A View from Atlas Park: Who Wants To Be A Hero?

Being a villain has a certain appeal. You get to stay up late, perform daring heists, get to do what you want (unless a pesky hero shows up) and if you’ve seen any action movies in the last few years you know that you generally dress better and have more fun than the good guys. Sure, you can end up as a puppet in a crude Calvinistic morality play where you are doomed before you start exactly because you are a villain, but thanks to post-modernism even that isn’t true anymore – nowadays you will sometimes be able to pull off your scheme AND get away without suffering too many consequences.

Because that’s what you as a villain are trying to avoid: consequences. Or rather, you are trying avoid the negative consequences of taking shortcuts through life. It’s much easier to steal money than to earn it. It’s much easier to take drugs to improve performance than it is to put the time in and improve naturally. It’s much easier to bind a demon to your will and use it’s magics to… well, you get the point. The Dark Side is attractive precisely because it appears easier and quicker. While there are exceptions, most comic book villains (and a lot of real-life crooks) end up on that side because they tried to do things the easy way.

It’s the attraction that villainry that makes me a bit wary of City of Villains (CoV). Sure, it’s popular – almost as soon as CoH was announced, people started asking “Can I play a villain?” – but it’s a bit of morally bankrupt to play at being bad, even evil. Sure, CoH is just a game, but the way that you play the game has a huge impact on all others involved. I’ve got a bit of a bad feeling about about putting players in a position that almost mandates that they break the rules in order to fit a role in the game. It’s tacit permission to behave badly.

This is about more than just the inclusion of player versus player combat (pvp), although I’m sure that will be an issue. CoH has been designed as a player versus environment (pve) game which needs completely different aspects to be “fun”. At the moment, chain stunning a villain and beating them into a pulp can be “fun”, but when your character is the one to receive that kind of beating, the “fun” kind of goes away. Nobody likes a game they can’t win. As it stands, I can see CoH falling into the mmog pvp trap where victory goes not to the player who is better, but to the one who lands the first stun.

But aside from pvp aspects, playing a villain in a comic book world is very different thing to choosing a certain race in (most) fantasy-themed mmogs. For the most part, there is no evil race or character type that is required to actively work against other players in mmogs. Sure, Dark Elves are traditionally evil, but Everquest doesn’t really enforce that bahaviour as far as I know. Star Wars Galaxies has the Empire, but that is more of a giant bureaucracy than truly evil organisation. But villains… villains should be something worth fighting against. They aren’t just a side in a contest, or like-heroes-but-with-different-powers; they are something that should actively fought in order to make the world a better place.

If we get the tradition mmog version of “player evil”, we will get a watered down, by-the-rules villain who will eventually be allowed to group with heroes because that’s want players will want. The majority of villain players will come across as bullies (eg “I beat up the hero who was 10 lvls lower than me because that’s what villains do!”) because that’s what is easy – being the sophisticated criminal and trading one-liners between the blows is hard. And as for violating Terms of Service – can you honestly expect Customer Service to ban a villain player from the game because he didn’t play nice? You can’t authorise misbehaviour and then expect players to follow the rules.

I am looking forward to City of Villains, Lord Recluse and all. But I shudder to think of the kinds of players that being a villain – an honest-to-god, blackhearted bad buy – and how this will impact on the sunny little community that currently exists in the Birthplace of Tomorrow. Good luck in balancing this one out, Cryptic.

On the villain theme… I’m currently reading Wanted, written by Mark Millar with art by JG Jones and coloured by Paul Mounts. For those who haven’t heard about this series, it’s based on the idea that there was a massive war between superhero and supervillain that the heroes lost. As a result, the villains (in a collective called the Fraternity) rule the world as we know it. The narrative is based around Wesley Gibson, the son of a supervillain known as the Killer has been mysteriously assassinated. Wesley is thrown (with a bit of brutal training beforehand to turn him into the new Killer) into the middle of a coup de tat as certain Fraternity elements try to take over the Fraternity and reveal themselves as the true rulers of the world.

Sound interesting? I think it is. It’s not the “Watchmen for villains” that it was advertised as though – Watchmen is still much better in my opinion. Be warned that it’s a mature title (plenty of swearing, violence and sexual references). Also know that it’s release schedule is like molasses – it’s only reportedly six issues long (with issue #4 out now, but the publisher keeps putting out reprints of apparently sold-out issues. Finally, know that the universe it is set in is pseudo-DC – you’ll be able to recognise renamed and re-costumed DC characters all over the place. This makes some sense – with due respect to Marvel, DC villains have always thought on a bigger scale and been a bit more grandiose.

The reason I mention Wanted is that I think I know how it ends. My prediction is… *POSSIBLE SPOILER WARNING TO THOSE WHO WANT TO READ THE SERIES* that it was all a set-up by the Professor. He knew that if the Fraternity ever came out into the open then superheroes would reappear to combat them. By feigning his death and letting the coup run, he will be able to squash internal Fraternity dissent and be in a stronger position than before. Or perhaps he wants to fight superheroes again – ruling the world can get dull after a while. In the final issue, I think the Killer will grab the cape we saw at the end of issue #2 and wave it about a bit, getting people to remember superheroes and reigniting the hero vs villain battles that form the staple of comics. *END SPOILER*.

So why the prediction? Because it’s taken forever for this series to come out, with idle hands = devil’s playthings. And because I want to see if I’m right. So I’m just opening myself up to public humiliation if I’m wrong. But if I’m right… well, I still don’t win anything. Perhaps I just want to see if I’m as good a criminal mastermind as the Professor. Step 1: Figure out the ending. Step 2: Conquer the world!

[p] – UnSub [email protected] 12 July 2004

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