Sitrep: The perfect villain, and why shooters tend to miss the mark


By 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.

31 comments (Leave your own)

Yet again Toby so eloquently puts into words the thoughts that my inarticulate mind cannot. Great article!


I enjoyed splattering Loghain’s blood over a certain someones face last night. SO SATISFYING. I still don’t care if he had his reasons :D

I’ll replay it sometime and spare him, so I can see what he has to say for himself though lol

Toby McCasker


You MONSTER (nah that’s fine I guess everyone’s diff tbh)


Toby McCasker,

He’s totally a racist against elves too, I HAD MY REASONS OK

Toby McCasker


Look, they’re coming here in their little pointy wooden boats STEALING jobs from good, hard-working Fereldans


Toby McCasker,

Well if they’d just listen to us wood elves everyone would be happier! There’s not even werewolves to worry about anymore. GOSH.

I have a feeling EVERYONE is going to die when I get home tonight, saved at the start of the final battle lol


Spec ops: the line sort of manages this in a weird way. It seems as though you’re fighting against a mad man, but you’re not, but you are…

That being said, it is still a terrible and unbelievable villain…



On my first playthrough of that I ended up ‘killing the villian’ as my chosen ending.
Felt I pretty much had to..

Toby McCasker

“…and the villain was ME ALL ALONG.”

Yeah I mean that works when it’s not hugely overt or a veritable jump-scare in and of itself. Take Silent Hill 2, which to this day, I think, is the best example of this device, at least in video games. People STILL talk about that, and it’s been a hundred years.

I’d like to see that, but externally personified.


That’s Roy BatTy to you… and by the way, Deckard was the villain in Blade Runner!

Roy was amoral, Deckard was immoral and the most violent expression of an immoral society.



You know I’ve watched that movie over and over and never thought of it like that. It’s a very good point though I may have to dig out my copy and watch it again with that in mind.

Toby McCasker


Even though I call it ‘Blade Runner’ I actually refer to the book every time (oh come on, the book title is SO LONG). The book is very diff. Mercerism lol


Toby McCasker,

Plus all us plebs who haven’t read the book know what he’s talking about.

Toby McCasker


Totes worth it. It’s not even that long, it’s just disgustingly obtuse (awesome).


Toby McCasker,

I have that book in a box at home somewhere and strongly agree with you. It’s so very different from the movie it’s definitely worth reading.


Toby McCasker,

Well, I’ll put that on the list.


Ahh Logain. So many great options for him too. I always chose him over Alistair. Alistair was fun in the start, but got whiney and annoying.

I think that’s one of the things that annoyed me with the ME3 ending. The Reapers were the enemy from the get go. The ending kinda diverted my attention away from destroying the big villains. I was then thrown these ridiculous options that one man shouldn’t make for the galaxy.

ME3 lost it’s villain after spending twos game building up and fleshing out the bad guy.

Toby McCasker


Please also add Neuromancer (William Gibson) and Embassytown (China Mieville). Both of these altered my world last year. Sah good


Toby McCasker,

Will do. I’m pretty new to the genre. I’m reading The Windup Girl (Paolo Bacigalupi) at the moment.


god I hate Logain… I don’t care what his reasons are he betrayed the wardens essentially aiding the darkspawn.

If you’re not with me you’re against me.

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