Thursday, 8 September 2011

Playing the Antagonist - We Can be Villains, Just for One Day

After yesterday's admittedly heavier subject matter I thought it would be nice to get back to something a little more whimsical, but not often visited upon: games where a person plays the villain.

I'm not talking about being pure evil in a malicious sense, although that is a distinct possibility, but I'm left wondering just why this sort of set up hasn't been explored beyond some of the rather rudimentary "morality" systems of games like Knights of the Old Republic, Infamous, or the sort of vague evilness implied in games like the Overlord series. What I'm here to ask is why we can't play a bad guy and be subtle about it, or have a morality system in place that allows for subtle machinations and long term long term ambitions rather than "Give the woman back her home (be a hero)" or "Kick her out and sell her place (be a dick)".

Some of this thought process was prompted by my recent playthrough of No More Heroes (which I do promise I'll stop talking about soon enough). See, throughout the game even the most of the people that Travis kills in order to rise up the ranks and become the top assassin are pretty bad themselves, Travis is really no better than any of them. His main motivation from the get go for doing this is wealth, the easy life, and the chance to get into a girls' pants. Even though near the end of the title some deeper running issues get put on the table, Travis never really stops being - for lack of a better term - pretty much a depraved lunatic who only really has our sympathy because we're the ones controlling him and looking from his point of view in the story. Now, there's nothing wrong with that fact, and I found it to be a rather refreshing change that Travis was mostly doing things for a completely selfish motivation, rather than anything noble like saving the world or bettering himself.

I personally don't think there's anything wrong with a little ambiguity in games like this. I mean, you can go around being a puppy eating prick in a game world because it's a game world and your actions don't have any real life ramifications. At the same time though I'd like to see a game where you can choose to be evil, but also be subtle about it, perhaps tricking people into thinking you're the good guy when in fact you're the guy that they want to stop, things like that. I think that it would be a concept that hasn't ever really been explored and could lead to a lot of genuinely fun and fascinating games, and of course if at the same time you want to actually be benevolent there's nothing wrong with that either, I just appreciate the choice. And by choice I don't mean the black and white morality systems of the game I mentioned earlier, where it's immediately obvious as to whether a choice is going to have a good or bad impact on your karma meter. The first Fable promised a sort of system where you could be as good, evil, or ambiguous as you wanted, but ultimately failed to deliver - although it ultimately failed to deliver on many things, but that's a moot point this late in the game - but I think that it would be a challenge both for designers and players to develop and then test the upper limits of more complex moral systems than simply right vs. wrong and pure good vs. pure evil.

Essentially, to put it in perhaps some of the nerdiest terms possible: I want a game where you can be Chancellor Palpatine from the prequel trilogy in Star Wars, sending groups against each other and reaping the benefits of seeming to be a nice guy while in actuality being a giant asshole. I’m not saying that you can’t pick up a lightsaber now and then and have a little fun, but being the man playing everyone behind the scenes is something that just hasn’t really been done in games to this point, and frankly, it sounds like an enjoyable if potentially dark experience.


  1. Today's blog post was nice. Remember that Catherine game I told you about? It's morality system is Law vs Chaos. I like it, but I don't think it is totally what you are wanting. Though the choices are different. As Law is more about what society thinks is okay and Chaos is more you being who you want to be and not caring about what society thinks of it.

  2. As a huge fan of villains, I love the option to play as them. Ironically, though, in games with a moral system like Mass Effect, I tend to sway to the good side.

    I think what I really want to see is a linear story in the role of the villain, or -- even better -- a game where you start as a seeming hero but become the villain over time.

    However there's a strange real world barrier to this: some people don't like playing the villain. I know a guy who's an avid gamer and not too terrible at them... but he doesn't play villains. Ever. A very strange (and, as I've told him, outright silly) ideology, but he won't play TIE Fighter, or learn Akuma. He's on the fence about Sagat and GTA4. I wonder how many consumers want to be the hero, and if there's enough that want it so strongly it would affect a game publisher's financial bottom line.

    That was a huge ramble, sorry. ;) Ramble over.


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