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Bar-sur-Loup Provence France

The Bad Guy in video games -- why is he so much more interesting?

Part of it, I think, is inherent in the media. The player-character tends to be relatively generic; often either a voiceless cypher (Gordon Freeman, Master Chief) or a relatively unimaginative remodeling of the wise/tough guy that we have known and loved from Bogart/Cooper to Willis/Ford. The player needs to identify strongly with the main characters, want what they want, and love them enough to endure tens of hours of their trials and tribulations.

Too much "character" in the main character can turn off players; not everyone wants to walk in the shoes of a metrosexual angst-ridden teenager with a gravitationally impossible hairdo (yes, I am talking about Japanese RPG's).

So I think that both writers and designers play it safe with the main character. Easy to like, based on well-known and well-loved stereotypes, a comfortable pair of shoes to put on.

So where do you get to be crazy and creative? The bad guy. You get to make him as offensive, outrageous, irresponsible, unbalanced, and crazy as you want. He can be over-the-top sexy when the main hero can't, outrageously flamboyant when the hero is tough and restrained, insulting and offensive when the hero has to be cool and/or supportive.

So why do we make evil sexy? Because we don't want to put too much in the player-character and risk alienating the player. But the bad guy... there is no risk, only reward.


Great post. I think that it's rare enough when a game lets a character develop a personality that even the old ones have stood the test of time as far as popularity goes. I am not a fan, but I'm amazed that people still name Duke Nukem as a top protagonist in video games. He was a stereotype, but he had a bit more personality than many protagonists of first person shooters have had since.

The blank protag, allowing easy projection, seems like that started in games like Fallout, where the player was giving at least some rudimentary moral choices in conversation and quest goals. Where do you think that trend really started?

Memorable, well-written characters are one of the areas that I think video games lag behind literature. It's like the thought experiment John Joseph Adams posed me: Can you name 10 memorable characters from SF literature? Now how many can you name just by Dickens?

Of course, games have other purposes, but--as they become more and more of a storytelling medium, it's going to be interesting to see how writers approach the viewpoint problem in the future.

Chance suggested I start reading your LJ. I can tell from this post alone that I'm going to really enjoy reading it.


Uh oh

This is stressful -- now I have to be consistently coherent and interesting.

Re: Uh oh

Nahhh! Nobody expects consistent anything on livejournal.
Bar-sur-Loup Provence France

December 2011

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