Shooters tend to have really terrible, unbelievable villains -- and that's a problem, argues Toby.
By Toby McCasker on January 29, 2014 at 11:52 am
I like shooters very much a lot, but they could stand to learn a thing or two about the A to B. Let us be Steve for a moment about the beloved: Very few of them care as much about narrative as they care about your muzzle flash illuminating the panties of male power fantasies left, right, centre. There are, of course, exceptions (IN BEFORE HALF-LIFE I KNOW I KNOW GOD KEEP IT DOWN), but for the most part I do not remember what just transpired between the killing and the more killing – and I certainly don’t recall the bittersweet taste of the bad guy at the end’s blood, ie. A Very Important Impetus.
By the by, shooters fall into the Hollywood problem of having an arch-villain who is either a) Overtly evil in the most preposterous way, not even the worst dictator alive is a cackling mad scientist, and/or b) Some ridiculous otherworldly construct huffing and puffing a whole lot o’ nothin’ about why humanity/the world/everything but itself should perish in cleansing misanthropy (hey Mass Effect what’s up). Now I like black metal as much as the next sociopath, but a sustainable rage-arc for my crusading protagonist that is not.
I can think of only one instance in my recent game-time where the villain was so humanly complex as to be real and utterly maddening in their ability to coax both hate and strange compassion from the player, and it was no shooter – it was Dragon Age: Origins. Loghain Mac Tir. I’ve been replaying this bad-boy for the first time in a long while leading up to the release of Inquisition (hurry up), and it’s given me the chance to see what Loghain was all about in a completely different light.
I think playing all 100+ hours of this thing twice is almost mandatory in order to understand just how brilliantly the whole thing was conceived, especially Loghain. He is, as Roy Baty was to Blade Runner, ultimately waylaid to confession by the fact he is just like you, another being in a tough, diametric position: “I’ve done… questionable things,” he might well have said after the Landsmeet. Through Origins you’re misled by perspective as you would be in reality, and it is only if you make the tough choice to spare Loghain and say bye-bye to Alistair that the truth becomes clearer. He is no mad man. He is only a man.
In the end, that is what the perfect villain is: The other side of you. They are not cartoonish caricatures of comic evil or mindless killing machines, not even in real life. It is my feeling you must be able to relate to what you fight whether you realise it or not to make that fight genuine, and most importantly alive – a great irony when the genre at work is one of death times a lot. BioShock Infinite and The Last Of Us were largely so terrific because they realised this, though they took it to ultimate existential extremes. Give me a villain other than myself, video games. Give me a villain I want nothing more than to kill, and give me heartsick reason not to do it when finally I can.