In my latest editorial at Bell of Lost Souls, I asked a simple question: What attracts us to the bad guy? The response was varied in both passion and opinion. Some posited that everyone sees their actions as justified, and therefore there are no real villains. Others drew cultural lines. Others still argued that villains tend to have the best uniforms.
Certainly this has been a question on everyone’s lips, as it seems our culture just can’t get enough of the villain lately. Everything from the resurgence of the vampire as an antihero, to zombie fixation, to Walter White and Tyrion Lannister–we just can’t help but root for the bad guy. My hypothesis is that we envy their freedom. Villains follow no code or logic beyond their own, whereas even the roughest, toughest good guy has some sort of moral compass to follow. That’s what makes him a good guy.
In theory, anyway.
And so, despite all the horrors a villain submits his friends, family, and community to, we’re thrilled and awed by his or her ability to do just anything that they want. And if they can do it with style? Even better.
Now this is all very well and good for a passive form of entertainment like a book, movie or comic–but what about a game? The infamous “morality meter” has been a hook for many games over the past decade, and our heroes are getting more antihero by the second (see: Max Payne vs. Max Payne 3–in which they somehow did the impossible in making Max even more broodish and hard-boiled). And when it comes to making choices in games, I tend to go with the more tenderhearted route.
But does playing a villain effect my overall enjoyment of the game?
Thus I am planning a reoccurring series of essays entitled “Let’s Be A Bad Guy”, wherein I will take you through my experience of playing a video game as the villain. This might involve choosing less than moral choices on a morality meter (Mass Effect, Knights of the Old Republic), games where your protagonist exists permanently in the gray area of good and evil (Papers Please, GTA), and games where your character is clearly on the side of scum and villainy (Overlord, Deadpool).
Of course, the very notion of what makes a character “good” or “bad” is highly subjective, and there’s a good chance that people will argue about their opinion, and that will lead to fighting which will lead to murder and blood in the streets.
And then I’ll ask if pushing that domino effect into existence makes me evil.