of which are necessarily the “good guys” (though often there is at least one that you feel absolutely dirty allying with.)

  40. doublereed says

    Of course real life villains tend to justify their actions with pseudoscience and are all around frustrating to deal with. I’m thinking of the guys at the Family Research Council. Lying and deceiving for the purposes of forwarding their bigotry. Those are villains. But nobody wants to write characters like that unless they get some sweet karmic justice.

    Real life has villains, but they aren’t that fun. To the outsider, they are stupid, ignorant, and thuggish.

    Maybe Goeffrey from Game of Thrones?

  41. doublereed says

    Like I don’t think the Koch Brothers would make very good villains from a narrative standpoint.

  42. laurentweppe says

    @ doublereed

    Joffrey is, in fine, more of a symptom of the fucked up social structure of Westeros than a character with influence over the events. Even his most heinous acts (executing Ned Stark, ordering the slaughter of Robert’s bastards) are mere copies of his grandfather deeds, who betrayed his childhood friend and slaightered his heirs to consolidate his house’s position

    If we go back to video games, an interesting case of a self-centered bully like Joffrey but with much more control over the events of the story would be Xenoblade’s villain… whose behavior can’t be described without spoiling the whole game, unfortunately.

  43. laurentweppe says

    I don’t think the Koch Brothers would make very good villains from a narrative standpoint.

    On the contrary: I think that it’s a shame that such characters are not more often modelled after people like them. There was a Ashes, ashes by Barjavel whch introduced a villain similar to the Koch brothers, unfortunately, he was a complete red herring and died at the end of the thirst act when the apocalypse began…

  44. says

    I think they’ve forgotten the one thing no villain’s lair should be without–a shark tank, or maybe a portal of death, or some other horribly dangerous thing that has no other purpose but to have a big fight right next to. Villains, after all, should die in some way appropriate to their evil ways, preferably as a result of their greed or other evil characteristic. Their weapons will fail, but the useless and ridiculously dangerous affectation always works in the end, resulting in death.

  45. lorn says

    My favorite villain was the evil one from “time Bandits”. Evil and conniving he was also somewhat self-aware and, in his own way, caring.

    Of course the typical villain is also concerned with aesthetics. The plans always have to incorporate needless complications and elements of art and irony. The Penguin couldn’t just shoot the caped crusader in the head and be done with it. That would lack style. No, he has to trap the duo in a giant hourglass. Also, even though he rigs this device, and is sure death is certain, his refined sensibilities really can’t bear to see Batman die. So he sets up this death-by-hourglass device … and leaves. All the better for Batman to escape. It is a very Victorian ethic of refinement, flair, and sportsmanship.

    I t is also very Victorian, possibly Steampunk, in it aesthetic. Lots of decorative elements added for visual effect. While not Victorian quality with fine scroll-work or brass fittings one of the best example of this gratuitous decoration, albeit cheap for financial reasons, was the old Batman TV series. Every villain had his own color scheme and aesthetic. The Riddler had a wild combination of purple and green with question marks applied to all surfaces. The Penguin had black/white and umbrellas. None of the paintwork or decor had any real useful purpose.

    Another parallel I’ve noticed:
    Evil villains tend to: have Grandiose plans for revenge/taking power, be focused on unique devices and weapons, maintain a deep sense of victimization/rage/resentment.

    Sounds like half the republicans I know. The other half cover it all under a layer of passive aggression and toxic “Christian concern”.

    Generally I find it easier to deal with the former.

  46. sharkjack says

    I remember Nergal from fire emblem (the blazing blade, AKA the first one in the west) made a great villain. He is, on the surface, a simple villain. Nergal is a complete asshole who kills and taunts characters you care about while laughing maniacally and whose goal is to gain ultimate power by drawing the essence of people and ultimately from dragons. If you just play the game through to the end that’s all he’ll ever be. But search deeper, which you can do by going out of your way to achieve side objectives and by recruiting characters in relatively hard to reach places, and you piece together quite a different story. I won’t spoil it here, but it’s exactly because of this mechanic where you invest in learning about backstory that the story works as well as it does.

