Anti/Villain

Anti/Villain
What Hulk Hogan Taught Videogames

Colin Rowsell | 13 Jul 2010 09:01
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Hulk Hogan, as always, was right. And not just about saying your prayers, taking your vitamins, and testifying in court about steroids. Hulk Hogan spoke truth when he said that The Undertaker was the Gravest Challenge that he'd ever faced. That Andre was a terrifying giant who might, in fact, eat human flesh. That Macho Man Randy Savage was a turncoat, woman-beating cur of questionable masculinity. Hulk Hogan knew that heroes are defined by their villains, and that, to be a living god to 10-year-olds everywhere, Hulk needed to hype the bejeesus out of the opponents he faced in the wrestling ring. These weren't human beings, these were monsters, and Hulk loved telling his midget interviewer, "Mean Gene" Simmons, just how great a wrestler it would take to defeat them.

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The WWF of the 1980s and early 1990s was the silliest, maddest, and most successful wrestling show of all time. While Japanese, Mexican and other US organizations stuck to more realistic styles or refused to acknowledge the match's pre-determined outcomes, Hulk Hogan and uber-promoter Vincent McMahon went a different route. WWF heroes were inhumanly perfect pretty-boys and godlike warriors taken (sometimes literally) straight out of comic books. They were locked in mortal combat with a fantastic parade of over-the-top bad guys: Ravishing Rick Rude, the Big Boss Man, Andre the Giant, Rowdy Roddy Piper, The Undertaker. Many of the star heels had already developed their gimmicks in other promotions, but Vince McMahon's approach was to turn everything up to 20. It was awesome in its simplicity, and it worked. Sure, the balding Hulkster with his cheesy red bandanna was the upfront hero, but the WWF heels were the real magic.

But then the bad guys took over the spotlight completely. Somewhere in the mid 1990s, as the WWF descended into near-bankruptcy, it became clear that traditional heroes had become boring, and with the rise of wrestlers like Stone Cold Steve Austin, the heel/face construction changed. Dwayne Johnson was the perfect example. He was a highly silly and universally loathed pretty-boy called Flex Cavana before he embraced his darker, weirder side and became The Rock. Even Hulk Hogan, sensing the winds of change, abandoned his prayers-and-vitamins shtick and joined the ranks of evil. Little has changed since, and pure "babyface" heroes are now an anachronism. It arguably echoes a wider shift in popular culture (we're all cynical bastards these days, aren't we?), but the fundamental story structures remain, and villains are as fun as ever. The rules for constructing a pro wrestling bad guy are the same as for anything else, just bigger and sweatier, and apply to every medium from "real" sports to videogames.

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Games, of course, have never shied away from big villains themselves. How many classic '80s Nintendo games were defined by a larger-than-life villain? Bowser, Shredder, Dr Wily, Mike Tyson, Ganon ... selling a hero is easy but limited; selling the bad guy opens up literally mythic levels of dragon-slaying awesomeness. If the enemy is weak, you don't accomplish much by defeating him. But if the enemy is a button-mashing, totally unfair, screaming-your-lungs out pain in the ass to defeat ... well, anyone who could overcome that must be something special.

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