Do you remember the first villain you battled against and how satisfying it was to defeat them? Did you delight in stomping out Bowser’s plot? Or slaughtering Sephiroth for the murder of Aeris? What about taking down Wesker to try and end his experiments with the T-Virus? Why is that we find so much gratification in their demise? Because a well-crafted villain is absolutely necessary to make a game of good vs. evil enjoyable. A poor villain can completely ruin a fun game or a great story.
I acknowledge that not every game is about the balance of dark and light, but for those that are, we need to have a developed villain to find satisfaction in the story. In most cases, the player takes the role of a hero, whether they are aware of their destiny or not, and sets out to explore, to gain experience, and learn about the evil that plagues their realm. We don’t want to save the world from common thieves, petty murderers, or that creepy guy standing in the shadowy corner. The only villain worth the endeavor is one we, as the hero, grow to despise throughout the story progression, that dreams of destroying all innocence, one that is cunning and manipulative who selfishly seeks to conquer entire worlds for the pursuit of ultimate power.
If you’re more like me, while the point of the game is to defeat this villain, you’re secretly cheering on behalf of this darkness, encouraging him or her to decimate all existence. In games like Fable, Star Wars: The Old Republic, or Bound by Flame you embrace your inner evil to prove you are stronger and smite the lesser villain. But, why? I’ve supported video game villains for many years, beginning with the great King Bowser Koopa. His tenacity to kidnap Princess Peach Toadstool repeatedly in hopes to marry her or force her to forfeit rulership of the Mushroom Kingdom is admirable and downright cute. You’ll be glad to know I’ve graduated since then. I digress.
What makes a villain alluring? Ambition and perseverance. There are dozens of quotes from real life that are about diligence. “You have only failed if you have given up.” What about this one: “Failure doesn’t mean the game is over. It means try again with experience.” These are all inspirational quotes that we could learn from, and villains, like Ganon, encompass these ideals. We love to see our villains get right back up, or resurrected a few centuries later, after they’ve been knocked down and humiliated. These are the baddies that, no matter what life throws at them, be it heroes, betrayal or treason, or an opposition of reaching their dreams, they relentlessly persist. Dr. Robotnik Eggman, for example, has been thwarted numerous times by Sonic and his friends, but he’s never down for long. Others, like Team Rocket, they just never quit, even when we really think they should.
A bad guy doesn’t seem so bad when you can relate to their character traits or life struggles. Sometimes, you even feel sorry for them. Take Revolver Ocelot, for example. He lost his best friend and mentor, Big Boss. His dedication to their friendship was so intense he committed war crimes and went as far as to hypnotize himself in an attempt to bring back his BFF. We can’t forget Andrew Ryan, a man who went above and beyond any expectations in attempts to find a place in which he could spend more time with his daughter, ruining thousands of lives in the process. We especially enjoy those villains that started with next to nothing and climbed their way to the top, by either violence or complex schemes. I prefer a good balance of both. A good example of this would be Handsome Jack, who began as a humble programmer for Hyperion. Multiple failures eventually lead him down the path of villainy. After all that work to become the dictator of Pandora, don’t you just feel bad having to deflate his ego? Then you have Pagan Min, who was just sadistic for no good reason, but don’t we all feel that way sometimes?
No matter your preference, lawful evil, neutral evil, or chaotic evil, we all have to admit that without a villain for us to adore, video games about the battle of good versus evil would be dull. Villains breathe life into the conflict. The player is fulfilled and satisfied after defeating a malevolent foe. The best of them gives us a reason to pick up the game repeatedly for years to come.