  47. Ingdigo Jump says

    I have to pimp Scorpius from Farscape as a great villian. He’s charismatic and cunning but the best part is his motivation would be heroic in another character. There is a very very big scarry evil empire of space orcs coming and he wants to stop them. The problem is his methods are insanely brutal and ruthless, and he is gleeful in his execution of them. He’s someone who is practical, smart and disciplined but also just likes hurting other people.

  48. Ingdigo Jump says

    I also now realize that pimp was a bad word choice considering the character looks like a satanic SM gimp

  49. w00dview says

    What makes it interesting is that it’s all told from the villain’s perspective

    I have always wondered was that the narrative structure of Atlas Shrugged. Because you sure as hell can’t see the main characters as heroes in the normal sense. In fact, I would classify the protagonists as utterly narcissistic sociopaths. Likewise, anyone who relies on the government for anything EVER is not really a compelling villain to fight against.

  50. says

    Spiderweb fans fistbump for @Dianne!

    These are super old-school games – an adventurer party, ancient pixelly graphics. Plot is their big distinguishing point – there’s always multiple factions with good & bad points, never black and white though some pale and deep greys. Bonus: there’s always been a good gender distribution for players & NPCs.

  51. Christopher says

    The Vonnegut quote is:

    “I think about my education sometimes. I went to the University of Chicago for awhile after the Second World War. I was a student in the Department of Anthropology. At that time they were teaching that there was absolutely no difference between anybody.

    They may be teaching that still.

    Another thing they taught was that no one was ridiculous or bad or disgusting. Shortly before my father died, he said to me, ‘You know – you never wrote a story with a villain in it.’

    I told him that was one of the things I learned in college after the war.”

  52. johnwoodford says

    The well intentioned extremist who might be the hero in a different story, now that can be interesting.

    An essay by the late and sadly lamented John M. Ford explored this as well. He was comparing tragedy to farce, and made the point that a tragedy is really about someone who should be the protagonist. What makes it a tragedy is that this character gets hit by exigencies of the plot in their only weak spot, and everything goes downhill from there.

  53. vaiyt says

    @Nathaniel Frein

    OP is very interesting indeed. There is a vast, oppressive, all-encompassing empire with a military branch responsible for all sorts of atrocities; yet, they house many of the noblest characters of the setting and – most importantly – are usually the ones to clean up after the heroes. Many good people and innocents were held in their prisons, but so were true villains like Arlong, Crocodile and Shiliew.

  54. Ariaflame, BSc, BF, PhD says

    @karpad #37

    No! Creating a popular tech gadget which you then link together into a domineering hivemind of loyal slaves to begin a worldwide harvest of peneal glands from paranormally attuned sapients hidden across the world to then also attune them specifically to the hivemind to grant you reality warping powers is hardly what I’d call simple. More like draconianly complex.

    True. But that was going to be the catchphrase of season 2. Elegant simplicity was season 1. Alas that it never got made. I mourn. Even episode 13 we’ve only got the comic book version and the ComicCon readthrough.

  55. birgerjohansson says

    Douglas Adams reference: remember the charming but xenophobic people of the planet Krikkit?

  56. birgerjohansson says

    The ancient Greek rulers were interesting villain doing novel things. The Romans were just thugs.

  57. keithm says

    different factions whose purposes cross others, and I tend to just throw the PCs into the middle of it and watch who they listen to and engage with.

    I would love to see an open ended videogame a la Skyrim built on that concept.

    That pretty much was Skyrim. Certainly there were straightforward villain villains, but the entire civil war backstory and who you chose to side with (if any) was a tangle of motivations where each side had a legitimate point, but also had reasons why you’d dislike them.

    For other decent villains, Mass Effect (we’ll ignore the original last 10 minutes of the third game) had a bunch. Saren was a jerkass in the backstory, but did have an understandable motivation (“We’re all doomed, but if we prove useful, we might be able to live.”) The Illusive Man similarly wasn’t pure cackling evil for the sake of evil. Shepard’s Evil Clone in the Citadel DLC has his/her own understandable motivations for what s/he did. Even the Reapers had a (badly written) motivation. Basic rule of thumb, if a bad guy in the three games showed up for more than a single mission, they had complex motivations for what they did. Except Kai Leng. He was just a bastard.