Anti/Villain

Anti/Villain
What Hulk Hogan Taught Videogames

Colin Rowsell | 13 Jul 2010 13:01
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While big is often good, originality really doesn't come into it. Most of the greatest villain templates already exist: the corrupt king, the bitter prince, the unstoppable monster, the foreign devil, the vengeful woman, the chaotic trickster, the mirror image. They work and they're incredibly flexible: neither Ric Flair nor Shakespeare gave a crap about originality when crafting bad guys, so why should game designers? Taking a classic template and adapting it to a new environment is often the best route. Ultima's "Age of Armageddon" Guardian is essentially a dark god from another dimension seeking to take over worlds - you know, that guy. Ultima master Richard Garriott uses the familiar setup to his advantage as he makes the villainy personal, by having the Guardian taunt you in your dreams; sinister, by having reputable human organizations as the day-to-day front for evil; and epic, by spreading the battle over multiple worlds and games. It's a helluva ride (at least until Ultima IX), and the Guardian's bad-guy tropes work all the better for him being in the classic mold.

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The Guardian's also a distinctive heel who pisses you off. Villains are about personal reactions: They can be mean, cowardly, scary, or annoying, but should never be about nothing. This can often be the difference between minions and masters: the Combine forces in Half Life 2 are wonderful cannon fodder, but the real villain (so far) is Dr Wallace Breen, the human traitor who rules Earth as a Vichy-type puppet. His combination of self-serving doubletalk and cowardice grates on you from the opening moments of the game, and he'd make a great pro wrestling manager. Despite his treason, Breen does have a perspective and justification for his actions, which is crucial to his evil. Villains who know that they're villains aren't trying hard enough. Just like the hero, the villain believes in themselves and thinks what they're doing is justified.

Villains in all media can be deeply sophisticated or incredibly simple, but, in the end, they have to work. Professional wrestling and videogames have always been ahead of the curve on storytelling; they serve demanding audiences who don't often care for theoretical niceties, and, as a result, often have a lot in common with older forms of performance that flourished around campfires and stages. Big sweaty men dancing round a ring can be as laughable as children mashing buttons to collect gold coins; both images are less than they seem. Videogames have learned a lot from wrestling by telling stories through mythic hero/monster or face/heel structures. But I wonder if the confluence of these two forms of entertainment might reach the level. Maybe Bowser should team up with The Undertaker to finally kick Mario's ass. Or the next Wrestlemania could be headlined by Ryu and Ken versus an undead Andre The Giant, complete with a Left 4 Dead expansion pack. Oh, the possibilities ...

Colin Rowsell just moved to Maryland from Wellington, New Zealand. Read more at maantren.blogspot.com or contact him at giantmonkeyvirus@gmail.com.

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