Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Wretched Hive Of Scum And Villainy

"Each film is only as good as its villain. Since the heroes and the gimmicks tend to repeat from film to film, only a great villain can transform a good try into a triumph." – Roger Ebert

There’s something about a memorable villain that gets the blood boiling, that pulls you into the story of a game emotionally. It takes a good villain to change the story of a game from being about stopping a meteor from destroying the planet to being about stopping the villain from summoning a meteor to destroy the planet. Those villains, they’re special.

Some villains aren’t all that special though, if y
ou think about the Pac-Man Ghosts, well they’re just friggin’ ghosts. But they make the game, I mean, it could be said they’re more important than Pac-Man. The game would not be enjoyable if all you did was wander through a bunch of hallways eating glowing dots unopposed. Personality-wise the ghosts don’t have a lot going for them though. Their names are Inky, Blinky, Pinky, and Clyde, now granted Clyde is obviously some sort of Maverick, but other than that we can only rely on the campfire tales and dream-stories told by mysterious gypsies to learn more about their nefarious purpose and dark history. To the average Pac-Man player however, it’s enough that they just want to eat you because they are ghosts.

Ghost Faced Killer

If ghosts lacking personality can have that much impact then it’s easy to understand how a villain with goals, character, and personality can not only increase the drama of the tale but often single-handedly introduce theme and conflict into the story. They only show up every so often, starting off just like any other villain in that first moment where you see them and go “Oh, that’s the guy ima have to fight” But as you move ever closer to your goals you discover that this isn’t an ordinary villain. This villain has chutzpah.


These villains are not only your adversary and obstacle but also your opposite. All of your weaknesses are their strengths, and so the smaller the hero the bigger the villain which generally makes the victory all the more triumphant. The thing that really drives it home though is when the villains actions seem as though they’re the gratification of some symbolic desire causing you to identify more with the villain than the hero so that in the final confrontation you know you’ve got to save the world, but maybe it’s too bad you have to kill this guy to do it.

All Captain James Hook ever wanted was a mother… and to kill Pan.

One of the major things about games to me is the story, the sense that I’m accomplishing something. The story doesn’t have to be epic, or even particularly good, I just need a reason to be doing what I’m doing. Sometimes I am sneaking into a terrorist base trying to destroy a giant bipedal tank, but other times I am trying to eat a bunch of yellow dots. These things don’t do much for me on their own, its overcoming the obstacles on the way to the completion of the story that’s enjoyable and there’s no obstacle quite like a good villain to make a game memorable.

Until next time may you Omnislash your own one-winged angel,



  1. I had a similar conversation on this exact same topic with a friend in Oakville, only it was on the topic of Pen and Paper RPG villains and I was citing(I totally butchered that word didn't I?) movie villains, Magneto, Heath Ledgers Joker and Hannibal Lecktor to be specific, but the tone and point of the argument where fundamentally the same. Villains ultimately define the hero, and with video games and pen and paper RPGs even more so, because you are there hero, so villains define the playing experience. If that makes any bloody sense.